Playing their lone home match in the month of June, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-6L-8D) host Eastern Conference high-flyers Philadelphia Union (6W-3L-4D) in Major League Soccer on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Saturday evening.
After completing a challenging three-match road stand, Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn gets the chance to coach his first home match for the Blue and White this weekend, as the 'Caps look to claim their first league win since opening day. They host a Union side that are having a much improved second season in MLS, with Peter Nowak's side coming to Canada's west coast on the strength of a four-match unbeaten streak and in a battle with arch-rivals New York Red Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Saturday's match between Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia Union at Empire Field is set for 7 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277). CLICK HERE for more information on individual match tickets for the club's inaugural MLS season.
Whitecaps FC's home match versus Philadelphia Union can also be seen live on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific and Bell mobile devices at 7 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to the June 18 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9 p.m. PT.
While it ended in a draw, last weekend's result at arch-rivals Seattle Sounders FC produced plenty of positives for Soehn's side. The Blue and White took a point from one of the most intimidating stadiums in MLS, having led the Cascadia Cup clash for the majority of the contest. The team performance, especially in the first half at Qwest Field, gave a strong indication that the 'Caps may be about to turn the corner this season after a difficult start. They also know that they have an in-form striker in Eric Hassli. The Frenchman's qualities became world famous this week, as his stunning equalizer against Seattle has generated nearly five million hits on YouTube. Hassli's efforts also earned him the AT&T Goal of the Week award in a landslide vote this week and a spot in the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week.
In preparation of his first home game as 'Caps head coach, Soehn has worked with his squad on the natural grass pitches at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex this week, with the players responding well to the change in training venue. They have also been boosted by the return of alternate captain Terry Dunfield from international duty with Canada. Dunfield's first appearance at a CONCACAF Gold Cup ended in disappointment, as the Canadians failed to advance from the group stages on Tuesday. His return will add to Soehn's options in central midfield.
Whitecaps FC are without several players for Saturday's match. Goalkeeper Jay Nolly (foot strain), midfielders Philippe Davies (ankle) and John Thorrington (calf), as well as striker Atiba Harris (knee) remain on the sidelines, while midfielder Michael Nanchoff (ankle) is listed as probable.
Unbeaten in their last four league matches (2W-0L-2D), the word 'improvement' may be the best way to describe Philadelphia's second season in MLS so far. As an expansion outfit in 2010, Nowak's side finished second from bottom in the Eastern Conference (14th overall) with a record of 8W-15L-7D. With less than half of their 2011 campaign already played, the Union have nearly matched the total number of wins they amassed all of last year. Away from home, the Union have already matched the number of victories they achieved in 2010, with their last visit to Canada resulting in a 6-2 hammering of Toronto FC on May 28.
The Union come to Vancouver with a new face in their roster, as Serbian striker Veljko Paunović joined the Pennsylvania-based outfit on Monday following a successful trial. The 33-year-old, whose last club was Serbian giants FK Partizan Belgrade, played for seven different clubs during a 13-year career in Spain's Primera Liga. The addition of Paunović adds to the new look that the Union have in 2011. At the start of the season, Nowak boosted his goalkeeping department with the acquisition of the well-travelled Faryd Mondragon from Germany's FC Cologne. The experienced Colombian international serves as the Union's captain. Midfielder Brian Carroll arrived in a trade from Columbus Crew, while experienced MLS striker Carlos Ruiz joined Philadelphia on a free transfer from Greece's Aris Thessaloniki FC. The Union also have a familiar face in striker Sebastien Le Toux, who returns for his first competitive match in Vancouver since playing for Seattle Sounders during the 2008 United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) season.
The Union are without midfielder Amobi Okugo (ankle) for Saturday's trip to Vancouver, while fellow midfielder Gabriel Farfan (quad) is listed as doubtful.
Vancouver's previous meeting with Philadelphia was the club's first away match as an MLS club on March 26. The Union claimed victory at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, as Ruiz scored his first goal for the Union in the late stages of a match that Whitecaps FC had performed well enough to earn an away point in during the second week of the season. Whitecaps FC finished the game with ten men after Hassli was sent off for two bookable offences in the second half.
There are some common ties between Whitecaps FC and the Union. Soehn is a former teammate, coach, and coaching colleague of Union head coach Nowak. Together, Soehn and Nowak led then expansion club Chicago Fire to both the MLS Cup and Lamar Hunt US Open Cup titles in 1998, and a second US Open Cup title in 2000. From 2004 to 2006, Soehn served as assistant coach to Nowak at D.C. United. During that time, United won both the 2004 MLS Cup title and the 2006 MLS Supporters' Shield as regular season champions. Among the two rosters, Thorrington and Philadelphia's Justin Mapp played together in the Chicago Fire midfield between 2005 and 2010.
Prior to this season, Whitecaps FC have played teams from 'The City of Brotherly Love' before, winning four games during the North American Soccer League (NASL) years. In the 1974 and 1975 NASL seasons, Vancouver twice won over Philadelphia Atoms before claiming two wins over Philadelphia Fury in the 1979 and 1980 NASL campaigns. More recently, Vancouver played Pennsylvania-based opposition in the form of Hershey Wildcats during the 2001 USL-1 playoff semifinals, with Hershey defeating Whitecaps FC 4-1 on aggregate.
PNE PLAYLAND OFFER
Ticket holders for Saturday night's match against Philadelphia Union have the opportunity to spend the day at Playland on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds - next to Empire Field. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, any Whitecaps FC ticket holder who brings a valid ticket for Saturday's game to the main gate at Playland (East Hastings and Windermere, Vancouver, BC) will receive '2 for 1' entry to the park on that day. $29.95 admission gets you into Playland, as well as unlimited access to over 30 rides and attractions. It's a fun way to spend the day before heading over to Empire Field to cheer on the 'Caps!
…THEN OFF TO KANSAS CITY
Following Saturday's home match, Whitecaps FC are back on the road to complete the month of June, starting with a return meeting versus Eastern Conference club Sporting Kansas City at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, on Saturday, June 25. Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. PT and is live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the June 25 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 3:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 7:30 p.m. PT.
Whitecaps FC fans also have the option of purchasing two exciting new match packs. Starting at just $159, the match pack options - GOING HOLLYWOOD and LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR? - both include the Manchester City FC friendly match, valued at $60, and four coveted MLS matches. Aside from season tickets, which also include the Manchester City game, match packs are currently the only way to secure a ticket to the July 18 international friendly. For additional information on match packs, visit whitecapsfc.com/matchpacks.