Starting their second season in Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (6W-18L-10D in 2011) raise the curtain on their 2012 campaign by hosting Canadian arch-rivals and MLS expansion club Montreal Impact (9W-8L-11D in the 2011 North American Soccer League) in First Kick on Saturday afternoon.
This weekend’s season opener provides a number of firsts for both clubs. For Whitecaps FC, Saturday’s match is the start of the club’s first full season on Bell Pitch at BC Place after playing the majority of their inaugural MLS campaign at Empire Field last year. The season-opening contest is also Martin Rennie’s first as an MLS head coach after the Scotsman took charge of the Blue and White last November. For Montreal, March 10, 2012, will be remembered as the day the Quebec-based outfit made their MLS bow as the 19th team in the league.
Saturday’s match is also Vancouver's 37th home opener since the club's first season in 1974 and the second time they have hosted Montreal in a home opener. The first time both clubs met to open the season was during the 2008 United Soccer Leagues First Division campaign when Whitecaps FC defeated the Impact 1-0 through a goal by current Montreal striker Eduardo Sebrango at Swangard Stadium on April 12, 2008. Whitecaps FC have an all-time record of 19W-13L-4D in home openers and have not lost a home opener since 2001.
Saturday's MLS season opener between Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact on Bell Pitch at BC Place kicks off at 3 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 Whitecaps FC tickets.
Whitecaps FC's season opener versus Montreal Impact can also be seen live across Canada on TSN and RDS at 3 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday's season opener live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 1 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 5 p.m. PT.
A new season means new beginnings, and that phrase certainly holds true for Whitecaps FC, as changes were expected after a challenging first MLS season in 2011. What resulted was a very busy and fascinating off-season on Canada’s west coast, as Rennie went about shaping his team. This resulted in new faces in every area of the ‘Caps squad, including three notable acquisitions for 2012. In December, the ‘Caps added South Korean World Cup star Young-Pyo Lee to their defensive backline, while at the end of January, Vancouver landed top MLS striker Sebastien Le Toux in a trade from Philadelphia Union. In mid-February, the club announced that Scottish international midfielder Barry Robson would join the ‘Caps in the summer following the conclusion of the current English League Championship season with Middlesbrough FC.
Over a dozen new faces have arrived in Vancouver this winter, and those additions have added more depth to the Whitecaps FC squad. Players to keep an eye on include Argentine centre back Martin Bonjour, who looked a steady presence alongside Jay DeMerit in preseason. Japanese-born Jun Marques Davidson and Englishman Matt Watson played for Rennie at Carolina RailHawks and bring added qualities to Vancouver’s midfield. Whitecaps FC’s highly-rated attack also includes 2012 MLS SuperDraft second overall pick Darren Mattocks. The Jamaican’s speed and nose for goal may prove essential during the campaign.
Whitecaps FC are without goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre (knee), midfielder John Thorrington (quad), and striker Etienne Barbara (groin) for First Kick. Striker Atiba Harris (knee) and midfielder Michael Nanchoff (heel) are listed as doubtful for Saturday’s match, while newest signing Floyd Franks (lower back) is listed as questionable.
The third Canadian club to join MLS, Saturday sees Montreal make a return to the North American top flight for the first time in 29 years. The Impact are following in the footsteps of the Olympique and Manic, who both played in the old North American Soccer League between 1971 and 1983. Led by former MLS midfielder Jesse Marsch, the Impact spent the off-season building their squad from various sources. Four players were signed to MLS contracts from the Impact’s second division squad of 2011, while the core of the side was acquired in last November’s MLS Expansion Draft.
Marsch’s 18-player travelling squad includes several players with MLS experience. Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts is likely to start in goal, with the Canadian international Greg Sutton also a goalkeeping option for Saturday. Former Whitecaps FC man Jeb Brovsky is part of a Montreal’s defensive corps that also includes Matteo Ferrari, Josh Gardner, Shavar Thomas, Zarek Valentin, and Tyson Wahl. Marsch’s midfield options include newly-appointed Impact captain Davy Arnaud, Canadian international Patrice Bernier, and the MLS experienced trio of Justin Mapp, Sanna Nyassi, and Collen Warner. Brazilian import Felipe Martins, meanwhile, impressed league observers in preseason. The Impact’s attacking options consist of Justin Braun, Mike Fucito, and Miguel Montaño, as well as top MLS SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger. Montreal’s travelling squad does not include Sebrango and recent acquisition Lamar Neagle.
The Impact will be without defenders Gienir Garcia (ankle) and Nelson Rivas (hamstring), as well as midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic (knee) and striker Evan James (ankle) for the season opener.
Saturday’s match is the first-ever MLS meeting between Vancouver and Montreal, though both clubs met in preseason last month, with Whitecaps FC defeating the Impact 3-0 at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Florida, on February 24.
Of course, the rivalry between Whitecaps FC and the Impact stretches back nearly two decades. Between 1993 and 2011, the two clubs met 55 times, with the majority of those games coming at the North American second division level. The Impact lead the all-time series of results with 29 wins, 16 defeats, and 10 draws. This includes an all-time record of 15 wins, eight defeats, and four draws by the Impact in Vancouver.
There are several connections between Vancouver and Montreal. Sebrango and Brovsky are former Whitecaps FC players, while the Vancouver pair of Le Toux and Jordan Harvey were teammates with Montreal midfielder Mapp at Philadelphia Union. In the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft, Impact winger Nyassi was selected by Whitecaps FC before moving to Colorado Rapids in exchange for an international roster spot for the 2011 season. This off-season, Barbara became a Whitecaps FC player after the club claimed his MLS Discovery Rights from Montreal in exchange for 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft selection Garcia. Impact defender Valentin is a former teammate of Mattocks at the University of Akron, while he also played with ‘Caps youngster Omar Salgado during the league’s ‘Generation adidas’ tour of the Netherlands last December. Impact assistant coach Denis Hamlett was an assistant coach with Whitecaps FC in 2011.
THEN OFF TO CALIFORNIA…
Following Saturday's season opener, Whitecaps FC make their first road trip of 2012 to Carson, California, to take on Western Conference rivals Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center on Saturday, March 17. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific and West, as well as Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the March 17 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9:30 p.m. PT.
Whitecaps FC 2012 Major League Soccer season tickets start at $329, plus applicable tax and a $10 processing fee per order. To secure a seat and for additional information about Whitecaps FC MLS season tickets, including loge seats and suites, call 604.669.9283 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.