Looking to continue their fine start to the 2012 Major League Soccer season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-0L-1D) head to Chester, Pennsylvania, for their lone regular season meeting with Eastern Conference side Philadelphia Union (0W-3L-0D) on Saturday afternoon.
Despite being held to a draw by D.C. United last weekend, the Blue and White occupy top spot in the Western Conference standings after going unbeaten to start their second season in the league. They visit a Philadelphia side that have had a slow start to 2012, with the Union still searching for their first points of the new campaign following defeats in their opening three league matches.
Saturday's match between Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia Union from PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, kicks off at 1 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific, as well as Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday’s contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 11 a.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.
While the position of Whitecaps FC after three league games makes for some pleasant viewing, there was a feeling among Martin Rennie’s squad that much more is still to come from the Blue and White. The home draw with D.C. United left an unfulfilled feeling among the players and coaching staff, with a desire to make the most of the opportunity that the trip to Philadelphia provides.
And yet, Vancouver’s start to the season has resulted in many positives for the club, including a three-match undefeated streak and no goals conceded in 270 minutes of league action. At this stage last season, Whitecaps FC had a 1W-1L-1D record for four points, having conceded six goals in the process. A focus for improvement this week has been further cohesion of Vancouver’s attack play. Rennie’s attacking options have been boosted by the return to training of midfielder John Thorrington, as well as versatile attacker Atiba Harris.
Saturday’s match will be a special one for three Whitecaps FC players. For striker Sebastien Le Toux, the return to PPL Park will rekindle memories of two fine seasons as a Union player for the Frenchman. It will be a similar experience for defender/midfielder Jordan Harvey, who was traded to Vancouver from Philadelphia last season. The former Colorado Rapids player looks set to earn the start on the left side, as Alain Rochat is sidelined with a knee sprain. It will also be a homecoming of sorts for ‘Caps goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who played for the Union in their MLS expansion season in 2010.
Whitecaps FC will be without strikers Eric Hassli (ankle), Etienne Barbara (groin), and Darren Mattocks (shoulder and arm burns), as well as midfielder Michael Nanchoff (heel), for Saturday’s match. Goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre (knee) is listed as questionable, while striker Camilo Sanvezzo (quad) is listed as probable. The ‘Caps are also without youngsters Bryce Alderson and Russell Teibert, who are away with Canada’s U-23 Olympic team at the 2012 CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying tournament in the United States. On Saturday night at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas (6 p.m. PT on Sportsnet), Canada take on Mexico in the semifinals, with a berth in the London Olympics on the line for these North American foes.
Following season-opening defeats to Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids, and Chicago Fire, the talk around Philadelphia has been about ‘getting back to basics’. Peter Nowak’s side will be motivated to face Vancouver, as the Pennsylvania outfit are keen to avoid falling further behind their rivals in the Eastern Conference. The Union will look to their passionate fanbase - led by the ‘Sons of Ben’ supporters group at the River End of PPL Park - to back them for a first result of the season.
There was considerable turnover in Philadelphia during the off-season. The trade of Le Toux to Vancouver prompted Nowak to bolster his attack with the signings of Colombian striker Lionard Pajoy and Home Grown product Cristhian Hernandez. Two other key additions came from Central America - Costa Rican defender Porfirio López and Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gómez.
Nowak’s squad options for Saturday were boosted by the return of Freddy Adu, Amobi Akugo, and Sheanon Williams. The trio returned to the Union after the United States’ surprise exit at the group stage of Olympic qualifying earlier this week. Captain Danny Califf is hoping to be available to face Vancouver after sitting out Philadelphia’s last two matches, as the centre back has been recovering from offseason knee surgery. The Union will be without MLS Supplemental Draft pick Krystian Witkowski (concussion), while defender Chris Albright (groin) is listed as probable.
Saturday’s match is the third meeting between Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia, with both clubs first facing each other in MLS last year. Their first encounter was Vancouver’s first away match as an MLS club on March 26, 2011. The Union claimed a 1-0 victory at PPL Park, with Carlos Ruiz scoring in the late stages of a match that Whitecaps FC finished with ten men after Hassli was sent off for two bookable offences in the second half. The ‘Caps avenged that result with a 1-0 home win over the Union at Empire Field on June 18. An early goal from Rochat snapped Vancouver's winless run in MLS at 14 matches. Ironically, it was the March 26 meeting between Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia that started last year’s 14-game winless streak in the league. The June 18 victory was also Tom Soehn's first as Whitecaps FC interim head coach.
Prior to 2011, Whitecaps FC played two other teams from 'The City of Brotherly Love', 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 United Soccer Leagues First Division playoff semifinals, with Hershey defeating Whitecaps FC 4-1 on aggregate.
Among the many connections between Vancouver and Philadelphia, Whitecaps FC director of soccer 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.
NEXT STOP: SAN JOSE
Following Saturday's trip to Chester, Pennsylvania, Whitecaps FC will remain on the road for their next match in MLS. On Saturday, April 7, the ‘Caps visit Northern California for the first of three league meetings with Western Conference rivals San Jose Earthquakes. Kickoff from Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University is set for 4 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific, as well as Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the April 7 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.
Whitecaps FC 2012 Major League Soccer season tickets start at $295, 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.