By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Saturday sees Vancouver Whitecaps FC men begin their 2008 USL First Division season against Canadian rivals Montreal Impact.
The Swangard Stadium clash not only sees both clubs officially begin their new campaigns, but help raise the curtain of 2008 USL-1 season. The other match on opening day sees Miami FC Blues host Charleston Battery on April 12.
With the new season set to begin for Teitur Thordarson's side, whitecapsfc.com takes a closer look at the Quebec-based club and the ties that both the Whitecaps and Impact share on and off the field.
As one of Impact's three founding members as a non-profit organization in the fall of 2001, Saputo Inc. recently joined forces as a new partner with the Whitecaps for the 2008 season. Saputo will not only be the match-night sponsor for Saturday's season-opener, but will also be involved in a number of Whitecaps community initiatives like the Kickin’ with the ’Caps program, which is a partnership between the Whitecaps and local club soccer teams that provides inspiration and a team-building experience at a Whitecaps home match.
To help kick off the new relationship between Saputo and the Whitecaps, a public speaking contest for children aged six to 18 will take place at the home opener on Saturday. During halftime at Swangard, three contestants will have one minute to express why they would want to cheer on the Whitecaps at the new Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium. The winner will receive four tickets to fly to Montreal courtesy of Air Canada, two nights accommodation, spending money and four tickets to see the Whitecaps play the Impact at the brand-new Saputo Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, May 19.
IMPACT'S NEW HOME
2008 will be an exciting year for soccer fans in Montreal, as the Impact start play in the newly-built Saputo Stadium this season. In fact, the Whitecaps will be Montreal's first-ever opponent in the 13,000-capacity stadium on May 19. Thordarson's squad is sure to be in for a baptism of fire, with the Impact having drawn big crowds at their former home in the Claude Robillard Sports Complex in previous years. Set in the heart of Olympic Park and in the shadow of Montreal's Olympic Stadium, Saputo Stadium can be expanded to a capacity of 18,000 seats in the future, with training fields and the Impact's administrative headquarters included in the new complex.
Montreal's new home follows the construction of BMO Field for Toronto FC's inaugural season in Major League Soccer last year. With Canada's second soccer-specific stadium now built, there have been reports that Montreal may be in line to join MLS in the near future. In the meantime, the Whitecaps hope to join their Canadian colleagues in having a stadium of their own built in the very near future. The club remains committed to a future soccer-specific stadium on downtown Vancouver’s central waterfront and rail lands. CLICK HERE for the latest update on the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium.
FIRST OF FIVE
Saturday's meeting between Vancouver and Montreal will be the first of five games that the two Canadian clubs will play against each other this season. A realignment in the USL-1 schedule will see all 11 clubs play each other three times in 2008, with the Impact being the Whitecaps first and last regular-season opponents at Swangard this term. Following Saturday's first game, the Whitecaps will have the historic distinction of being the Impact's first-ever opponent in Saputo Stadium on May 19. Their final league meeting could prove to be a crucial encounter for both clubs, as the Whitecaps complete their home schedule against Montreal on Saturday, September 13.
In June, however, the two USL-1 rivals will clash in two vital CONCACAF Champions League qualifying games. Thordarson's side will revisit Saputo Stadium to open their campaign in the competition – which will also include Toronto FC – on Tuesday, June 17. The following Wednesday, June 25, both clubs will meet again in the competition at Swangard. The Whitecaps will aim to get results in those contests before their home-and-away encounters with Toronto FC in early July.
One of the common ties between Montreal and Vancouver is the number of players that have played for both clubs in recent years. The current Whitecaps squad have three former Impact players in centre back Adrian Cann, midfielder Martin Nash, and striker Eduardo Sebrango.
The Impact, meanwhile, boasts four former Whitecaps players in strikers Charles Gbeke and Joey Gjertsen, as well as midfielders Sita-Taty Matondo and David Testo. In fact, Gjertsen, Matondo, and Testo were all members of the 2006 USL-1 champion Whitecaps squad before all three made the move east to Quebec last year.
Unlike many of their USL-1 rivals, both Montreal and Vancouver made an early start to their plans for 2008. The Impact started preseason in early January, with Nick De Santis' side making a trip to Italy later that month before visiting Portugal in late February. The two camps included training and friendly games against local opposition. More recently, the Impact claimed a 3-1 friendly win over the Honduran national side during a recent trip to Florida.
With several new faces arriving in Vancouver, Thordarson's side have also been in preseason training since late January, with the full complement of the squad arriving in the last month. The Icelandic tactician has put his new team through their paces over the last few weeks, with the Whitecaps full of confidence after claiming four victories and a draw in their preseason friendlies. Those results included wins over Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in late March.
READY FOR BATTLE
Both clubs will want to make a positive start to the new season on Saturday, with the Whitecaps aiming to claim a long overdue home win over Montreal, as Vancouver have not beaten the Impact at Swangard since August 21, 1996. "They are definitely going to come at us," newly appointed Whitecaps captain Adrian Cann told whitecapsfc.com. "They will want to win the game, and so do we. We've got to try and take advantage of them being away from home and get off to a good start."
New signing Jay Nolly will hope to earn his first competitive start in goal for Vancouver on Saturday, with the former Real Salt Lake and DC United man believing the rivalry between the teams could grow in stature. "There's nothing better than to have a rivalry," he said during the team's media day at Swangard on Tuesday. "It provides an added incentive to games, as you want to claim a result against them."
For Thordarson, Saturday's game is a chance for the former Iceland international striker to make a positive start in his first-ever match in charge in USL-1. "We know Montreal are a very good team," said the former Estonia national team manager. "We know that they have done a lot of things during preseason to get ready, as they have been together since January. I hope we are ready to meet that because I've been quite satisfied with our preseason, even though it was a little bit different from Montreal's preparations. We will try to give them a good game at Swangard on Saturday, as I feel we are ready."
Saturday's season opener between the Whitecaps and Impact kicks off to 7:00pm. Individual match tickets start at just $18 and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and by phone at 604.280.4400 or 1.800.663.9311. CLICK HERE for information on our individual match tickets.
Whitecaps season tickets are also on sale now and start at $199. All season tickets include a bonus ticket to this year’s international friendly. For more information, CLICK HERE or call the Whitecaps office at 604.669.WAVE (9283).
You can also watch Saturday’s game between the Whitecaps and Montreal live on USLlive.com or on Shaw Cable. Check your local listings for time and availability.
You can also listen to Saturday's game live on TEAM 1040 radio or via the internet on team1040.ca.