BY IAN WALKER, VANCOUVER SUNJANUARY 25, 2009
The rivalry between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders is one of the most heated in North American soccer. While they won’t be facing each other in league play this season, the Pacific Northwest powerhouses are expected to renew acquaintances next month. The thing is, you’ll just have to take our word on it. The only ones privy to the closed-door scrimmage would be the teams themselves.
Vancouver and Seattle have routinely held pre-season friendlies, but the Sounders jump to Major League Soccer this season requires a few concessions from years past. Seattle opens the MLS season at Qwest Field against the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 19. It goes without saying the team is hoping to build hype in advance of the big game and lifting the curtain any time before would be counter-productive. A date of Feb. 22 is being discussed.
“We chatted with them at the MLS combine in Florida and again at the draft in St. Louis … we want to play them, but it’s not a slam-dunk with the date,” said Lenarduzzi, who is also in talks with the Portland Timbers for a pre-season game upon the Whitecaps return from a three-game tour of Tanzania in March. Confirmation of the African safari is expected later this week. “We want to try and slot [Portland] in — that’s what we’re looking to lock up in the next week to two.”
There’s a slight possibility of the Whitecaps hosting an international touring side this season, but it’s not a priority.
“We get offers galore from agents and clubs, so if something comes up that we’d like to entertain them we’ll look at it, but we’re not spending a lot of time on that this year,” said Lenarduzzi. “We just have X amount of resources and we want to make sure we channel them all in the right direction. Plus we have the Nutralite Championships — even last year it became difficult with dates trying to fit all the games in.”
The Nutralite Championships is now in its second year and is a six-game tournament between Vancouver and Montreal Impact of the USL-1 and MLS’s Toronto FC. The winner represents Canada in CONCACAFF qualifying. A schedule has not yet been released.
The Whitecaps — who opened training camp last week, it’s earliest gathering in more than 20 years — will see their first game-action on Wednesday in a scrimmage against the club’s residency team at Burnaby Lake West, starting at 3:30 p.m. In the case, the public are encouraged to attend and get their first look at the new-look defending USL-1 champions. Thirteen of the 21 players currently in camp did not play with Vancouver last season.
“The residency boys have been training regularly so they’ll be fit and it’s a chance to get the guys who have been training here something of a game-type situation to look forward to,” said Lenarduzzi.