With a one-goal advantage from last week's first leg, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-0L-0D) look to secure their passage to the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship final when they host North American Soccer League (NASL) outfit Montreal Impact (0W-1L-0D) in the second leg of their two-match semifinal series on Wednesday evening.
Teitur Thordarson's side hold the aggregate lead going into the decisive second leg on Bell Pitch at Empire Field after Terry Dunfield's strike in Montreal earned Whitecaps FC a valuable away goal. Looking to bounce back from a weekend setback in Major League Soccer, the Blue and White host an Impact side buoyed by an emphatic first win of the season, as the Quebec-based outfit defeated Canadian rivals FC Edmonton 5-0 on Sunday.
Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) semifinal, second leg, match between Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact at Empire Field kicks off at 8 p.m. PT. Individual 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).
Wednesday's NCC match between Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact can also be seen live on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific and East, Rogers Sportsnet ONE, as well as streamed live on sportsnet.ca. 'Caps fans can also listen to Wednesday's match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 6 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 10 p.m. PT.
NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Unlike the first three editions of the competition - in which Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC, and the Impact contested the Voyageurs Cup in a round-robin format - this year's competition is being contested by four Canadian clubs. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have been joined by FC Edmonton, who are playing their inaugural season in the second-tier NASL. As a result, the tournament has been modified to a home-and-away semifinal stage followed by a home-and-away championship final series. The semifinal pairings were based on last year's final standings in the competition, with defending champions Toronto FC being the top seed, while runners-up Whitecaps FC are the second seed. The Impact are the third seed, while newcomers FC Edmonton are the fourth seed.
The two semifinal series started last Wednesday night, with Whitecaps FC winning 1-0 in Montreal, while fellow MLS club Toronto FC cruised past hosts FC Edmonton 3-0 at Commonwealth Stadium. While Vancouver host the Impact in East Vancouver for their second-leg clash, TFC host their Alberta-based foes in the second leg at Toronto's BMO Field on Wednesday. The semifinal winners will meet in the two-leg championship final series on Wednesday, May 18, and Wednesday, May 25. The highest-seeded team in the final will earn the right to determine whether they open the final series at home or on the road.
*During the semifinal and final series, if both clubs are level on aggregate over the two games, the 'Away Goals' rule will be used to determine the series winner (ie: the club that scores the most goals on the road over the two games). If the 'Away Goals' rule does not produce a result (ie: both teams have scored the same number of goals at home and away), then two 15-minute periods of extra time will be played at the end of the second leg. If, during extra time, both teams score the same number of goals, the visiting team will win the series on the strength of the number of 'Away Goals' they have scored in the extra-time period. If no goals are scored during extra time, the series will then be determined with a penalty shootout.*
The winners of the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship not only claim the Voyageurs Cup title and the bragging rights as Canada's top club, they will also represent Canada in the 2011-12 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, where they will play the top clubs in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The winner of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League title will then represent the confederation at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.
These are busy days for Whitecaps FC, as Thordarson's side returned home on Sunday after a two-match road trip that brought contrasting fortunes. Last week's win in Montreal was followed by more disappointment on the road in MLS, as the 'Caps fell 2-1 to Columbus Crew in Ohio. Though Saturday's result was not desired, Vancouver were unlucky not to earn something from the match after Omar Salgado headed home a fine first goal in MLS. The 'Caps will surely take a lot from their late rally in Columbus, with Salgado looking dangerous in his first league start, while winger Shea Salinas changed the tone of the contest after coming on as a substitute.
The performances of Salgado and Salinas are sure to factor into Thordarson's selection choices for the second leg, with striker Eric Hassli also available after missing the Columbus game through an MLS suspension for five yellow cards. The Icelandic coach was also delighted to have youngster Gershon Koffie back in his line-up. The Ghana U-20 international looked influential in central midfield against the Crew, as his partnership with Dunfield has started to take shape.
Whitecaps FC will be without striker Atiba Harris (knee) and midfielders Michael Nanchoff (groin) and John Thorrington (calf) for the second leg. Captain Jay DeMerit is doubtful, as the United States international continues to recover from a groin strain.
Though a trip to Canada's west coast is not anything new for Montreal, Marc Dos Santos' side will find the atmosphere at Empire Field something entirely different to the many previous visits the Impact have made to Swangard Stadium when Vancouver was a North American second division club. Having lost the home leg by a single goal, Montreal need to score in Wednesday's match to turn their fortunes around in this two-match series, if they are to win their first Voyageurs Cup title since 2008. Goals were hard to come by in the Quebec club's first four matches, but that changed in Alberta on Sunday, as Ali Gerba scored twice to help the Impact to an emphatic 5-0 win over FC Edmonton in NASL action. Anthony Le Gall, Idriss Ech Chergui, and a Nevio Pizzolitto penalty secured Montreal's first win of the 2011 campaign, with Gerba and goalkeeper Bill Gaudette named the NASL Players of the Week for their efforts.
Wednesday's second leg with Whitecaps FC is also another opportunity for the Quebec outfit to test their current squad against MLS opposition, as they begin the process of transition towards becoming a North American top-flight club, with Montreal set to become the 19th franchise to join MLS in 2012. This is an important time for the Impact players and coaching staff, as they all look to impress the club's sporting director Nick De Santis and director of soccer operations Matt Jordan by earning places in next year's MLS team.
The Impact will be without striker Reda Agourram (thigh) and midfielder Hassoun Camara (thigh) for this week's decisive contest.
Wednesday's second leg is the 55th all-time meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Impact, but the first home match that Vancouver has played against Montreal as an MLS club. The Impact lead the all-time series of results with 29 wins, 16 defeats, and nine draws - dating back to the 1993 season. This includes an all-time record of 15 wins, eight defeats, and three draws by the Impact in Vancouver.
THEN OFF TO THE WINDY CITY…
Following Wednesday's NCC match, Whitecaps FC return to MLS action when they make their maiden visit to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, to meet Eastern Conference club Chicago Fire on Saturday evening. Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. PT and is live on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the May 7 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 now have the option of purchasing three exciting new match packs. Starting at just $159, the match pack options - GOING HOLLYWOOD, I (HEART) NY, LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR? - all 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.