Looking to win their first Voyageurs Cup title, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-0L-1D) host Major League Soccer rivals Toronto FC (2W-0L-0D) at Empire Field in the first leg of the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship final on Wednesday evening.
After a challenging start to their inaugural MLS season, Teitur Thordarson's side are looking to shape their 2011 campaign by qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League as Canadian champions. They host a Toronto FC side that have been re-tooled since their last trip to East Vancouver. On March 19, Whitecaps FC made a sensational start to life in MLS with a 4-2 victory over The Reds. This week's match is the first game of a two-leg series, with TFC the current holders and two-time winners of the Voyageurs Cup.
Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship final, first leg, match between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC on Bell Pitch at Empire Field kicks off at 7 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 first leg between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC can also be seen live on Rogers Sportsnet, 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 5 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9 p.m. PT.
NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Unlike the first three editions of the competition - in which Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC, and Montreal Impact contested the Voyageurs Cup in a round-robin format - this year's competition has been contested by four Canadian clubs. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal were joined by FC Edmonton, who are playing their inaugural season in the second-tier NASL. As a result, the tournament was modified to a home-and-away semifinal stage followed by a home-and-away championship final series. In the semifinals, Whitecaps FC needed extra time to defeat Montreal 2-1 on aggregate. Toronto FC, meanwhile, made easy work of FC Edmonton with a 4-0 aggregate victory. As the highest-seeded team in the final, Toronto FC chose to open the final in Vancouver on Wednesday before hosting the second leg at their BMO Field home the following Wednesday, May 25.
During this two-match 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 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 winners of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League title will then represent the confederation at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.
The NCC final has come at an important stage of the season for the Blue and White. Saturday's 1-0 defeat at New England Revolution completed a disappointing first third of the season in MLS, with the 'Caps needing to restore confidence through victories in a big way. The club's emphasis on winning the competition was evident in the six changes that Thordarson made in New England, as several of his squad's younger players made a positive impression. Striker Eric Hassli stayed in Vancouver to rehabilitate his hamstring problem over the weekend, while defender Alain Rochat was rested ahead of this week's important match-up.
Thordarson will also benefit from having a healthier squad for both legs, with Vancouver not in MLS action this coming weekend. Captain Jay DeMerit played just over an hour in New England on Saturday, and his leadership will be invaluable during this two-match series. Winger Shea Salinas played a full 90 minutes against the Revolution and his availability helped sharpen Vancouver's attack play on the flanks. The fitness of the squad will allow Thordarson to select close to his strongest line-up on Wednesday night, with Vancouver looking to build on their undefeated record of nine matches in the NCC (4W-0L-5D).
The chance to defend their Voyageurs Cup title is sure to be a welcome distraction for TFC. Now in their fifth season as an MLS club, Aron Winter has been learning how challenging North America's top-flight league can be in his first season as Reds boss. Like Whitecaps FC, TFC have not won on the road in MLS this season, though they have registered two home wins in the league to this stage. TFC travel to Vancouver looking to get Saturday's 2-2 draw to Chicago Fire out of their minds, as Winter's side squandered a two-goal lead at BMO Field.
With a new coaching staff and new playing philosophy, the challenge of finding the right combination seems to be a work in progress for The Reds, and unsurprisingly, has led to changes in the TFC squad since their last visit to Vancouver. On April 1, the Dwayne De Rosario era at TFC came to an end when they traded the Canadian international to New York Red Bulls for defender Danleigh Borman, midfielder Tony Tchani, and a first-round pick in next year's MLS SuperDraft. Serbian international midfielder Alen Stevanovic also arrived on loan from Italian Serie B club Torino FC, while the club's director of player development Paul Mariner went back to England to sign former Manchester United FC youth trainee Richard Eckersley on loan from English League Championship side Burnley FC.
TFC are without midfielder Elbekay Bouchiba (knee), while defender Mikael Yourassowsky (knee tendonitis) is listed as doubtful. Strikers Alan Gordon and Keith Makubuya, as well as midfielder Gianluca Zavarise (all adductor strains) are listed as questionable.
Following Wednesday's first leg in Vancouver, Toronto FC visit Colorado Rapids in MLS action on Sunday before hosting the 'Caps in the second leg next week.
Wednesday's first leg for the Voyageurs Cup title will be the eighth all-time meeting between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC. Before their MLS clash on March 19, the first six meetings came in the last three editions of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship when Vancouver was a North American second division club. Since 2008, Whitecaps FC have a favourable record of three wins, one defeat, and three draws versus TFC. This includes an undefeated home record of two wins and two draws versus The Reds. Following next Wednesday's NCC second leg at BMO Field, Whitecaps FC will travel again to Southern Ontario to face Aron Winter's side in MLS action on Wednesday, June 29.
HOSTING TORONTO CLUBS
TFC's recent visits to the Lower Mainland makes them the seventh different Toronto-based club to have played in Vancouver in Canadian professional soccer history. Whitecaps FC have a favourable all-time home record against teams from Canada's largest city, having amassed 24 wins, six defeats, and six draws between 1975 and 2011.
In the North American Soccer League days, Vancouver recorded nine wins and four defeats at home to Toronto Metros-Croatia and Toronto Blizzard between 1975 and 1984. The Canadian Soccer League era of 1987 to 1992 saw the club register six wins, one defeat, and two draws against the CSL's Blizzard at Swangard, while in the American Professional Soccer League, the club claimed two home wins over the Blizzard in 1993 and one home victory over Toronto Rockets in 1994.
Between 1998 and 2006, Whitecaps FC hosted Toronto Lynx, with Vancouver claiming four wins, one defeat, and two draws versus the former United Soccer Leagues First Division club.
Following this week's first leg at Empire Field, Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC will again meet for the decisive second leg of this year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship final at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. PT and will be live on 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 3 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 7 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.