Wild West

As the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt”. So with the new conference-based Major League Soccer (MLS) schedule, expect Vancouver Whitecaps FC to develop a particular disdain for their western opponents.

The ‘Caps will play each of their Western Conference rivals three times this season, compared to only twice last year. The frequency of these match-ups over the years should create some heated affairs. Look at the Canucks in the NHL’s Northwest division. How well do they get along with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild? Try asking referee Darren Gibbs.

Vancouver are of course already well familiar with two of their foes. The most exciting part of the new conference-based schedule will be playing three matches each against Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC. The ‘Caps will host Seattle at BC Place for the first time on May 19 and again on September 29. The first match in Portland will be on May 26, a week after hosting Seattle for the first time. Summer will bring a set of travel opportunities for fans, beginning with a trip across the border to CenturyLink Field, site of the renowned Eric Hassli wonder-goal and a thrilling 2-2 draw.  A week later, Vancouver head to JELD-WEN Field on August 25 for a second time in 2012. The Cascadia Cup wraps up on October 20, as the Timbers come north. The match will be an opportunity for Vancouver to avenge last season’s BC Place opener, when Portland came to town and spoiled the party.

It’s not only in the Pacific Northwest where rivalries will grow. The Western Conference has been widely regarded as the stronger conference over the past several seasons – with each of the past three MLS Cup winners coming from this side of the continent – so making the playoffs will be no easy task.

If Martin Rennie’s men want a measuring stick for this coming season, they need not look further than the star-studded LA Galaxy. Despite seemingly outplaying the Galaxy for long stretches last season, the ‘Caps fell to two of their worst defeats, 4-0 in Vancouver and 3-0 in LA. The reigning MLS Cup winners have become the giants of the league, akin to the Yankees in baseball or the Lakers in basketball. They will again be expected to lead the pace in 2012 – with or without David Beckham. Vancouver are now dealt the task of facing the Galaxy three times, including twice in California. In fact, Rennie’s squad will play at the Home Depot Center four times this season, as they also face Chivas USA twice on the road.

In addition to the 2011 champs, the ‘Caps will play 2010 MLS Cup winners Colorado Rapids twice at home and once on the road, and 2009 MLS Cup winners Real Salt Lake once at home and twice on the road. The latter will be especially difficult, as Salt Lake have made Rio Tinto Stadium a fortress, going 21W-3L-8D over the past two seasons. Two of the three encounters with Salt Lake will come in consecutive matches for Whitecaps FC, as they travel to Utah on July 27 before hosting RSL at BC Place on August 11. Pardon the cliché, but if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.

For longtime ‘Caps fans, it will also be exciting to play additional games versus another original NASL rival, San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes are coached by British Columbia native Frank Yallop and have former Whitecaps Joey Gjertsen and Shea Salinas on the roster. Last year, the ‘Caps twice battled back for exciting draws with the Quakes, with Davide Chiumiento scoring a last-second equalizer for a 1-1 result at home while fighting tooth-and-nail for a 2-2 draw on the road.

So get ready to break out the jeers and the taunts. It promises to be a fun season.

Visit whitecapsfc.com/schedule for the complete schedule.
Whitecaps FC 2012 MLS season tickets start at $329, 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.