Could the stakes be higher for Vancouver Whitecaps FC's Saturday showdown with Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field?
Not by much. A playoff race, a Cascadia derby, and a whopping estimated crowd of over 54,000 give the match all the ingredients for yet another classic between the sides (1 p.m. PT, TSN2/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in United States).
“It’s got all of the elements of a great derby match,” midfielder John Thorrington said after a training session on Thursday at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. “It’s important in terms of the league standings, there’ll be a great crowd and the local rivalry is huge for us as players.”
In terms of playoff position, both sides sit tied on points with 37 alongside the LA Galaxy. Sounders FC, however, have two matches in hand over Whitecaps FC and three over the Galaxy.
Due to the new tiebreaker rules recently announced by Major League Soccer, Vancouver sit in fifth place – the final playoff position – as their goals scored total is the lowest among the three teams. Given that position, does it make the match a must-win game for the ‘Caps, given there’s only nine games to go?
“It’s not a must-win,” head coach Martin Rennie said. “It’s a big game for both teams and for our fans – it’s one of those games you feel like you’re desperate to win. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but we’re certainly at the moment not thinking of anything else but winning at the moment.”
Martín Bonjour, however, will miss out due to yellow-card accumulation, adding to Vancouver’s center back juggling act.
That will mean Andy O’Brien, who made his first start for the club in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to FC Dallas, will likely see a new partner in central defence if Jay DeMerit is unavailable, as he continues his recovery from a concussion suffered in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake.
After playing in front of crowds as big as 80,000 in his Republic of Ireland days, O'Brien has some advice for his teammates.
"Just go out and enjoy it," he said. "It's what you aspire to when you're younger. To get that opportunity is something to grab with both hands."
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.