Believe it or not, the Vancouver Whitecaps season begins on Wednesday.
It is much earlier than expected as the newly renamed CONCACAF Champions Cup first round begins. The Whitecaps qualified by winning the Canadian Championship last season. They face Mexican giants Tigres UANL in the first leg.
Tigres are currently third in the LIGA MX Clausura. (Second half) They have 11 points and are in a three-way tie for first place with Club America and Monterrey.
The Whitecaps have faced Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions Cup before. They faced each other in the quarterfinals in 2017 and Tigres won 4-1 on aggregate.
The Whitecaps have been temporarily renamed the Vancouver Island Whitecaps as they will play the first leg against Tigres at Starlight Stadium in Langford. That is because BC Place is hosting the BC Home and Garden Show.
When you don’t own your own stadium, plants become more of a priority than soccer.
Thrown into the fire early
The Whitecaps are being thrown into the Lion’s den to start their season.
They trained in Marbella, Spain in January and even played preseason games against clubs from Germany, Austria, Serbia and Norway.
“Knowing you have a big test to start the season…I think there is more intensity in terms of preparation,” said Whitecaps striker Brian White to the media on Wednesday morning before training.
“Tigres is a good team with great players,” White also said. ” We’re excited to get the season going.”
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini spoke about the preparations and wants his team to be really focused during Wednesday’s match.
“I think they are where I thought they would be, (in terms of preparations) good but not the best,” he said. “They (Tigres) are more prepared and we need to match their intensity.”
“We need to be compact and be zonal like we are every time but more than usual,” Sartini also said.
Whitecaps not letting Tigres’ antics get to them
The Whitecaps and Tigres last faced each other in the round of 32 of the Leagues Cup last August. That game ended in a 1-1 draw and went straight to penalties and Tigres prevailed. Pedro Vite scored one of, if not, the best goal of the season for Vancouver.
But this game was best known for the antics of Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán during the shootout that went viral. Once Guzmán retires, he would look great as an entertainer for a circus.
“We need to focus on ourselves and not go on terrain that is better an us,” said Sartini when asked about Tigres’ antics.
Home away from home
Starlight Stadium is home to the CPL’s Pacific FC. The Whitecaps are 1-0-1 there in all competitions. This time, they will be the home team.
“I think there are people here (on the Island) that are passionate about soccer,” said Sartini. “We can remind them we are a BC team too. Maybe we can be their team in MLS. Hopefully, we can gain some new fans.”
White also shared his thoughts on playing in Langford and the Vancouver Island fans.
“Obviously it sucks we can’t play at BC Place,” said White. “We have a fanbase that stretches beyond Vancouver and we’re looking forward to seeing the support.”
It turns out, that the Whitecaps’ temporary name change has irked Pacific FC.
But the Whitecaps will hope to get to Tigres early and come out with the advantage heading into the second leg.
Sam Adekugbe and Ali Ahmed will not play in the game. Adekugbe is dealing with a knee injury but should be fit for the MLS season opener on March 2. As for Ahmed, he is recovering from sports hernia surgery and if all goes to plan, he should be fit for the second or third week of the MLS season.
On Wednesday, the Whitecaps announced they have signed Whitecaps FC 2 midfielders Jeevan Badwal & Jay Herdman for the game against Tigres on short-team deals.
Kickoff is at 7:00 pm and you can watch the game on OneSoccer.