VANCOUVER—Another year, and another chance for the Vancouver Whitecaps to win a Canadian Championship.
On Wednesday, the ‘Caps will have a chance to claim their first-ever Voyageurs Cup trophy, as the side hosts the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final.
This follows a late first-leg meltdown earlier this month, where the Whitecaps threw away a two-goal lead and left Montreal with a 2-2 draw.
Given coach Carl Robinson’s men were in the ascendancy so late in the game, it was seen as a disappointing result. But had anybody offered the team 2-2 draw ahead of the match, it’s difficult to imagine anybody the roster turning it down.
So it’s 2-2 on aggregate, with the Whitecaps holding the advantage going into Wednesday’s match at BC Place—if it finishes all square at 0-0 or 1-1, Vancouver will advance on the away goals rule. That’s a great position to be in.
Still, it’s difficult not to fear the worst for many in Vancouver given the club’s history. The Whitecaps have finished runners-up in five of the last six editions of this competition. Midfielder Mauro Rosales was asked about the “curse” hovering over this team, but he dismissed that as a factor.
“I don’t think so,” Rosales told Sportsnet when asked about whether history would be on the players’ minds in Wednesday’s second leg.
“We are doing a great job in MLS, and Vancouver hasn’t been in that position [before] at this stage of the season. We have accomplished a lot of stuff, winning a lot of games and facing big teams with quality players, and we’ve beat them.
“We are prepared to battle, we are prepared to play, and anything that comes from them, we’re prepared to get the first championship for this club.”
On the other side of the experience spectrum, 22-year-old rookie centre back Tim Parker is looking forward to potentially playing a role in a championship match for the first time in his professional career.
The 13th overall pick in this year’s draft has been a pleasant surprise for Vancouver, deputizing at centre back and right fullback capably when other defenders have been unavailable. He even scored his first professional goal against the Seattle Sounders in the club’s first ever CONCACAF Champions League match earlier this month.
Like Rosales, he brushed off the suggestion of a curse.
“For me, I’m going into it fresh,” Parker said. “It’s a new eye opener for me. I think, for me, going into this game, it’s going to be important for us to do whatever we can, regardless of curse or not, to do anything to win this game.”
Clearly he’s a young player not overawed by the big occasion.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a really good position here to take the game back home on even terms,” Parker said. “Hopefully we can hoist the trophy on our field.”
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Given the extensive squad rotation Robinson has employed throughout this season, Parker feels any group of defenders selected for this match will have enough chemistry to deal with the challenge.
“A lot of us have gotten to know how each other play,” Parker explained. “For the most part we’re getting comfortable, and we’re getting more comfortable as the season goes. I think it’s a good thing, because you never know what can happen, just like [centre back] Pa [Modou Kah] just so happened to break his cheekbone and I think [centre back] Kendall [Waston] was sometimes getting suspensions. I think we get thrown into opportunities and you can’t make excuses.”
As for Waston, he believes winning this tournament would mean more than simply securing the trophy—it could also help the club in establishing a winning culture.
“It’s a big game for us,” Waston offered. “It’s a final. We have to give everything. This year, before we started the season, we talked about that. We have to start to create a winning atmosphere and this is the first opportunity, so hopefully we can win it.”
One player the Whitecaps won’t have to deal with is African superstar Didier Drogba, best known for his high-profile stint Chelsea in England’s Premier League. The Ivory Coast forward played his first MLS minutes over the weekend, but failed to travel with the team for this match due to a toe injury.
It’s unclear what sort of lineup Robinson will deploy, but so far in this competition the Welsh tactician has gone with what is essentially a ‘B’ team, including backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, sprinkled with three to four outfield players generally in contention for a starting spot.