VANCOUVER—Win and the team is through to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
That’s the situation for the Vancouver Whitecaps when they take on the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday.
Depending on what way you look at it, the Whitecaps come into this match with momentum after last week’s 1-0 home win over Honduran side CD Olimpia in Champions League play, or looking to bounce back from the weekend’s 3-0 defeat to the Sounders at BC Place in Major League Soccer action.
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Realistically, the group of players that were part of last week’s victory should form the nucleus of the side that sees action on Wednesday. For the most part, that will likely mean what most would classify as a “B” team for Vancouver.
With the Whitecaps flying high at the top of the MLS standings, coach Carl Robinson has prioritized that competition for his regular starting XI, but that hasn’t meant slouches have trotted out in the Champions League. The victory over Olimpia featured Designated Player Matias Laba and star defender Kendall Waston, for example, as they were both fresh having served recent suspensions.
One of the players who has benefited from the extra matches in the schedule as the club competes in its first Champions League campaign is backup goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, who earned his first clean sheet with the Whitecaps in the win over Olimpia.
The Italian has yet to play a single MLS minute for Vancouver after being acquired ahead of last season, serving as the understudy to all-star No. 1 netminder David Ousted. This competition has been a welcome place for him to get some game time.
“It’s a pretty tough moment when I have to train weeks and weeks without a good chance to play in a real game,” Tornaghi told Sportsnet. “So with this competition and the [Amway Canadian Championship], I have the chance, so I’m happy for it. I’ve been waiting a long time for it.”
With the Champions League often seeing weeks between games, Tornaghi is delighted to play again so quickly, just seven days after recording his first shutout as a Whitecap.
“I think it’s a mental challenge, but it’s something a goalie has to deal with,” Tornaghi said when asked about long periods of time on the bench. “In every team in the world, you have one starter who usually plays, but also the backup has to be ready every time he’s called to play. As a goalie, you have to manage that situation… for sure, having a game last week, I will be a step forward, a step more confident playing the next game. Playing every week is helpful to catch the rhythm of the game.
“When you play one game and then maybe have to wait a month or two, it gets tough… having two games in a week within seven days, it’s very good.”
One positive aspect to this match is that it’s as short a trip as it comes in the regional competition.
“Having Seattle in our group is good because we can avoid a very far trip,” Tornaghi stated. “It’s great for the recovery of the players, and for the preparation of the game. Just a two-hour bus ride and we’re there.”
While the team is expected to see major lineup changes after the 3-0 defeat to the Sounders this weekend, Tornaghi feels there will still be a major desire to inflict some payback on their Cascadia rivals.
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But beyond the derby talk, there’s the practical reality that a win would ensure passage to the knockout round.
“The spice will come from the fact that we lost Saturday against them,” Tornaghi said. “We have an opportunity to give it back [to them]. I think this is the spice—look, winning there will mean that we’re through the group—it will be great.”
Seattle and Vancouver are tied atop Group F with four points apiece, with the Whitecaps having a game in hand. If the Sounders win on Wednesday they will top the group and advance—Seattle previously battled Vancouver to a draw in the group stage, so a victory would give them the tiebreaker.
The Whitecaps can also hypothetically get through this group by picking up a draw on Wednesday and another draw in Honduras against Olimpia next month in the final match of the group.
“Travelling to Honduras in late October will be quite tough, I think, from the timing, to the environment. Going there, knowing that we are already through the group, it would be perfect. But we know we have to go to Seattle with a hard game, and then hopefully we’ll be cheering at the end,” Tornaghi stated.