VANCOUVER — For much of their time in Major League Soccer, the Vancouver Whitecaps have been chasing the Seattle Sounders.
But with the teams set to renew their regional rivalry this weekend, the hunter has finally become the hunted — at least for now.
“Fantastic. Let’s keep it that way,” Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted said with a smile. “We’ve got a great opportunity to take three points on Saturday. If we do that they’ll be chasing us a little while longer.
“We like to be on top and we’re trying to maintain our position up there.”
Separated by some 220 kilometres and an international border, games like the one upcoming at B.C. Place Stadium get circled for two reasons: the standings and bragging rights.
“Everybody’s excited from fans to the guys in the locker-room to the staff,” said Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert. “There’s a buzz around the city.”
Vancouver (6-3-2) enters the weekend tied for first in the Western Conference with 20 points, while Seattle (5-3-1) is four points back with two games in hand.
Saturday will also be Vancouver’s third match and Seattle’s second in the Cascadia Cup, a mini-tournament played between the Whitecaps, Sounders and Portland Timbers. Vancouver clinched the 2014 trophy with a memorable 1-0 victory at CenturyLink Field and currently has four points to Seattle’s three.
“It’s some of the best games of the whole year because of the Cascadia Cup rivalry,” said Ousted. “You feel that little edge. I think both teams really want to win those matches and there’s little bit more of an edge and a little bit more physicality in those games.”
Seattle won the Supporters’ Shield for the top record in MLS last season and has made the playoffs every year since joining the league in 2009.
Vancouver’s road has been more difficult with two one-and-done post-season appearance since its inaugural 2011 campaign, but the Whitecaps have four wins and a tie in their last five meetings with the Sounders.
“We want to close that gap (in MLS). I think that’s the motivation for the game,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said on the team’s website. “I don’t think we have to look to (last year’s Cascadia Cup) for motivation — we just have to look up at the standings.”
The Whitecaps are coming off Wednesday’s 1-1 home draw against FC Edmonton in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal, a game that saw Vancouver rest many of its veterans with an eye towards the weekend.
The Sounders, meanwhile, saw their three-game winning streak come to an end last Saturday with a 3-2 road loss against the Columbus Crew despite two goals from Clint Dempsey.
The captain of the U.S. national team, Dempsey and fellow striker Obafemi Martins are key to Seattle’s attack, although the status of the latter is unclear because of an injury that kept him out of Thursday’s training session.
But regardless of who the Sounders run out in front of what will be a raucous crowd, the Whitecaps know they face a difficult test against an opponent that has them in their sights.
“Strong team,” said Whitecaps assistant coach Martyn Pert. “It’s going to be a really tough game for us, but one that we’re looking forward to.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press