VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps know they can’t afford to get caught star-gazing this weekend.
The Whitecaps continue their battle for the top spot in Major League Soccer’s overall standings on Saturday night when they welcome New York City FC’s multi-million dollar lineup, including global superstars Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, to B.C. Place Stadium.
While it will be an experience to share the pitch with some of the most talented players of their generation, the Whitecaps say the focus is squarely on getting a result.
“We know we need the three points,” said Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey. “They’re great players — Pirlo, Lampard, Villa — those are guys that you’ve watched growing up. It’ll be exciting, but at the end of the day I want to win bad.”
Whitecaps forward Kekuta Manneh supported Manchester United of the English Premier League as a kid, but admired Lampard during his long and decorated career at rival Chelsea.
“I never thought I would play against him,” said Manneh. “I’m a big fan.”
But the 20-year-old quickly added he won’t be awestruck when he crosses the white lines to battle against the 37-year-old Lampard, 36-year-old Pirlo and 33-year-old Villa, designated players who are making nearly US$14 million combined in MLS this season at expansion New York City.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against,” said Manneh, who will earn $112,000 in 2015. “Once the whistle blows we’re both fighting for the same thing.”
Vancouver (15-11-3) heads into weekend action tied with the New York Red Bulls in the race for the Supporters’ Shield with 48 points, while FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy are among the teams nipping at the Whitecaps’ heels in the Western Conference standings. The Red Bulls and FC Dallas each have six games remaining in the regular season, while Vancouver has five, and Los Angeles four.
“We’ve done very well up until this point from the start of the season, but we’re at the business end now,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, who played against Lampard in England. “It’s where the pressure comes, which is good. You want to play in pressure games.”
Vancouver has been in either first or second in the West for the last two months and is eager to hold onto one of those spots and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Whitecaps are coming off a 3-0 home loss to the Seattle Sounders last weekend in MLS before losing to the same team by the same score with an young squad on the road in midweek to end their CONCACAF Champions League hopes.
“We’ve got to bounce back. There’s no point feeling sorry for yourselves,” said Robinson. “We’re in a good position at the moment and it’s in our hands.”
New York City (9-14-7) enters play five points back of the Montreal Impact, who have two games in hand, for the final playoff spot in the East. However, the club has won two straight after dropping three in a row and seems to be coming together with Lampard, Pirlo and Villa all healthy and available.
“They’re obviously major players,” said Harvey. “But once you step on that field our guys are here to win.”
Notes: Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba will be back after a two-game MLS suspension for yellow card accumulation. … Vancouver’s next match after Saturday is Oct. 3 at the San Jose Earthquakes.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press