The message from the Vancouver Whitecaps is clear: success in the Canadian Championship is crucial to the club and its fans this season.
Vancouver won the tournament last season, beating Toronto FC 5-3 on penalties with Andres Cubas bagging the winning spot kick.
The Voyageurs Cup was also head coach Vanni Sartini’s first piece of silverware and he believes the tournament is important to the club as a whole.
“It’s fundamental,” he said about success in the tournament. “Everyone remembers with fondness, I would say, the magic of the night last year when we won the Cup. We want to be there again … we have the moral imperative to try to do the repeat.”
Sartini, who got a tattoo of the trophy after winning it last season, said he wants his team to ensure they respect York’s ability.
“It’s a very organized team. It’s not a flashy team, but it’s very organized,” he said. “When we attack, we have to be really structured because we don’t have to give them the possibility of quick counterattacks.”
Vancouver has a mixed record in the competition having won it once in 2015 and finished runners-up seven times — as both a Major League Soccer Club and in its previous iteration pre-MLS.
The Whitecaps meet Canadian Premier League team York FC this afternoon in the Cup quarterfinal in Toronto. They played York in the semifinals last year, winning 2-1, and are led by former longtime Whitecap and ex-captain Martin Nash.
“Both teams have changed personnel wise a fair bit,” said Nash about the change from last year’s fixture. “They’re a team that’s coming in that’s in a good moment but our guys have to be positive. We’ve had some good performances but we just have to turn those performances into wins.”
Nash said his players can’t expect to have many chances to test Vancouver’s goal and will need to capitalize when they do.
“We would like to play our game but it’s going to be difficult. We’re not going to have as much of the ball as we normally would in our league games,” he said, adding that the match is a “massive” test for his club and a chance for players to prove themselves.
Two of the Whitecaps were raised in the Toronto area and are looking forward to welcoming family and friends for the first time as professionals.
Ryan Raposo was named the Best Young Canadian for his performances in the tournament last year after making four appearances and scoring once.
“There’s always something special about cup competitions because it’s really do-or-die. If you don’t show up on the day then you’re out of the competition,” he said.
The game against the Whitecaps is potentially one of York’s most important matches of the season, he added, and Vancouver needs to make sure it matches the Canadian Premier League team’s energy.
Raposo played against York in 2021 but in front of no fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It will also be defender Ali Ahmed’s first time ever playing as a professional in his hometown.
Ali grew up in the Toronto neighbourhood of Lawrence Heights and said 50 to 100 family and friends are planning to attend the match.
“It’s been a long time since I had a game in Toronto,” he said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s going to be super special. I’m trying to organize tickets and everything.”
The Whitecaps will likely be without striker Brian White, who left the MLS match against Minnesota United on Saturday with a thigh injury. White scored three goals to lead the Whitecaps and finish as one of the top scorers in the Canadian Championship last season.
The game against York kicks off a busy stretch for Vancouver who play Cascadia rivals Portland on Saturday followed by a trip to Texas to play FC Dallas before returning home to square off against the Seattle Sounders.
—Nick Wells, The Canadian Press