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Whitecaps hope home-field advantage pays off vs. Impact

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The Canadian Press
5/28/2013 7:57:39 PM
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VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Whitecaps hope to end four years of frustration Wednesday night.

With a victory over the Montreal Impact in the second and final leg of their Amway Canadian Championship soccer series, the Whitecaps can finally claim the title after finishing second in the past four finals.

The two-game, aggregate goals series is tied 0-0. The last two finals have occurred while the Caps were in MLS, where they currently play, after previously playing in a lower league. Vancouver defender Alain Rochat, who joined the club in its 2011 MLS expansion season, said the losses have been extremely frustrating.

"We didn't manage to get a good result (at) home on the first leg, and then we had to go away to win the trophy," said Rochat after a practice Tuesday at the University of British Columbia. "So this year is different."

Vancouver lost the previous four Canadian title matches on the road to Toronto.

But this year is different because the Reds were eliminated in the opening round by Montreal. And, for a change, the Whitecaps are hosting the crucial second leg instead of playing it on the road.

One factor is the same. Whitecaps management has set winning the Canadian title as a major goal -- as it did previously -- because a national championship is viewed as a major building block in the young MLS franchise's development.

"Having got to the (MLS) playoffs (for the first time in 2011), we made that first step of development," said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. "We are a new club and a young club. So the next step, for me, is to win a trophy, and this is first chance we've got to do that this season."

Many new Vancouver players only learned of the importance of a Voyageurs Cup victory to the club at the start of this season. But Rochat, a 30-year-old native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., who grew up in Switzerland, said it has been a major topic of discussion.

"We knew that it is a big competition, so we wanted to be in the final," said Rochat. "Now that we are in the final, we want to win it."

Added Rennie: "We're at home and we're in a good position, so we're excited to make the most of our opportunity."

The Whitecaps are unbeaten at B.C. Place Stadium in all competitions this season. Rennie believes a 10-day break from league play, thanks to a bye following their game against Portland on May 18, will increase the home-field advantage.

The rest came after the Caps played eight of their previous 11 games, including MLS and Canadian championship contests, on the road.

"I think it's been important, even just for me personally," said Rennie. "I was exhausted after all those games and all that travelling. It doesn't really hit you until you have a break, but everybody needed it."

The Impact, a second-year MLS franchise, poses a formidable challenge thanks to its strong offensive play. Montreal beat Toronto 6-2 in the opening round, and its high-scoring ways have continued in league play.

However, Rennie believes Montreal's own travel-related fatigue will assist his club. Eastern clubs often struggle in Vancouver as a three-hour time difference takes a toll on players.

"Having coached on the East Coast (with the second-tier Charleston Battery) and come to Vancouver and come to the West Coast, I do know that that (time difference) is a factor -- and it does affect you," he said.

But Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush said the time change should not affect the visitors, because fitness trainer Paolo Pacione has players follow a schedule that enables them to adjust their bodies quickly. To aid the adjustment, Impact players stayed up late Sunday night and slept in Monday.

"So we've already started adjusting our bodies to West Coast time," said Bush, adding his team has played well in the Pacific time zone this season.

Montreal opened its campaigns with wins in Seattle and Portland and later earned a tie in San Jose.

The Impact are unbeaten in their last three games (2-0-1), which included two league games and the scoreless opening-leg draw with the Whitecaps. In that span, Montreal has outscored its opponents 8-5, but defence was a cause for concern in the Impact's last MLS game.

Fullback Hassoun Camara was disappointed that his club allowed three goals in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia. But, noting most of Philadelphia's goals resulted from outside plays, he believes the mistakes can be fixed against Vancouver.

"It will be difficult," he said of the Canadian final. "But we're well-prepared and our last game gave us a lot of confidence."

Notes: Impact forward Marco Di Vaio was named MLS player of the week on Tuesday after recording a hat-trick in the first half against Philadelphia. Di Vaio is tied for the league lead in scoring with nine goals. ... Rennie said injured midfielder Daigo Kobayashi (ankle) will be a game-time decision. He has not played since a May 11 win over Los Angeles. ... Vancouver striker Kenny Miller, out with a hamstring injury since March 11, is slated to draw into the lineup as a limited-time starter or second-half substitute.

Whitecaps celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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