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Whitecaps to renew rivalry with Toronto FC on Wednesday

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The Canadian Press
5/5/2009 6:03:42 PM
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TORONTO -- The Vancouver Whitecaps won't enter MLS for another two years but coach Teitur Thordarson says his team is more than ready to take on Toronto FC on Wednesday in the opening game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

"Definitely. I'm glad that Chris hasn't been in our dressing room," the Icelandic coach said, referring to Toronto FC coach Chris Cummins. "Because that's on fire. Absolutely. We are looking very much forward to the game and everybody is excited about it. And everybody is ready to perform tomorrow."

Wednesday's game matches the defending USL Division 1 champion Whitecaps against Toronto, currently second to D.C. United on goal difference in the MLS Eastern standings.

"I've got a dressing room full of proud players and a dressing room full of proud Canadians as well," Cummins told a news conference Tuesday at BMO Field. "So it's a tournament that we're going to take very, very seriously and we'll be looking to put out the best team that we think will get a result on the day."

As is his want, the Toronto interim head coach offered nothing more on team selection. But given it's his team's fourth game in two weeks, with three more following in the next 10 days, he is likely to look down his bench. Goalkeeper Greg Sutton, a Canadian, may well get to play with rookie starter Stefan Frei rested.

The Montreal Impact, who visit Toronto on May 13, won the three-team tournament last year to qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, where they made it to the quarter-finals.

Toronto (1-1-2) only lost once -- 1-0 at home to Vancouver -- in last year's tournament but finished two points behind Montreal (2-1-1). Vancouver (1-2-1) placed third.

"They're both good teams," Cummins said of his Canadian competition. "It's the same in any cup competition. You're only as good as on the day. Form goes out the window a little bit."

The Whitecaps can look for leadership from the likes of veteran midfielder Martin Nash, brother of NBA star Steve Nash. Martin Nash is currently on a 63-game iron-man streak with the club dating back to June 2007 (he missed a Whitecaps game while on international duty with Canada).

Thordarson also points to goalkeeper Jay Nolly, St. Vincent & Grenadines defender Wesley Charles, former MLS defender Jeff Parke and strikers Charles Gbeke of the Ivory Coast and Marlon James of St. Vincent & Grenadines as key players.

But defenders Lyle Martin and Georgie Lyall are back home recovering from injuries. Midfielder Justin Moose is ready to return to action, however.

Thordarson knows there is more than just bragging rights at stake. A berth in the CONCACAF club tournament means more games, more money and a higher profile.

"We are looking at this as something different from our usual league games and we know what we can achieve if we win this tournament," he said. "It will give us important, great games all through the year."

The Impact drew 55,571 spectators to Olympic Stadium for the first leg of their quarter-final over Santos Laguna of Mexico in February. The Mexican side scored twice in injury time for a 5-2 win in the second leg and a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Coming from Watford in England, Cummins said he is used to being a cup underdog.

"What you say to the lads is 'This is your cup final. If you go out there, if you compete, if you earn the right to play, then you've got a chance.' We know both Vancouver and Montreal will be treating it like that. We're not saying because 'Well, because we're in the MLS, we deserve to win this.' We don't deserve anything unless we go out there and give it 100 per cent."

Toronto (3-2-3) is riding a three game unbeaten streak in MLS play. The Whitecaps (2-1-2) are second in the USL Division 1 standings.

Thordarson, whose resume includes a stint as Estonia national team coach, pointed to the fact that the Puerto Rico Islanders, another USL team, also made it to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals.

"That says it all about the quality of the USL 1. As I say it, there is a certain difference between the USL 1 and the MLS, but I definitely think our teams have shown that they are not far away."

Atlante leads fellow Mexican side Cruz Azul 2-0 after the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Vancouver Whitecaps Celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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