‘It’s an enormous game’: Whitecaps relish chance to take on TFC in CanChamps final

VANCOUVER — When the Vancouver Whitecaps next take the field, it will be for the club’s most important game in years, says head coach Vanni Sartini.

The ‘Caps have a chance to hoist the Voyageurs Cup on Tuesday when they host Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final.

“I think it’s a big big big game for a club, especially a club like us that we haven’t won a trophy since 2015 and it would be only our second Canadian Championship,” Sartini said. “So I think it’s an enormous game.

“And I think that besides winning a trophy, I think it would give us the boost to fight for the (Major League Soccer) playoffs until the end.”

Vancouver has won the tournament just once, in 2015, and hasn’t back been to the final since 2018 when it lost to Toronto.

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Striker Tosaint Ricketts was on that TFC squad and vividly remembers how it felt to lift the Cup. He’s hoping to experience the feeling again Tuesday — this time with his Whitecaps teammates.

“(Winning) feels like you’re the best team in Canada,” Ricketts said. “That’s what it’s about — it’s bragging rights, all the motivation is there. We’re playing a team that we come up against a lot of times, and that are considered our rivals and we want to win.”

Vancouver is coming off an ugly 3-1 loss to the Chicago Fire in MLS play on Saturday. The ‘Caps gave up a goal just 13 minutes in and struggled defensively, allowing the visitors ample scoring opportunities.

The team will need to take a different approach against Toronto, Sartini said, starting from kickoff.

“What we need to do is to be ourselves and to be very organized and to really not leave anything to their initiative and be the owner of the game from minute one,” he said.

“Of course, (Toronto has) quality players, but the only way to limit the quality players is to limit the source of the quality play.”

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The two sides have already met once this year, with the ‘Caps taking a 1-0 decision in MLS play back on May 5.

Both clubs are currently below the playoff bar, with Toronto (6-12-4) sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference and Vancouver (7-10-5) holding 10th in the West.

Toronto is a perennial Canadian Championship favourite, though, having won the Cup eight times since the tournament was first held in 2008.

The club last took the title in 2020 when they beat Canadian Premier League side Forge FC. Last year, Toronto lost to CF Montreal in the final.

Toronto coach Bob Bradley is well aware of what’s on the line Tuesday, calling the chance to get into the CONCACAF Champions League “a huge motivation.”

Read more: Former Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi happy for new beginning with Toronto FC

“Now it’s a cup final and obviously for them it’s a big deal. Us as well but (for them) it’s a chance at home ? It’s going to be a tough game with a lot at stake.”

Captain Michael Bradley echoed his father’s words, saying Toronto is “ready to step on the field in Vancouver Tuesday night and spill everything to win another trophy.”

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“From what I gather, Vancouver are pushing hard to try to have a big turnout in the stadium,” he added. “Obviously it’s been a little while since they’ve had probably the type of success that they would like in this tournament. And for them the opportunity to host the final, I think from little bits I pick up, I think it’s going to be a big occasion in the city on Tuesday night.

“We’re really excited. The chance to win a trophy and obviously a way to get into (The CONCACAF) Champions League right away for next year.”

Toronto is coming off a memorable 4-0 win Saturday over expansion Charlotte FC that saw Italian newcomers Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne impress in their MLS debuts.

Both only played the first half but left their mark before a sellout crowd at BMO Field. Bernardeschi, a former Juventus winger, had a goal and an assist while Insigne, former Napoli captain, contributed a stylish assist.

However, Vancouver isn’t concerned about Toronto’s new fire power, said Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini.

“They can bring whoever they want but we’ll be ready,” he said.

“We’re here not only to play the finals, we’re here to win the finals. So we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Read more: Toronto FC acquires Canadian midfielder Mark Anthony Kaye from Colorado Rapids

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Bradley had two goals for Toronto with Jonathan Osorio rounding out the scoring.

It marked Toronto’s first league shutout since Sept. 25, 2021. TFC has yet to win on the road in league play this season (0-7-3).

For TFC, Tuesday marks a second straight outing against an Italian coach, after Charlotte’s Christian Lattanzio. It is also a chance at a second Canadian Championship in less than two months.

On June 4, Toronto dispatched Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League in the pandemic-delayed 2020 final in Hamilton. TFC prevailed 5-4 in a penalty shootout after the game ended knotted at 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Toronto has some fitness questions with both centre back Shane O’Neill and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye having to come out of Saturday’s game.

Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg has been sidelined by a rib injury and midfielder Noble Okello is coming back from a lengthy injury absence.

— With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto

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