A rematch three years in the making is the most important game of the season so far for the Vancouver Whitecaps, says head coach Vanni Sartini.
The club knows it must beat Cavalry FC in the second round of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday in order to advance — and Vancouver's record against the Canadian Premier League side isn't exactly positive.
The 'Caps were heavily favoured when they came up against Cavalry in the 2019 tournament. But Calgary stunned with a 2-1 aggregate win, ousting the Major League Soccer club from contention.
Facing Calvary again is almost a "cathartic moment" for the Whitecaps, said Sartini, who was an assistant coach with the club back in 2019.
“The fates bring us to play Cavalry again. If we win, there’s a chance that we play Pacific FC again in the semifinals," he said, referring to the Victoria-based CPL club that eliminated Vancouver from last year's tournament. "So it’s kind of a nice way for us to redeem ourselves from the disappointment we gave to our fans the last few years in the Canadian Championship."
The Whitecaps will likely be short-handed once again as they search for redemption.
Forward Brian White (health and safety protocol), midfielder Caio Alexandre (left hand fracture), defender Tristan Blackmon (right knee sprain) and starting goalkeeper Thomas Hasal (left hand injury) have all been ruled out for Wednesday's game. Backup 'keepers Cody Cropper and Isaac Boehmer, defender Jake Nerwinski and midfielder Pedro Vite are all questionable due to health and safety protocols. All eight players were absent Sunday when Vancouver dropped a 2-1 decision to expansion side Charlotte FC in MLS play.
With the loss, the Whitecaps remain at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a 3-7-2 record.
Despite the final result in Charlotte, the 'Caps came out strong in front of 17-year-old 'keeper Max Anchor, and Sartini said the performance will fuel the team as they move forward.
“They saw that even in very, very extreme hardship we can compete with everyone in MLS," the coach said. "So we are conscious of our strengths and we are willing to do a very good performance tomorrow.”
Playing through recent adversity has shown what the Whitecaps have to offer, said midfielder Ryan Raposo, who scored in Vancouver's 2-0 win over Valour FC in the Canadian Championship's opening round.
“I think it goes to show the depth within the group," he said. "There’s a lot of guys here, a lot of guys. And a lot of guys with quality.”
Cavalry comes into Wednesday's game unbeaten in its last four CPL appearances (3-0-1) and sitting second in the league standings with a 3-2-2 record. Calgary also beat Edmonton FC 2-1 in the preliminary round to set up the rematch against Vancouver.
The 'Caps know their opponents will be a motivated bunch, Raposo said, and it's a trait the team won't be taking lightly as they fight to stay alive in the tournament.
“This is something that I really, really want for myself and for the team. It would be massive for the club to get some confidence and motivation going forward," Raposo said. "I think winning the Canadian Championship is tangible. I believe it’s something we can do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press