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Vancouver Whitecaps look to finish off Cavalry FC, continue quest for cup three-peat

Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Ryan Gauld, left, controls the ball as Cavalry FC midfielder Charlie Trafford chases him during second half soccer action in the Canadian Championship quarterfinal, leg 1, in Calgary, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Ryan Gauld, left, controls the ball as Cavalry FC midfielder Charlie Trafford chases him during second half soccer action in the Canadian Championship quarterfinal, leg 1, in Calgary, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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Vancouver Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini isn't expecting any of his players to look past Tuesday's cup tie against visiting Cavalry FC, even with a crowd of more than 50,000 expected Saturday for a high-profile league date with Inter Miami at B.C. Place Stadium.

For one, the Canadian Championship comes with good memories for the two-time defending champion Whitecaps.

"The mentality is pretty simple," said the Italian coach. "It's showing (them) the picture of the game, the celebration, the togetherness and the happiness after the final versus Toronto two years ago and after the final with Montreal last year.

"For all of the guys who were lucky enough to be in both the games, those are probably the best memories of a Whitecaps player. It would be fantastic to do three (titles) and it only happens if we (move on Tuesday)."

The cup tie can also affect playing time, Sartini added, with players who didn't start Saturday's 1-1 draw in Seattle getting their chance Tuesday.

"They have the chance to impress me and maybe start again Saturday."

He pointed to defender Javain Brown and forward Levonte Johnson, who earned playing minutes after impressing in the 2-1 win over Cavalry in the opening leg of the quarterfinal with Johnson accounting for both goals.

The other cup game Tuesday has semi-pro CS Saint-Laurent at Toronto FC with the Ligue1 Quebec champion looking to overturn a 3-0 deficit from the first leg

On Wednesday, it's CPL champion Forge FC at CF Montreal (tied 1-1 after the first leg) and Atletico Ottawa at Pacific FC (who drew 0-0 in Ottawa) in an all-CPL affair.

The Vancouver-Cavalry winner will face Montreal or Ottawa in the two-legged semifinal.

Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is well aware of what awaits the Whitecaps in the weekend

"Ali Musse one day, Lionel Messi the next," said Wheeldon, referencing his Somalia-born striker and Miami's talisman. "That's just the tale of the tape right now in Canadian football and I think that makes for some really good stories."

Musse was injured for the first leg of the cup tie but is healthy this time.

Both Vancouver and Cavalry are winless in league play since the May 7 quarterfinal opener with the Whitecaps 0-2-1 on a three-game road trip and Cavalry 0-0-2.

Vancouver needed a 95th-minute equalizer by captain Ryan Gauld to secure a point Saturday in Seattle and is winless in its last five league outings (0-2-3) since a 2-0 road win over the nine-men Sounders on April 20.

At 5-4-4, Vancouver stands seventh in the MLS Western Conference.

Cavalry is unbeaten in five games in CPL play since dropping the season opener 2-1 at Forge. But it has only won one of them (3-1 over Vancouver FC) with four draws and the Calgary side currently sits sixth in the standings at 1-1-4.

In two of those ties, Cavalry could not hang on to the lead. One was a scoreless affair and the other saw Cavalry pull even on a 90th-minute Ottawa own goal.

Wheeldon says his team is a work in progress, in terms of changing tactics within games.

"What we want to do is finish strong. And that's something, once we get through this first round of (league) games, the second round I think you'll see our results match our performances," he explained.

Sartini sees Cavalry as an intense, physical side that "tries to force you to play in the territory that they like."

"They have a clear identity, especially when they have the ball," he added.

Wheeldon was on the same track when it comes to Tuesday's cup rematch.

"I think the reality is we have to be our (at) very best and we have to make Whitecaps not be theirs," he said. "(Given) the grand scale of the two different salary caps and the leagues and the experience, we have to play above and beyond our ability and we have to make sure that they don't play to theirs."

Vancouver's Sam Adekugbe and Damir Kreilach continue their recovery from injury with Kreilach possibly available for the weekend. Midfielder Andres Cubas is also sidelined with a minor ankle issue.

The lone Cavalry player missing is midfielder Shamit Shome.

In the event of an aggregate tie after the second leg, away goals count double. If that doesn't separate the sides, they go to a penalty shootout.

The Canadian Championship winner hoists the Voyageurs Cup and qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the elite men's club competition in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Saturday's league game with Miami will set an MLS-era attendance record for the Whitecaps, erasing the mark of 32,465 at the club's 50th-anniversary match on May 4.

The Whitecaps drew 60,342 for a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on June 20, 1983, in the first-ever sporting event at B.C. Place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2023 

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