Vancouver Whitecaps will aim to avoid another ‘cupset’ vs. Valour

Vancouver humiliated in past two Voyageur Cup playdowns; Valour FC coach got ‘Capped’ last summer. One side will get redemption on Wednesday night

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It should be personal. It should be very, very personal.

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By all rights, Phil Dos Santos should be bringing fire and brimstone as he prepares his Valour FC squad to face his former team in the Canadian Championship — the one that sacked him and his brother Marc, the Whitecaps’ head coach, last year while they were on an eight-game unbeaten run and two-game win streak.

But the Winnipeg-based Valour’s general manager and head coach is just looking forward to seeing some old friends on the Vancouver Whitecaps, sharing some handshakes, hugs and wine with old friends — but only after what he hopes is an exciting, competitive Canadian Championship game at B.C. Place Stadium on Wednesday night. And he promises he won’t follow the game with any hamburger posts to social media, either.

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“It’s fun. It’ll be fun, right?” the former Whitecaps assistant coach said last week. “I was happy when I saw the bracket and I saw that that there was a chance (to face Vancouver).

“We’ll leave it all out there on the field, and at the end we’ll see what the results can be.”

The Dos Santos brothers appeared to have finally turned the Whitecaps’ fortunes around last season, but they were sacked by CEO Axel Schuster, who said the recent wins had left “fake impressions” and that their firing on Aug. 27 had absolutely nothing at all, not a single bit, to do with a second straight Canadian Championship loss to Pacific FC the night before. Schuster’s difficult decision to part ways with the coaches only came with wrestling over a 4 a.m. Uber Eats burger — which Marc Dos Santos gleefully alluded to in a since-deleted Instagram post after his new/old LAFC team beat the Whitecaps earlier this season.

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Their firings should, however, underline the most important fact: This Canadian Championship game means everything to the Whitecaps. The road to winning an MLS Cup or Supporters’ Shield is a much longer, difficult journey compared to the four games needed to raise the Voyageurs Cup.

But Vancouver’s 2015 title is the only one they’ve won. Toronto (seven) and Montreal (five) have won 12 of the 13 competitions, though the Whitecaps have been runners-up more times (seven) than TFC and Montreal combined (six).

And the Caps have the dubious honour of being the only Major League Soccer side to lose to a Canadian Premier League team, and doing so twice. Phil Dos Santos was on both of those Vancouver teams, but now he’s on the other side of the equation.

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“It’s fun to go into a game where the responsibility or the pressure is not on you,” he said. “I want to go and enjoy knowing that we still have a few cards that we could play. It’s extremely difficult, but like I experienced, it’s not impossible — and I want the guys here to also believe that.

“Yes, there’s a bit of ghosts (for Vancouver), but you know I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. They’re still the favourites to win, and if someone has a doubt about that it’s because they don’t understand the dynamic of a team in that league versus a CPL team.”



Canadian Championship – Preliminary Round

Valour FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

7 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium. TV: Radio: AM 730.

First, it’s money. The average salary in the CPL is around $40,000; in MLS it’s $373,000. Then there’s talent — or, at least, how talent can be broadly quantified. In last year’s matchup, the Caps had a market value of US $37.7 million compared to Pacific’s $3.7 million. Clubs are required to have at least three Canadian starters in the game, but while the Whitecaps can draw heavily on a global player pool CPL teams are required to have a minimum of six domestic starters and are limited to seven imports on the team. As well, the CPL is skewed to development, as three of their domestic players have to be under 21 but play at least a combined 2,000 minutes per year.

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But this is a Cup tournament. And history is littered with examples of minnows leaving the bigger fish belly-up in “cupsets.” And the difference in talent might not be as big as the dollars make it out to be.

“There’s so many factors that come into play that I never think it’s just down to one team being better than the other or one being an underdog,” said Valour winger Brett Levis, who spent six years with the Whitecaps organization and watched their first CC loss to Cavalry FC in 2019 from the bench.

“How many games have they had in the week? How many days have they had to recover? What resources do they have? And I think that overall, the difference is not huge. Obviously, most MLS teams are a lot more experienced, they have a lot more money to buy players. But any given day, a top CPL team will compete.

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“(Being an MLS team), you have everything to lose. It’s like you cannot lose to a CPL team. That was almost the message going in (in 2019). ‘Play your game, do what you do, but don’t lose to the CPL team.’ So there’s a lot more pressure than you might think. It doesn’t help the MLS club when when they’re looked at as you must win, and that you should win.”

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Valour have started the season with a 1-1-2 record and are currently sixth in the nine-team league. But their first three games were all on the road, and their only loss was a red card- aided 3-2 loss to current league leaders and defending champion Pacific FC. They also beat Atletico Ottawa 6-1, a game that featured a banger from Levis, a goal scored in spectacular fashion that he admits is the nicest of his career.

But if Levis bundles one in off his knee, hand or rear end against Vancouver and it helps his team win, he’d trade his golazo in a heartbeat.

“I’ll never look back at my five, six years in Vancouver with any regret. I enjoyed my time there, I built some pretty amazing relationships,” he said. “I’ll approach it like any other road game, but there’s obviously that little piece that you know … I’ll probably walk in (to B.C. Place) and smile. That was the club that … allowed me to play Major League Soccer.

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“But at the end of the day, it’s a game that we want to win and I’ll be willing to do everything in my power to help us do that.”

WHY VANCOUVER WILL WIN: The Whitecaps had two weeks off to prepare for Sunday’s game against Toronto FC and a new-look side came away with a 1-0 win that snapped a three-game skid. They have the home field, momentum and the bankroll of dollars and talent that come with being an MLS side. There is also no chance of them looking past this game to Saturday’s league date with San Jose, having suffered two straight embarrassing oustings at the hands of CPL opponents in the past two Canadian Championship tournaments.

WHY VALOUR WILL WIN: The Winnipeg-based side comes in off a scoreless tie in their first home game of the season, but that came after a week where the club was limited to players training individually after a positive COVID test sent them into quarantine.

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There’s no fear factor in them facing an MLS side, either, and their coach’s experience will buoy their confidence even more. The Caps also lost starting goalkeeper Thomas Hasal to a hand injury suffered in Sunday’s game, and although backup Cody Cropper played well in relief it shortens their bench of available Canadians.

“I understand that challenge that’s ahead of us. And you know people talk about, about the moment in which the Whitecaps are in … but it’s still the same team that not too long ago everyone was praising about how exciting and how good they can be,” said Phil Dos Santos. “I want the guys here to also believe that. We need to play a very good game and they need to be on a moment where things are not as good for them if we want to hope for an upset.”

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IT’S A SMALL WORLD: In addition to Levis, goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois could be considered a former Whitecap, having been loaned out to the Caps from Montreal as an emergency backup during the 2020 MiB tournament. The CF Montreal player is on loan to Valour from the Quebec side, but isn’t allowed to compete in Canadian Championship games due to a clause in his contract.

Valour’s Matteo de Brienne is a graduate of the Whitecaps FC BMO MLS academy, while teammate Diego Gutiérrez’s twin brother Cristián plays for the Whitecaps.

WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of the match, the first ever between the two sides, will advance to face the winner of Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton, who play Tuesday night. That game will be played later this month.

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