VANCOUVER — Vanni Sartini says his Vancouver Whitecaps are on the cusp of playing their biggest game so far this year.
The 'Caps are set to host York United on Wednesday in the semifinal of the Canadian Championship.
"We're not Real Madrid, that we win a trophy every year. So when there's the possibility to win something, that's the reason why it's so important," said Sartini, the team's head coach. "It’s the most important game of the year so far.”
Vancouver is looking to make the final for the first time in four years after being bounced in the first round of competition by Canadian Premier League clubs in both 2019 and 2021.
Sartini and his group are looking to build off momentum from their 2-0 road win over FC Dallas on Saturday.
The 'Caps — who are 6-8-2 in Major League Soccer play — advanced to Canadian Championship semifinals last month with a win on penalties over CPL side Cavalry FC in Calgary. But Sartini said they're not taking their opposition for granted heading into Wednesday's clash.
“We know that we are the favourite, again, because we play against the CPL team, but we saw in Calgary how hard is to beat the CPL team sometimes," he said.
York punched its ticket to the semis on May 24, defeating Pacific FC on penalties.
United hasn't won a game since, going 0-2-2 in league play. The club sits sixth in CPL standings with a 2-4-5 record.
The team knows they're in for a fight against the 'Caps, said head coach Martin Nash.
"It's going to be a tough game," he said. "I expect (the Whitecaps) to have a lot of the ball and we're going to have to work hard and stay organized and pick and choose our moments.
"It's not going to be an easy task, but I’ve got a bunch of players in this group that just give you everything. And when a team works as hard as we do, and the players give you everything, you’ve always got a chance.”
With MLS clubs Toronto FC and CF Montreal set to faceoff in the other semifinal, York is the lone CPL team left in the Canadian Championship. They're looking to make the final for the first time in franchise history.
Returning to Vancouver is somewhat of a homecoming for Nash, who spent 10 seasons playing professional soccer for the Whitecaps and their predecessors, the 86ers.
“It's always great to come back here and see some somewhat friendly faces until the kickoff starts," he said. "I always enjoy coming back and hopefully it’ll be a great experience.”
Whitecaps midfielder Ryan Raposo will see some familiar faces across the field. Hailing from Hamilton, he trains with several York players during the off-season.
"I know how a lot of them play. I've watched a couple of their games," he said.
The experience likely won't help heading into Wednesday's matchup, though.
"It's a cup game. Anything could happen," Raposo said. "You know, it's 11 guys versus 11 guys. So on the day, it's just going to be who wants it more.”
Whitecaps striker Tosaint Ricketts is one of the few players still left in the tournament who knows the joy of hoisting the Voyageurs Cup — albeit with another club. He won two Canadian Championships with Toronto FC and fondly remembers the excitement.
It's a feeling he's looking to recapture with the 'Caps.
“Especially being Canadian, there's another layer of pride that gets put into the game and into the match and wanting to win," Ricketts said. "Not only for me personally but for the club. It's a big opportunity and we're excited.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press