Canadian Championship pits Whitecaps against Pacific FC in inaugural B.C. derby

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VANCOUVER — Winning a Canadian Championship has become a fixation for head coach Marc Dos Santos and his Vancouver Whitecaps.

It's been seven years since the club hoisted the Voyagers Cup, and the lack of silverware hasn't gone unnoticed.

“In our locker room, it’s kind of an obsession to win a Canadian Championship," Dos Santos said. "It’s a dream that we have, it’s something that we talk a lot about.”

The 'Caps latest quest for the elusive title will begin Thursday as they head to Langford, B.C., to face Canadian Premier League side Pacific FC for the first time.

It's been more than two years since the Whitecaps played in the Canadian Championship and dropped a two-game first-round set to Calgary's Cavalry FC, also of the CPL. The 2020 tournament was condensed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The club hasn't let the 2019 upset linger, said 'keeper Maxime Crepeau.

"To be honest, this group is really focused on this year, that’s it," he said. "We've been having some rhythm in the past few games and we want to keep doing that in the Cup.”

Vancouver comes into Thursday's match undefeated in its last eight outings and with back-to-back wins after beating Los Angeles FC 2-1 in MLS play on Saturday.

“Obviously it’s just good on the morale," said Crepeau, who was named to the MLS team of the week for his six-save performance. "The emotions now are just really condensed because we’re playing every three days-ish, the games are coming fast. So it’s about taking care of ourselves, taking care of our game.”

There'll be a number of familiar faces on the other side of the pitch on Thursday.

A dozen players on Pacific's roster have 'Caps connections, including goalkeeper Calum Irving, striker Marco Bustos and right back Kadin Chung, who all came up through the Whitecaps academy. Head coach Pa-Modou Kah also played two seasons for the Whitecaps before taking on a coaching role with the team.

The connections will likely spark some heated competition come Thursday, Dos Santos said.

“Players want to always prove something. Players want to prove they sometimes belong in higher places," he said of Pacific, which enters the inaugural B.C. derby sitting atop the CPL standings with a 7-3-4 record.

"And we’re going to play an opponent that has nothing to lose and a lot to gain. We’re aware of that. That’s why we’re not taking this in any form slightly. This is why we’re preparing for this game like we prepare for any MLS game.”

Dos Santos may even tinker with his starting 11 to get the team's newest designated player into the lineup early.

Ryan Gauld has played limited minutes since joining the Whitecaps late last month, but his presence has been felt on the field. The 25-year-old attacking midfielder has a goal and an assist in four appearances, and was named to the MLS team of the week for his showing against LAFC.

Adding the Scotsman to the roster has had an impact, Dos Santos said, but the 'Caps need to remain a balanced squad.

"The sum of the parts, it’s what makes a team better. We don’t want to be a team that only depends on him," the coach said. "He’s a piece that makes things glue and makes things better. And that’s how things should be.”

Gauld, though, is eager to play a full 90 minutes.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to and building my fitness up to finally get a start," he said. "Whether it be Thursday or Sunday or the following Sunday, I’ve just got to be ready whenever I’m called upon.”

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS AT PACIFIC FC

Starlight Stadium, Thursday, 7 p.m. PDT

OH BROTHER: Whitecaps midfielder Michael Baldisimo is unlikely to face his older brother Matthew on Thursday. The elder Baldisimo --- a midfielder for Pacific — is reportedly out with an injury.

CRUNCH TIME: The 'Caps will play three games in eight days this week. After Thursday's match, the team will return to Vancouver and prepare to host Real Salt Lake on Sunday.

NEXT UP: The winner of Thursday's game will face Cavalry FC in the quarterfinals next month. Cavalry blanked FC Edmonton 2-0 to advance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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