Whitecaps will face off against the defending champions for the fifth time as the playoffs kick off.

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Whitecaps will face off against the defending champions for the fifth time as the playoffs kick off.

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VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps are set to begin their playoff journey against the same formidable opponent they faced at the close of their regular season.

The Whitecaps will be traveling to California to confront Los Angeles FC in a pivotal match on Saturday, marking the start of a compelling best-of-three series in the MLS playoffs.

Vanni Sartini, the head coach of the Whitecaps, emphasized the respect his team holds for the defending MLS Cup champions, yet emphasized their own fearlessness.

“Since June, I think we’ve been one of the top teams in the Western Conference, so I don’t think we need to be scared of anyone,” he stated confidently.

In their previous season-ending encounter, the Whitecaps faced off against LAFC and ended with a 1-1 draw, marked by the significance of two missed Whitecaps penalties.

Sartini acknowledged the notable talent of the LAFC squad, with the likes of UEFA European Championship winner Giorgio Chiellini, Mexican star Carlos Vela, and leading goal scorer Dénis Bouanga.

“Our strategy is to maintain our game plan but also recognize the importance of securing at least one victory in Los Angeles if we wish to advance. Our previous success against them this season gives us the confidence that victory is within reach,” Sartini commented.

The implementation of the best-of-three series this season represents a shift from the previous single-game elimination format adopted by the league.

The Whitecaps have had a mixed record in the playoffs throughout their tenure as an MLS club. While they have made the quarterfinals twice (in 2015 and 2017), they have struggled to progress beyond the first round in the other seasons since joining the league.

With a sixth-place finish in the 14-team Western Conference, the Whitecaps concluded their regular season with a 12-10-12 record, while LAFC secured the third spot with a 14-10-10 record.

The Whitecaps previously defeated LAFC 3-2 back in June, largely thanks to a decisive goal from the Whitecaps’ captain, Ryan Gauld.

Gauld expressed confidence in the face of the upcoming matches against the formidable California team, as well as his former teammate and goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau.

“It is what it is, a team we know well,” stated Gauld. “We know it’s going to be a tough two or three games, but we’ve shown we can go there and win it… we need to be confident.”

With prior encounters against LAFC, including regular-season matches and CONCACAF Champions League fixtures in the spring, the Whitecaps have developed a comprehensive understanding of their opponent, emphasized defender Tristan Blackmon.

“I think you start to become more familiar with them if you play a bunch of games,” he observed. “It definitely helps to have played them this past weekend… it’s going to be a good matchup, and I think our guys are going to step up for it,” he added.

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo praised the Whitecaps following the recent 1-1 draw, noting their tenacious approach. He expressed confidence in his team’s ability to perform well in the playoffs, emphasizing the need for improved management of the opposition over the full duration of the game.

“Vancouver is a team that’s quite a scrappy team. If you allow them the time and space, they have the tools that can break you down… they’re a much-improved side,” Cherundolo concluded.

This report by The Canadian Press was initially published on October 25, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

Reference:

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/whitecaps-square-against-defending-champs-215441170.html

https://www.sportsnet.ca/mls/article/whitecaps-to-square-up-vs-defending-champs-for-fifth-time-as-playoffs-begin/#:~:text=The%20Vancouver%20Whitecaps%20begin%20their,series%20in%20the%20MLS%20playoffs.

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