All friendships will be left on the sidelines this weekend when the Vancouver Whitecaps take the pitch in Washington against D.C. United.
Vancouver defender Sean Franklin expects to hear a bit of abuse on the pitch during Saturday’s match, which will be somewhat of a homecoming for the 33-year-old. Franklin played four seasons with United before signing with the Whitecaps in February.
“I’m just looking forward to having a good game there,” he said after practice this week. “There’ll probably be a little bit of trash talking. We’re friends off the field but when it comes to game time, you’ve got to set that aside and they’re the enemy.”
Franklin said years of playing and training with United give him a bit of an advantage going into the match, because he knows some of the team’s tendencies and weaknesses.
“But at the end of the day, it’s about how I perform, how our team performs,” he said. “And I want to win. You want to beat your former team and have bragging rights.”
There’ll be some familiar faces on the other side of the field, too, with former Whitecaps keeper David Ousted and forward Darren Mattocks now playing for Washington.
Matches against former teammates are a “real treat,” said Vancouver midfielder Russell Teibert, who suited up alongside both Mattocks and Ousted for the Whitecaps.
“It’s that competitive nature. That’s why we’e all here, we all have that drive to win games,” he said. “And it’s that much better when you can go out there and beat one of your former teammates.”
Washington has struggled so far this MLS season, winning just two of their 14 games, but Saturday could mark the dawn of a new era for the team as they christen a new stadium and welcome a soccer superstar to the fold.
The club inked Wayne Rooney to a three-and-a-half year designated player contract last month. The 32-year-old is expected to play his first game for D.C. United against the Whitecaps.
Rooney, the all-time leading goal scorer for both Manchester United and England’s national team, most recently played with Everton F.C. in the English Premier League.
It will be a big day for Washington, but Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said his team has the momentum, coming off an electric 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire last weekend.
“We’ll go full of confidence, full of energy and try to play spoiler down there,” Robinson said.
“We’re not there to make it a nice game. We’re there to win a game of football. We’re going in there to take three points off them.”
To do that, the team will need to continue converting opportunities into goals and clean up their defence, Robinson said.
The match will kick off a packed scheduled for the Whitecaps, who’ll play five games in 15 days.
From Washington, the team will head to Montreal, where they’ll play the Impact in the Canadian Championship on Wednesday, then head back to the West Coast to play the Seattle Sounders on July 21.
Robinson said he wants his players to focus on one game at a time. Everyone will get a chance to play over the next few games, he added, as he’ll be rotating the line up to keep the team fresh and competitive.
Being strong as a team is important, the coach said.
“We’re not going to be successful in this league if we rely on one player,” Robinson said.
He noted there’s been a lot of talk recently about Alphonso Davies, the 17-year-old Vancouver midfielder who’s tallied two goals and eight assists with some astonishing plays this season, and earned himself a spot on the all-star team.
Davies is one of the Whitecaps key players, but he’s a young man and there are other talented, experienced athletes on the team, too, Robinson said.
“We’ve got no superstars on our team. We’re a team and that’s a big focus for us,” he said. “The group is together.”