Just five games into the Major League Soccer season, Vanni Sartini says his Vancouver Whitecaps are preparing for another crucial match.
Facing the Portland Timbers is always a big deal, the head coach said, and the stakes will be even higher on Saturday because the ‘Caps play host.
“I would say it’s another must win,” Sartini said. “We say every time that we need to build our win at BC Place so there’s always pressure when we play home to make points. And it’s also one of our local rivals in the Cascadia derby, so there’s always this added flair to that.”
The game will be one for the record books: It will mark the 100th all-time meeting between the Whitecaps and the Timbers.
Since 1975, the two clubs have faced each other in the North American Soccer League, American Professional Soccer League, United Soccer League and MLS. Vancouver holds a slight edge in the ongoing rivalry with a 42-39-18 all-time record.
The two sides come into Saturday’s match on different streaks.
The ‘Caps (1-3-1) are looking to build momentum after downing Sporting Kansas City 1-0 last week to collect their first win of the season. While the club has played just two games at BC Place this season, they have yet to concede a goal on home turf.
Pressure has been key to collecting clean sheets in front of the club’s fans, Sartini said.
“We were able to keep the other team away from our goal for a lot of time,” he said. “This helps the back three and this helps the goalkeeper. Because if they’re not under pressure for the entire game, they can also make a good play, a good tackle, a good save when they’re required to do. So that’s what we need to do Saturday, too.”
The Timbers (1-2-3), meanwhile, dropped a 3-1 decision to the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday and are winless in three straight (0-2-1).
Portland may be struggling early in the campaign, but the Whitecaps know the visitors shouldn’t be underestimated, Sartini said.
“They have quality players that in a moment can find something that can make you pay for your mistakes,” he said.
In order to come away with a result, the ‘Caps will need to avoid giving away the ball in dangerous areas and be aggressive, similar to how they played against SKC, the coach added.
“The physical output in [the Kansas City] game was enormous,” he said. “We overworked them. And we need to do the same against Portland.”
Vancouver knows there’s room for improvement, too, especially when it comes to offence.
Five games into the season, the Whitecaps have scored just three goals, tied with Inter Miami CF for the fewest in the league.
Putting more balls in the back of the net comes down to details, said striker Brian White, who led Vancouver in scoring last year.
“I think just being sharper, a little bit cleaner in the final third,” he said. “I think there are moments last game where if we were a little sharper, we get better chances. That just comes with time, I think, and getting the reps in.”