By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei has played derbies against the Vancouver Whitecaps before, but not as part of the Cascadia Cup.
Frei gets his first taste of the Sounder-Whitecap rivalry at 4 p.m. today when the Sounders visit BC Place for a Major League Soccer Western Conference match.
However, the Whitecaps were a top rival of the team Frei played for the previous five seasons: Toronto FC.
“Vancouver was the first (Canadian) team to join MLS after Toronto, so definitely a bit of a rivalry there until Montreal joined,” Frei said. “Montreal and Toronto are a bit bigger. They don’t like each other very much. But there’s always pride at stake, especially in the Canadian Cup. Always big games, for sure.”
Frei got his first taste of Cascadia Cup action last month when the Sounders visited Portland, coming from behind for a wild 4-4 draw. The intensity of that match topped anything Frei experienced in the Canadian derbies.
“You can definitely feel that there’s no love between the teams, and the fans as well,” he said. “It’s a big game for us because it’s in conference as well. With Toronto, when you play against Vancouver, it’s a different conference. It was a big game obviously, but the in-conference games are always huge: Those are six-point games, and so it’s a big one for us.”
This is Vancouver’s first Cascadia Cup match of the season, The Whitecaps are out to defend the championship they won in 2013. The Whitecaps are fourth in the West at 4-2-4. However, they are 3-1-1 at home and are unbeaten over their past four matches overall.
“They’ve gotten off to a good start,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’ve entrusted their forward line to a lot of their young players. They’ve got a lot of speed up front. They’re really dangerous on the counterattack. They’ve played really well at home so far. So it’s going to be a tough game for us.”
The Whitecaps are surging despite the loss of two of their highest-profile attackers: Camilo Sanvezzo, who transferred to Queretaro FC over the offseason for a multi-million dollar fee; and Kenny Miller whose contract was terminated May 4 in what was called a mutual agreement with the club.
Schmid said he is not surprised by how well the Whitecaps have survived the departures, because of the quality remaining on the roster.
“(Kekuta) Manneh is a very talented player,” Schmid said. “(Erik) Hurtado has come on and played well. (Darren) Mattocks has been in and out with his injury, but he’s another guy. Those guys just strike fear into you just with their speed and what they can do. And with the addition of (Pedro) Morales and the addition of (Sebastian) Fernandez, I’m sure Camilo wishes he were there now with those guys behind him.”