VANCOUVER — Vanni Sartini believes his Vancouver Whitecaps have a "moral imperative" to come out strong in their first Canadian clash of the season on Saturday.
Hosting CF Montreal is always big for the 'Caps, but this weekend's game will feature a pair of teams who've sputtered to start the Major League Soccer season — and could use a win to get back on track.
Montreal (1-3-0) started the campaign with three straight losses, then downed the Philadelphia Union 3-2 on March 18 before heading into a bye week. The Whitecaps (0-2-3) came out of the gate with a pair of defeats but have managed 1-1 draws in their last three league appearances, including a road tie against Minnesota United last week.
The pressure to take all three points will ramp up yet again on Saturday, Sartini said.
“I think it’s an imperative, reaching the playoffs for us. … If we win Saturday, we are above the line," the coach said. "But if we keep not winning, the line is going to be far and far and far. That’s the pressure for us.”
The 'Caps will get a pair of key pieces back in the lineup against Montreal.
Midfielder Andres Cubas has returned from his time with Paraguay's national team and defender Javain Brown is back from playing for Jamaica.
Brown watched his Whitecaps teammates play from afar last Saturday and liked much of what he saw.
“We’re really hungry," he said. "We're playing some good football but we're just not getting the results. But I think it's time that we need to get a win to start our season.”
Vancouver outshot Minnesota 23-8 across the game, including five on-target shots compared to the home side's two. It wasn't until the 98th minute, though, that striker Simon Becher — coming off the bench — finally buried a shot.
Scoring continues to be a struggle for the 'Caps this season. The club has five goals across its first five MLS games of the year, despite creating numerous chances in each outing.
The inability to get the ball into the back of the net has been frustrating, said midfielder Julian Gressel, who has three assists on the season.
“You want to score, especially when you have that many shots. You want to score and you want to get something out of the game," he said.
"Putting the ball in the back of the net is difficult. So, we’ve just got to kind of maybe take a breath and focus on the final quality and hopefully it'll come.”
Some players are feeling more pressure than they should at this point of the season, Sartini said, and that may be impacting their performance.
"It’s normal that they themselves, they feel a little bit of pressure more. The thing is that they shouldn’t," he said.
When a player strays from his assigned duties, he can create trouble for his teammates, the coach added.
"Everyone needs to feel the moral obligation to do everything for the team and the only thing that is important is to get the three points," he said. "So everyone needs to be reminded that he needs to stay on task and do what he is expected to do."
CF MONTREAL (1-3-0) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (0-2-3)
Saturday, B.C. Place.
THE INJURED LIST: Vancouver striker Sergio Cordova (hamstring) and midfielder Alessandro Schopf (hamstring) have both been ruled out for the game, while midfielders Ryan Gauld (hamstring) and Russell Teibert (ankle) are listed as probable. Montreal will be without defender George Campbell (ankle), midfielders Matko Miljevic (knee), Jojea Kwizera (hamstring) and Lassi Lappalainen (left leg), forward Jules Vilsaint (right leg) and goalkeeper James Pantemis (shoulder).
FAMILIAR FACE: Whitecaps defender Karifa Yao will face his former team for the first time. The 22-year-old centre back came up through Montreal's academy and spent four seasons with his hometown club before he was acquired by Vancouver in the 2023 MLS re-entry draft.
Yao said he's been talking to some of his former teammates on Instagram recently and is looking forward to facing them on Saturday.
“It’s a normal league game," he said. "We need to have wins, especially at home. So I think it’s a bit of a new sensation, especially because it’s my old team. But at the same time, it’s a normal game.”
WELCOME BACK: Saturday will mark CF Montreal's first game in Vancouver since September 2020. The 'Caps hold a 3-2-1 edge over their Canadian rivals at B.C. Place.
STACKED SCHEDULE: The Whitecaps are about to embark on another busy stretch of five games in 14 days. After Saturday's matchup, Vancouver is set to host reigning MLS champions Los Angeles FC on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press