Cascadia divided: Whitecaps ready for regional rivals Seattle in MLS 2nd round playoff
Whitecaps host Sounders Sunday in first match of two-game playoff, game 2 goes Thursday in Seattle
After knowing nothing but playoff disappointment for the entirety of their Major League Soccer existence, the Vancouver Whitecaps have earned themselves some momentum.
A five goal eruption in their first round game against the San Jose Earthquakes earned the team its first ever Major League Soccer playoff win, and set up a second-round playoff match against the rival Seattle Sounders.
"We wanted to make a statement," said Whitecaps centre back Tim Parker. "People might have been ragging on us a little bit for not getting points in October."
The win also reversed not only the team's playoff drought, but also an end-of-season slump that saw the Whitecaps win only once in their final five regular season games.
"Scoring five goals and putting them to bed (was) quite the moment," said Parker.
Up next comes a two-game, total-goals match-up with Seattle, with the first match set for Sunday evening at BC Place around 5:30 p.m. PT.
"It's going to be a dog fight," said fan Jorge Mendoza, co-host of the Whitecaps-themed From the Backline podcast.
"[Seattle] has a very strong team. They know how to win in the playoffs."
The two teams met three times in the regular season, with each side winning once with one game drawn.
"Last time we played Seattle we didn't get the result that we wanted," said Parker, whose team finished a point back of the Sounders in the regular season standings.
"That's going to kind of sit with us, and hopefully we take it out on them this time around."
The two sides meet again in the return leg, set for Seattle on Thursday night.
"They are the defending champions, you have to respect that," said Mendoza.
More seats available
The regional rivalry coupled with the post-season hype is raising attendance expectations.
On Friday, the team announced it was opening up the whole of BC Place's lower bowl to seating, increasing the capacity from 22,120 to 27,837.
"We're looking forward to an unbelievable atmosphere in the stadium," said team president Bob Lenarduzzi in a release.
"It's arguably the most attractive match-up possible in the second round," said sports business analyst Tom Mayenknecht.
"The soccer rivalry and the geographic rivalry. There's such a familiarity with Seattle."
The Cascadia rivals have met 133 times before in various competitions dating back to 1974, according to the team.
Both regular season games at BC Place were announced as being sold out.
"Their fans travel well," said Mayenknecht of the Sounders.
Before Wednesday, the Whitecaps were winless in four playoff games and never progressed beyond the second round. In 2015, they had a bye in first round of the playoffs, but lost in a two-leg playoff to the Portland Timbers.
Seattle leads the series 8-7-5 in MLS play, including a 4-3-4 record in Vancouver.
The winner will meet either Portland or the Houston Dynamo in the conference final scheduled for late November.
The Sounders finished sixth in the conference last season but gathered momentum through the playoffs and won the MLS Cup.
"If they can eliminate Seattle that would be a huge boost in confidence for the team," said Mendoza.
"[A win] would automatically make the Whitecaps one of the favourites for the MLS Cup."
With files from the Canadian Press.