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Vancouver Whitecaps look to avenge ugly season opener in first home game

VANCOUVER — Heading into the second week of the Major League Soccer season, the Vancouver Whitecaps are already looking for a big bounce back performance.

VANCOUVER — Heading into the second week of the Major League Soccer season, the Vancouver Whitecaps are already looking for a big bounce back performance. 

The 'Caps stumbled into the 2022 campaign last week with an ugly 4-0 road loss to Columbus Crew SC. Now they're eager to put forward a stronger effort come Saturday when they host the reigning MLS Cup champions, New York City FC.

“Losing games, you learn a lot. You learn to figure out what went wrong and sharpen things up a little bit more, make things more clinical for us," said striker Lucas Cavallini. "There’s always revenge in football and this is our revenge for (last week)."

The Whitecaps (0-1-0) coughed up the first goal of the game in the eighth minute last week and went down to 10 men early in the second half when veteran defender Jake Nerwinski was sent off with his second yellow card of the day. 

“Obviously it’s a tough match to start off the year," said defender Tristan Blackmon. "But it’s a long season and we have a lot to look forward to, a good group of guys that have a lot of work ethic. And I think, what better way to bounce back than at home?”

The turf at B.C. Place was kind to the 'Caps last season. The club played just nine games in Vancouver due to pandemic border restrictions but boasted a stellar 7-1-1 at its home stadium. 

The Whitecaps respect the fact that NYC FC (0-1-0) are the league's defending champions, but the group is confident in its abilities, especially in front of a lively home crowd, said Cavallini. 

"Obviously we know it’s going to be a tough rival but if we stick to our game plan, we'll figure things out, especially at home," he said. "Home is a big advantage for us so I think we could come off with three points easily."

NYC FC comes into Saturday's game looking for its first win of the season after being blanked 1-0 by the L.A. Galaxy last Saturday. 

New York and Vancouver haven't encountered one another since Aug. 3, 2019, when an undermanned 'Caps side dropped a 3-1 decision at the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando. 

The 'Caps know what kind of threat they're up against this weekend, though, including from Valentin Castellanos. NYC FC's Argentine striker put away a league-leading 19 goals last season.

“He’s a good player. He showed that last year," Blackmon said. "It’s about minimizing how many chances he creates and just being on top of him most of the game, doing what we do best and learning from our mistakes last week. And hopefully that translates into a win."

The 'Caps need to be "extremely compact" when they press against New York and keep their play simple when they have the ball, said head coach Vanni Sartini. 

NYC FC is a team that likes to overwhelm its opponents and the Whitecaps need to be prepared to face the visiting side's high-quality players, he added.

"They can really put us on a carousel where we just turn, turn, turn and we never get the ball," he said. 

Vancouver will be missing at least one key player for Saturday's game, with Nerwinski out of the lineup after being ejected from last week's game.

Star striker Brian White could figure into the match after missing the season opener with a foot contusion. The American is set to participate in full training on Friday and Sartini said if it goes well, White will be available for Saturday's game. 

No matter who takes the field, the coach wants his team to be hungry and humble as they take on New York. 

“Maybe we were hungry but we weren’t humble last week, me included," he said.

Humility was key to Vancouver's "miracle" finish to last season where it captured a playoff spot for the first time in four years, Sartini added. 

"We need to find this ingredient again, because if not, the recipe is not going to be good," the coach said.


Saturday, B.C. Place

SUPPORTING UKRAINE: The Whitecaps are encouraging fans to wear blue and yellow to Saturday's game to show support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion. The club is also making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross on behalf of everyone who comes to the game.

BUSY STRETCH: New York kicked off the season with three games in 12 days between MLS play and the CONCACAF Champion's League, but hasn't played since last week's 1-0 loss to the Galaxy. Head coach Ronny Deila and his team opted to stay and train in Santa Barbara, Cali., this week instead of heading back to the East Coast.

YOUNG GUN: NYC FC made history this week, inking 14-year-old academy product Maximo Carrizo to an first team contract through 2027. The midfielder is the youngest player ever signed to an MLS deal. Carrizo is expected to play for NYCFC II in the new MLS Next Pro league. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press