By Nick Wells, The Canadian Press on February 6, 2024.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini says he and his team could do with more time before facing off against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Tigres are well into their season while the Whitecaps had to deal with a shortened pre-season to be ready for the game.
“I think we are where I thought we would be. A good moment, but not at our best, we have to be completely honest. They are much ahead of us in the preparations,” Sartini said on Tuesday in Langford, B.C., ahead of the match.
That means, he said, that he intends on using all his substitutes for the game.
“With the moment where we are, for sure we’ll play probably 16 players not 11,” Sartini said.
Tigres are undefeated through five matches, including victories over Leon and Chivas to open their 2024 calendar.
The Mexican side also has only two losses in its last 20 matches, which spans all the way back to Sept. 17, 2023.
The Whitecaps faced Tigres last year in the Leagues Cup, losing on 5-3 on penalties after the match finished 1-1 in regulation time.
But the shootout featured a magic show of sorts, with Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman appearing to pull silly string out of his mouth during the shootout and right before the deciding kick.
“Last time there was a show at the penalty shootout, so we’re familiar with their antics a bit,” said striker Brian White.
“For us it’s about controlling what we can control.”
Sartini agreed, but said he found Tigres antics amusing as an observer.
“I loved it,” he said, repeating similar messaging from the last time the two teams faced off.
“They’re also a very experienced team and they have a lot of guys over 30 years old. They know how to manage the game, manage the crowd.”
The first leg of the Champions Cup will take place on Vancouver Island before a second leg at Estadio Universitario in San NicolÃ¡s de los Garza, Mexico on Feb. 14.
Vancouver entered the competition having beaten CF Montreal to win the Canadian Championship.
Fellow Canadian entries are CPL champion Forge FC and CPL regular-season winner Cavalry FC.
White acknowledged that his team, despite its recent pre-season in Marbella, Spain, may not be at 100 per cent.
“So far I think we’ve had four or five games, depending on certain players, so hopefully it’s not as rusty,” he said.
White and captain Ryan Gauld were previously asked about the short break, with both acknowledging the quick turnaround between the season ending on Nov. 5 and Wednesday’s game.
The Whitecaps have traditionally been slow starters. In Sartini’s first two seasons as a head coach, the Whitecaps went the first five games without a win in 2022 and in the first 10 games only won twice and drew twice.
The team started without a win in the first six games of the 2023 MLS regular season.
“Hopefully it’ll be a better start than the two starts I’ve had as a head coach. It wouldn’t be hard,” Sartini said with a laugh.
The club broke its MLS attendance record in the final playoff match with a crowd of 30,204 fans at B.C. Place and Sartini previously said he wants the club to continue its momentum from how the 2023 season ended into the start of a new season.
Vancouver will also take part in the Leagues Cup, which runs from July 26 to Aug. 25, 2024.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.