BRITISH COLUMBIA

Vancouver Whitecaps eager to host 'money bags' Toronto FC in opener

03/06/2015 01:51 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC have very different philosophies when it comes to building a team.

Vancouver often mines lesser-known leagues for talent and develops players through its youth academy.

Toronto does some of that as well, but over the last two off-seasons has made huge splashes by adding big names with big price tags from some of the top clubs in Europe.

The two models will be pitted against one another on Saturday when the Canadian rivals open their Major League Soccer schedules at B.C. Place Stadium.

"It's always special when you play against Toronto," said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. "I think they're the highest-spending team in MLS, so any time a team plays against Toronto it's going to be a tough game."

Robinson is eager to see how Vancouver performs against an outfit that replaced English striker Jermain Defoe and Brazilian forward Gilberto — along with eight others from last season's roster that missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year — with an influx of new faces that include American striker Jozy Altidore, Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco, French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou and Polish defender Damien Perquis.

"It will be a good game for my group because they've brought in some fantastic players, some very high-salaried players," said Robinson, a former Toronto midfielder. "You look around the league and not many teams do that. It will be a good test for us, but we'll be ready. We'll pass the ball, we'll move the ball, we'll try and excite and we'll try and win the game.

"I'm excited to see how we test up against money bags Toronto."

Vancouver made the playoffs for the second time in three years last season, however like the 2012 campaign the Whitecaps were eliminated in the first round.

Robinson, set to begin his sophomore year as head coach, returned 22 players from that team, but also added Uruguayan striker Octavio Rivero in hopes of boosting an offence that scored just 42 goals in 34 games.

Giovinco, meanwhile, will be key to getting Toronto into the playoffs for the first time in its existence. The pint-sized star has all the tools to gash MLS defences, and the Whitecaps know they will have to be ready this weekend.

"You give credit to them," said Vancouver defender Steven Beitashour. "They're bringing in some great players and I'm sure they're just as hungry (as we are). We'll see who can execute and who's in better form."

Michael Bradley, who arrived along with Defoe and Gilberto before last season, has been handed the captain's arm band in Toronto and can't wait to get going.

"We spent so much time in the off-season working, figuring out how to make ourselves better individually (and) as a team," the U.S. international said prior to leaving for Vancouver. "Now all that's left is to step out on the field and start to take care of business.

"It's a group that has real personality and guys come in every day ready to spill everything they have into what's going on. I think that is really how you get somewhere."

Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said it will take some time for the new players to mesh, but added he has seen great strides.

"I think we have a clear indication of where we're headed and what we're doing," said Vanney, who took over partway through last season. "I still think our relationships on the field are going to be developing for a while. We have a lot of very good players."

Saturday's match is the only regular-season meeting between the clubs, although they could meet in the final of the Amway Canadian championship. It will mark another new beginning for Toronto, and what Vancouver hopes is the next step in its growth.

"They've got some big names," said Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted, who had an MLS-high 13 shutouts in 2014. "It will be a fun game to start with."

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