VANCOUVER - Not many of the Vancouver Whitecaps are left from the squad that entered MLS in 2011 — but Jay DeMerit is one of them
DeMerit remembers the feeling he and his mostly former teammates had after winning their first-ever game in North America's top soccer league. He hopes to recapture the feeling Saturday as the Caps renew their rivalry against Toronto FC, the same club they beat on day one.
"It's a good (rivalry)," said DeMerit. "It's what this game needs."
He is one of only four regulars remaining from the Caps' team that staged a comeback 4-2 victory over the Reds in March 2011.
DeMerit said it's hugely important for the Caps to get off to a strong start as they try to improve on a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference in 2012, when they became the first Canadian team to qualify for the MLS playoffs.
For a change, Vancouver, a club consisting mainly of players with three years or less of MLS experience, has a large core of holdovers. But the Reds, who have yet to make the playoffs in seven seasons, have won the last two league meetings and also beat the Whitecaps in the Canadian championship final, which determines the CONCACAF representative in Champions League play, the past two seasons.
DeMerit indicated the Caps have a point to prove against the Reds.
"Toronto, over the past couple seasons, in the Canadian championship, have given us the business, and we seem to do really well when we play them at home.
"So (Saturday), hopefully, we can do the same."
Caps coach Martin Rennie said the Toronto-Vancouver rivalry has spiced up the traditionally exciting time of a season opener.
"We expect a very hard game," said Rennie. "Obviously, it's the start of a new season, and every team is full of expectation, and Toronto are under a new (coach) and new president, so I'm sure they'll be fired up."
The Reds, who announced the signing of five players Friday, are in re-make mode under new field boss Ryan Nielsen, a former English Premier League and New Zealand national team star, and president Kevin Payne.
TFC midfielder Terry Dunfield said he and his teammates are "playing for jobs" as Toronto's attempted renaissance moves into regular-season mode.
"We're improving by the day," said Dunfield. "The new guys that have come in have definitely given us a boost. We're looking to improve on last year."
While trying to get the season off to a good start, the Reds will be trying to develop cohesion as they attempt to improve a 5-21-8 record and 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2012.
"It's important to integrate on the field and then get to know (the new players') strengths and weaknesses," said Dunfield. "But also off the field, it's important that (the newcomers) settle in Toronto. It's not been easy, but the guys so far are doing a fantastic job."
Friday's signees were forwards Robert Earnshaw, Ashton Bennett and Taylor Morgan and midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Darel Russell.
Earnshaw, 31, most recently spent time on loan in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv from Welsh club Cardiff City, which plays in England's second-tier League Championship. He began his career with Cardiff City's youth program and turned professional in 1998.
The Welshman has 168 appearances with the Bluebirds, scoring 83 goals in all competitions. He has also played for West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, but must wait for an International Transfer Certificate.
The four other additions are expected to be in the TFC lineup Saturday.
"(Most of the new signees) have been with us training for most of the pre-season, so it's nothing new to us," said Toronto midfielder Kyle Bekker, an Oakville, Ont., native.
Meanwhile, some key new Whitecaps, including midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker, a former Premier League star, and Diego Kobayashi and top draft picks Kekuta Menneh and Erik Hurtado, will play their first home game and MLS regular-season debuts.
Rennie indicated Reo-Coker, Vancouver's most noteworthy acquisition, will see action as a starter or off the bench.
"The start of the season, it's always very emotional," said Reo-Coker. "It's a new experience, and I'm looking forward to it."
Notes_DeMerit, bothered by Achilles tendonitis, will play. ... Dunfield scored a goal for Vancouver in the first game between the Whitecaps and Toronto before he was traded in the 2011 mid-season. ... Neither team listed any injured players, but Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei is recuperating from a broken nose, and Vancouver winger Omar Salgado is recovering from a broken foot suffered last season.