VANCOUVER — Didier Drogba's toe injury snuffed out the opportunity to face a legend, but the Vancouver Whitecaps still have a chance to make history in Wednesday's second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final.
Some young Whitecaps players were cherishing the chance to play against Drogba before the former Chelsea star was ruled out of the Montreal Impact lineup. But Drogba's disappointing absence isn't dampening their eagerness to help the Whitecaps win their first Voyageurs Cup.
"It's probably the biggest game in the history since I've been here, because we have a chance to win it and we want to win this trophy," said third-year Whitecaps midfielder Kekuta Manneh. "It'll be our first trophy, so it'll be a really important game, for sure the biggest game for us this year."
The aggregate-goals series is tied 2-2 after Vancouver squandered a 2-0 lead in the first leg in Montreal.
The chance to play against fellow African Drogba, an Ivory Coast native, was especially meaningful to Manneh.
"He's royalty in Africa," said Manneh, who hails from Gambia. "Everybody loved him and we heard stories about him. He's not only a great soccer player, but also a great guy for all the things he (does) for all the kids there."
Rookie central defender Tim Parker, a 22-year-old, Hicksville, N.Y. native, dreamed of the chance to go face-to-face with Drogba while watching him play on television many Saturday mornings. But Parker is still feeling plenty of excitement as the Whitecaps seek an elusive Canadian title.
"There's a lot of emotion (among Whitecaps players) going into this game, because from what I know about the club and from what I know about this game coming up, it's a big deal for the club," said Parker.
Vancouver central defender Pa-Modou Kah, a 35-year-old Gambian who hopes to return from a fractured cheekbone while sporting a "Phantom of the Opera" mask, praised Drogba as a "huge personality" in Africa. But Kah said the chance to win a Canadian title was more important to him.
"We want to make history," said Kah. "So it doesn't matter who's on the other side — Drogba or no Drogba."
Having scored two away goals in the first leg, the Whitecaps will hoist the Voyageurs Cup if the game ends in a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. But Kah would rather get a win.
"You never settle for a draw because you have two away goals," said Kah. "You always want to make sure you score yourself. So we go in with the mindset it's 0-0."
Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted said the Whitecaps are at their best when balancing a strong attack with sound defence — something they failed to do while squandering two-goal leads in a league game at Sporting Kansas City and the first leg of this series.
But Ousted does not want his team to hold anything back against the Impact.
"It's a little bit of a tricky game, but I feel like we need to go for it," said Ousted. "I think that we have the quality to take the game to them."
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson appreciates what's at stake. As a player with Toronto FC, Robinson delighted in winning a national title at Vancouver's expense.
"It's a great opportunity for us to get that piece of silverware that we want," said Robinson. "We haven't won it before. I keep getting reminded — and it irks me."
Impact coach Frank Klopas said Drogba was willing to play on B.C. Place's artificial turf, but the surface and long travel factored into team doctors' decision to hold him out and prevent a long-term absence.
"It's not because we didn't want to bring him or he didn't want to be here," said Klopas.
The Impact are virtually in a must-win situation, but a high-scoring draw could work in their favour under the away-goals rule. Klopas and crew want to hold the Caps off the scoreboard early and then produce a victory.
"I think it's important to defend well and not concede any goals, because 1-1 is not good enough," said Klopas.
Monte Stewart, The Canadian Press