Time for Third-Wheel Caps to Impose Themselves in Cascadia, Canadian Rivalries

With the Seattle Sounders in town tonight for another installation of the Cascadia Cup, the mini-competition contested between Seattle, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers, the Whitecaps will be looking to take a step towards once again becoming an important cog in the derby, as they try to push the third-wheel reputation away and attempt to catch up to their two rivals down south. Cascadia has been home to some intense matches over the years, with each team constantly finding a way to pull out some legendary victories behind awesome support from each of the three groups. When they play, the rest of MLS is on notice. With superstars such as Nico Lodeiro for Seattle, Diego Valeri for Portland and a rotating cast of stars that has ranged from Pedro Morales to Alphonso Davies for Vancouver, there is always a lot of star power and game changers on display that have made this rivalry so special for fans and neutrals alike.

With each team having met each other in the MLS playoffs multiple times, as well as competing each regular season for the Cascadia Cup (determined by the best record from the 4-6 matches between each of them in the regular season), they have built up a great rivalry that extends from on the pitch to the stands, as every supporter seems to bring their A game for each match between them. Despite the intensity, there remains a respect between the supporter groups as they do share the easy going nature of the West Coast Lifestyle and enjoy everything that these derbies are all about. Each year when the calendar comes out I take a note of these derby matches, as it is always a good time to take a road trip down to either city to take in what they have to offer and go support in the away section.

Whitecaps supporters talk about the Cascadia Derby (2012)

The Cascadia Cup dates back to the USL days, and continued on to when each team moved onto MLS. The Whitecaps do lead the all time tally for the most Cascadia Cup titles, but they have often been the third wheel as Portland and Seattle have been the better team when it has counted. Each of them has had lots of success in the playoffs the last 4 years, with Portland winning in 2015 and losing in the final in 2018, and Seattle winning in 2016 and losing in the final in 2017. The Whitecaps have missed the playoffs twice in those 4 years, missing out in 2016 and 2018, and the two other years they were knocked out by the eventual winner in the conference semifinals. It has been a rough period for Whitecaps fans, as watching each of their closest rivals pick up victories behind the back of some dominant performances while the Caps shrink in the big playoff matchups has been a common theme over these years. To see the difference makers that each team has step up and lead their team to success has been tough for a fanbase that has watched many difference makers come and go, unable to bring the Caps to the heights they so desperately want to get to.

To make matters worse, the Caps have not fared very well in their other trio of rivals they share, as they have fallen behind their two Canadian rivals in Toronto and Montreal. While they do not play them much in MLS play, they have played a lot of matches against them in the Voyageurs cup, which is the Canadian domestic cup competition. Montreal has won the competition an impressive 9 times, while Toronto comes right behind with 7 victories, including an impressive 5 of the last 10 and 3 in a row. Meanwhile, Vancouver lags way behind with a measly 1 championship, as their lone triumph came in 2015. Somehow, despite constantly being a solid MLS threat, they have yet to figure out a formula that balances MLS competitiveness with good Cup runs. It’s not like TFC has struggled in that regard either, as they won MLS in 2017 and made the final the year before, so Vancouver doesn’t have much of an excuse to why the have lagged so far behind.

While Montreal hasnt had the same success in MLS that Toronto has had, they have still done better in Vancouver in terms of their best playoff finish, having made the conference final in 2016, falling to Toronto 7-5 in a great two-legged series. They have fallen off a bit the two years since, failing to make the playoffs in either campaign, but they have a solid crew led by superstar Nacho Piatti, one of the finest stars MLS has to offer.

The Caps Canadian rivals also one-up them in terms of continental success, as each team has been in the CONCACAF Champions League at least twice, with Montreal and Toronto each making the final, with Montreal falling to Club America in 2014 and Toronto falling to Chivas Guadalajara in 2018. The Caps fell in the semi-finals in 2017, losing to Tigres after making a solid run. Their lack of success in the Canadian Championship has amplified the success of their rivals, as the Canadian Championship is a direct entry into the Champions League. Seeing Toronto and Montreal do well hurts considering most fans know the Caps can beat those teams, but they have been lacking a consistent difference-maker and that big-game mentality, allowing Toronto and Montreal to run roughshod over them year after year.

While the Caps have been the third-wheel in both the Cascadia Cup and the Canadian Championship since coming into MLS, things are slowly starting to look up for them. With Marc Dos Santos in the fold, the Caps will look to a new big-game mentality to all these derby, cup and playoff games. Dos Santos has been adamant this week that he expects his team to bring their A game all the time, instead of raising their level for the big matches, causing them to fall back to earth in the less heralded dates.

“Our approach as human beings and in sports need to be high all the time. ” Dos Santos said after training Thursday. “Does your boss want you to show up sometime, or all the time?”

While it sounds good in theory, another part of the equation is having those guys that show up in the big moments and get their teams through when the going gets tough. Seattle has had Lodeiro do that for them, Portland has had Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, Toronto has had Giovinco and Montreal has had Piatti. Vancouver’s stars have failed to do the same for them in their biggest moments, so it is hoped that Dos Santos can find a way to bring the best out of some of his big players in the big moments. Hwang In Beom, Fredy Montero, Joaquin Ardaiz and Lass Bangoura may be each in different phases of their careers and have different pedigrees, but they all look capable to impact games when they are in-form. As long as the Dos Santos approach works and those players find that big-game mentality, there appears to be hope to expect some big game performances in this season and in the near future, instead of the hang on and pray Robinson seemed susceptible to employ, be it by accident or not.

Hwang looks to have adjusted to MLS rather nicely so far

It all starts tonight against Seattle, as Vancouver looks to spoil their 3 and 0 start and pick up their first victory of the season. Seattle looks pretty darn good to start the season, but with the energy expected to be in the stands, anything can happen. Hwang and Bangoura turned in good performances in tough locales so far, such as their performances against Real Salt Lake and Houston, so to see them have a big match tonight will give fans hope as the Caps chase playoff success and a Canadian Championship victory.

Vancouver vs Seattle


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One thought on “Time for Third-Wheel Caps to Impose Themselves in Cascadia, Canadian Rivalries

  1. To stop being a doormat, Caps need to do some ore more of the following: 1) buy some big stars (hello, great sucking sound here); 2) have a superior scouting process (uh, no, actually falling behind); 3) have a good development program (they do, but lack the bridge that gets the players to the top level).

    Frankly, I’m losing hope. It’s going to be a long season. Maybe the longest season.

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