Toronto FC-Whitecaps FC Preview

It took two seasons for the Vancouver Whitecaps to become the
first Canadian team to reach the MLS playoffs.

Toronto FC, meanwhile, is hoping an unusual choice for the
franchise’s eighth coach pays dividends as it tries to reach its
first postseason in its seventh season.

Ryan Nelsen will make his coaching debut for Toronto FC in
Saturday’s matchup at Vancouver in the MLS opener for both
teams.

Vancouver (11-13-10) finished fifth in the Western Conference
and lost to eventual champion Los Angeles 2-1 in the playoffs last
season – the first under coach Martin Rennie. The Whitecaps are
looking for further improvement after a 1-6-3 finish to the regular
season.

“Last season, we felt like we had to make adjustments,” Rennie
said. “Going into this season, we feel like we have the players
that we want. Now we want to stick together and be a good
team.”

The 37-year-old Rennie’s counterpart on the sideline will be the
35-year-old Nelsen, who has never coached at any level and whose
arrival in MLS had to be heavily negotiated by Toronto FC
(5-21-8).

Nelsen was hired in January, but there was a major catch – he
was busy playing in the English Premier League for last-place
Queens Park Rangers. The London club, fighting to remain in the
league, wanted the defender to stay on for the duration of the
English season while Toronto wanted him to join its club for the
preseason.

The teams eventually came to an agreement, with Nelsen making
his 21st and final start of the season Jan. 29 against reigning
English champions Manchester City. He joined Toronto less than a
week later and is eager to begin coaching.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Nelsen, who was New
Zealand’s captain at the 2010 World Cup. “I think the guys are
looking forward to it, I think it’s been a really long
preseason.”

Nelsen is familiar to MLS having played for D.C. United from
2001-05. It’s no secret why Toronto hired a defensive-minded coach
after conceding a league-high 62 goals last season and finishing
with an MLS-low 23 points.

“Toronto, we let up a lot of goals last year so that had to be a
key point this year,” goalkeeper Joe Bendik said. “He’s done a
great job of getting everybody’s shape together and really focusing
on the back four.”

Bendik will start in place of an injured Stefan Frei, out with a
broken nose.

The home team has won all three MLS meetings between these
clubs, with Vancouver winning its first MLS game 4-2 over TFC in
2011. TFC won 3-2 in the lone 2012 matchup on Terry Dunfield’s goal
in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time.

Dunfield is a Vancouver native who played for the Whitecaps in
2011.

“It should be an exciting game and I can’t wait to put one over
on my hometown hopefully,” Dunfield said.

Darren Mattocks scored both goals for the Whitecaps in last
year’s defeat. Mattocks scored a team-high seven goals as a rookie,
adding the lone tally in the postseason.

Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit is questionable with a lower leg
injury. Rookie Brad Rusin will start if DeMerit does not.