The Vancouver Whitecaps begin their Canadian Championship campaign on Wednesday as 'one of the big guys', head coach Vanni Sartini has declared.
VWFC have only won Canada's domestic cup competition once, back in 2015, but have lost in five of the last 10 finals, once to Montreal and four times to Toronto FC.
The Whitecaps host Canadian Premier League side Valour in the preliminary round on Wednesday and with their MLS budget and quality, they'll undoubtedly be the favorites.
While Sartini has respect for their upcoming opponents, he's under no illusions as to what is expected of Vancouver, nor has he understated the importance of the match as the club goes in search of silverware.
“We can be very clear, Wednesday is the most important game of the year. Why? Because if we lose we are out of the Canadian Championship," he said. "That is a competition that we want to try to win. We enter the competition and have to be honest in a way that we are the big guy, we're not the underdog because the CPL, of course, the budget and everything, we need to have extreme respect for Valour.
"Go with all our guns there and try to win this game, because the last two years, the last two Canadian Championship campaigns have been very disappointing for the club.”
Vancouver come into the cup match fresh and confident from a win over fellow Canadian side Toronto FC in MLS play on Sunday.
That result is all the more impressive given the absences Vancouver are coping with right now, with the likes of Tristan Blackmon, Cristian Gutierrez, and Leo Owusu out of action. But soccer is a team sport, and Sartini has been pleased with the response of his group in the face of adversity.
"I'm very happy that the protagonists of the win have been guys that came off the bench to remind everyone that the group is the leader," the Italian said after Sunday's win. "Cody [Cropper] made a great save as soon as he came in, and Lucas [Cavallini] and Tos [Ricketts] combining for the goal. It’s beautiful, it’s very beautiful, we’re very happy.”
Given the short turnaround, Sartini will have to lean on his entire team again on Wednesday.
"I want the 11 players tomorrow that guarantee me a high level of intensity," he said. "It's a team that if we let them play and if we're not intense like we have to be, they can create a lot of problems."