Vancouver, BC – The Vancouver Whitecaps begin their drive for a second consecutive postseason birth on Saturday when they welcome Canadian rivals Toronto FC to BC Place.
Vancouver reached the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference in just its second season in MLS last time out. In 2013, Martin Rennie's side will be hoping a second-consecutive postseason birth is in the offing.
Forward Darren Mattocks had a breakout campaign last season and will look to get off on the right foot in front of his home fans on Saturday.
Mattocks, 23, was the second-overall selection in the 2012 SuperDraft and played in 21 games last season. He found the back of the net seven times and added one assist in the regular season and scored the club's lone playoff goal against Los Angeles.
Mattocks' blazing speed is a game-changer for Vancouver and gives the club a legitimate goal threat who will be counted on to shoulder the offensive burden this season.
In addition to Mattocks, fellow forwards Camilo and Omar Salgado will have to step up their contributions if the Whitecaps are to advance past the knockout round in 2013.
At the time of his selection, he was just 17 years old, so it is possible that heaping the expectations of a No. 1 pick onto the shoulders of a teenager was a bit unfair, but he has the potential to be outstanding player with a little more seasoning and experience.
Camilo, meanwhile, has been a proven scoring commodity over his two seasons in British Columbia, as the Brazil native has netted 17 goals and added 10 assists in 60 appearances. He should be able to increase his production in 2013 with Atiba Harris having moved on to Colorado in a trade.
The Whitecaps finished 2012 with a minus-6 goal differential, which will need to be improved upon if the club hopes to continue its upward progression.
For Toronto, 2013 begins yet another clean slate following a disastrous 2012.
The club hired former D.C. United executive Kevin Payne as president/general manager and former Queens Park Rangers defender Ryan Nelsen was brought in as head coach.
"I am very proud and excited to be joining Toronto FC," Payne said at his introductory press conference. "Toronto is a great soccer market with passionate fans and world-class facilities. The club has a great ownership team who are committed to winning and providing all the necessary resources to do so."
The two then overhauled the roster ahead of the 2013 season. Joao Plata was traded to Real Salt Lake and Eric Hassli was shipped to FC Dallas.
Goalkeeper Milos Kocic and forward Ryan Johnson were traded to the Portland Timbers and then Payne and Nelsen went to work putting together their desired roster.
In return from Portland, the Reds received goalkeeper Joe Bendik to back up Stefan Frei, and then won a weighted lottery among six MLS teams to acquire defender Gale Agbossoumonde.
The club also signed former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Julio Cesar and acquired forward Justin Braun in a trade with Real Salt Lake. Canadian international Kyle Bekker was selected in the SuperDraft and veteran defender Danny Califf was taken in stage 2 of the MLS re-entry draft.
Star forward Danny Koevermans will be back in the fold, but will miss some time at the start of the year while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last July.
Midfielder Torsten Frings was thought to be ready to play on Saturday after offseason hip surgery, but the 36-year-old Germany international announced his retirement from football earlier this week.
Toronto also signed Welsh international Robert Earnshaw on Friday. Earnshaw has spent the lion share of his career at Cardiff City where he emerged from the club's youth system.
He made his first professional appearance in 1998 and eventually departed the club in 2004 to join West Bromwich. Earnshaw enjoyed stints Norwich City, Derby and Nottingham Forest before returning to Cardiff in 2011.
The 31-year-old has been capped by the Welsh national team 59 times since making his debut in 2002 and has scored 16 goals for his country over that stretch.
Saturday's game could show us something about how Nelsen handles himself on the sidelines in the first match of what could be a very long season for Toronto.
The two Canadian rivals have met a total of 14 times, with Vancouver holding a 5-4-5 edge.