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Union not taking Whitecaps lightly

It looked like the perfect opponent for the Union in the home opener of their second Major League Soccer season: a team that, like the Union a year ago, is new to the league.

It looked like the perfect opponent for the Union in the home opener of their second Major League Soccer season: a team that, like the Union a year ago, is new to the league.

A week after a 1-0 opening-night win at Houston, the Union host the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4 p.m. Saturday at PPL Park in Chester.

What better way to open at home than against an expansion team? Or so the thinking goes.

This one doesn't seem to be the automatic 'W' that it might have appeared to be when the schedule came out.

That's because Vancouver sent more than a few shock waves, not to mention a message that the Whitecaps will be on the attack, when the expansion club beat visiting Toronto FC, 4-2, on Saturday.

Anyone who saw the highlights could appreciate what looked like fastbreak soccer. And there were a few other scoring chances that the high-flying 'Caps missed.

To put the goal total in perspective, the Union have never scored more than three goals in their 31-game MLS history. In fact, no other MLS team scored more than three goals in the first week.

So what was the Union's response to Vancouver's stunning debut?

"Wow," said newly acquired midfielder Brian Carroll.

Carroll has been part of two MLS championship teams, so he doesn't impress easily.

"I expected a competitive game, but not necessarily a 4-2 game," Carroll said. "I knew Vancouver would come out firing in their home opener."

Even the Whitecaps didn't see this offensive explosion coming. Coach Teitur Thordarson said he was confident of winning the opener, but scoring four goals wasn't in his pregame forecast.

"I was absolutely surprised," Thordarson said in a phone interview. "It was a dream come true, and we played very well."

That was against a Toronto FC team that won nine games last year - one more than the Union.

Of course, even if Vancouver had lost by 4-2, the Union wouldn't be taking the game lightly. They know what it's like to be an expansion team that wants to be treated like a veteran club.

"That 'expansion team' stuff is thrown out the window at this point," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. "If you look at it, and that score came against a natural rival like Toronto, that was one impressive performance."

So the Whitecaps won't catch the Union off guard. In fact, that score may have been the best things that could have happened to the Union.

There will be no sneaking up on their defense, especially by designated player Eric Hassli, who scored the first and fourth goals for the Whitecaps while his teammate provided plenty of offense in between.

The game will be a sellout, but Vancouver already experienced that in its opener, in front of 22,592 fans, including co-owner Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns point guard.

"The atmosphere at our game was electric," Thordarson said. "We have heard about the great Philadelphia fans, and we're looking forward to that atmosphere."

The Union are looking forward to it as well. There should be plenty of emotion at PPL Park.

The Union have a winning record for the first time in their brief history and, obviously, so do the Whitecaps. And after last week's scoring barrage, Vancouver won't be slipping in through the back entrance.

The fans and the Union know better than to treat their opponent like any run-of-the-mill expansion team.