Different look this year

BOB MACKIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

The defending W-League champion Vancouver Whitecaps open the 2007 season Sunday when Seattle Crossfire Sounders visit Swangard Stadium at 4 p.m.

But this year's edition won't resemble the one that beat Seattle and Ottawa Fury to win last summer's final four tournament at home.

That's because stars like Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang, Andrea Neil, Brittany Timko, Katie Thorlakson and Erin McLeod will only train with Canada's China-bound Women's World Cup squad. Sophomore head coach Bob Birarda is relying on last year's substitutes and imports from University of Nebraska and the American junior national team.

"We're a different team," said returning striker Stephanie Smith. "Different doesn't mean bad, different means good as well. It's good for us, because no one knows us, now we're ready to pounce on everybody."

Birarda said the team would be more balanced, yet still penetrating. American legend Tiffeny Milbrett is returning, but will miss the first two games of the season while she finishes her Swedish league commitments with Linkopings.

"She was a great complement to the players that we had here up front last year," Birarda said. "Now we have to find that mix to complement her."

Birarda has three goalkeepers to choose from: Veteran Sian Bagshawe, ex-University of Portland Pilot Cori Alexander and Burnaby's Jaclyn Dunnett.

"It's different not having Erin [McLeod]," Birarda said. "Erin was such a part of the leadership group from last year. There definitely are different strengths in each of the three goalkeepers."


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