Experiment in chemistry

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Whitecaps deep, but can new coach build a cohesive team?

The biggest challenge for new Vancouver Whitecaps women's head coach Bob Birarda is creating a team identity out of a roster brimming with national team talent that won't be available for every match.

"It's about creating meaning about what being a Vancouver Whitecap is so that they'll fight for each other," said Birarda, 39.

Birarda was assistant coach with UBC's women's team from 1990 to 1996 and helmed Capilano College's men's side from 1997 to 2000.

He co-founded Total Soccer Systems' academy in Richmond. He serves triple duty with the national women's program as under-15 girls head coach and assistant with the senior and under-20 national squads.

"There are very few of the (Whitecaps') players here that I haven't coached," he said.

Birarda will be tested by what captain and assistant coach Andrea Neil calls the national teams' "revolving door." Birarda's lineup sheets for each of the 12 regular season games will be unique.

Senior team players will be gone for a late June training camp and friendly against Italy near Toronto as part of ongoing preparations to qualify for Women's World Cup 2007 in China. Under-20 players will be absent during most of July for a training camp to prepare for August's under-20 world championship in Russia.

Several players are already unavailable until May 25 because of educational commitments. Birarda is blessed to have a 38-player roster from which to draw. He'll rely on two of the most talented players on the continent to lead the way early in the season.

Burnaby-born NCAA superstar Christine Sinclair returns after three years away from the squad. She managed to entice Tiffeny Milbrett - an American Olympic and Women's World Cup gold medalist - to sign.

"That's scary for our opponents," Birarda said. "I wouldn't want to play against Tiffeny Milbrett and Christine Sinclair."


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