'Caps become road warriors

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Vancouver Whitecaps finish their longest W-League road trip of 2006 at Starfire Sports Complex near Seattle tomorrow night against the Seattle Sounders Saints.

Whitecaps flew to the Emerald City after tallying a pair of wins and a tie during a three-game in four-night swing through Colorado. A win over 3-3-2 Seattle would give first-place-overall Vancouver a sweep of four regular season meetings with the Sounders Saints.

"They're coming off some wins and getting over some of the early part of the season jitters," said Whitecap Tiffeny Milbrett. "They're going to be a much better team."

Whitecaps' 18-game regular season winning streak ended with Sunday's 1-1 tie with the host Fort Collins Force. Whitecap Carey Gustafson scored with six minutes left in what head coach Bob Birarda described as a tactical, emotional and physical challenge.

"We had very little energy left in us," Birarda said. "It was a very gutsy performance."

Whitecaps, 7-0-1, missed eight starters - including Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and captain Andrea Neil - to the national team's training camp in Nanaimo.

Another 16 had secondary school provincial examinations or injuries.

"We came down here in some pretty extreme conditions with not a lot of experienced players," Birarda said. "These players banded together against the conditions we were playing under and became a team quickly."

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod registered a 2-0 shutout over the Real Colorado Cougars on June 15 in Lone Tree, Colo. Five players made their Whitecaps' debut, but it was veteran Milbrett who carried the team offensively.

She scored on a 20-yard free kick and set up defender Erin Ramsay's header on a corner kick.

Milbrett also scored the winner June 16 to edge the Mile High Edge 2-1 in Golden, Colo. McLeod stopped a 13th minute penalty kick and clubs stayed scoreless until Selenia Iacchelli scored for the Whitecaps with an 82nd minute volley.

Mile High's Ymara Guante responded five minutes later, but Milbrett gave Vancouver the win with a minute left in regulation.

"We've got a lot of leaders on the team even though we don't have some national teamers here," Milbrett said. "I'm double the age of some of these kids and just learning their names still."

Whitecaps gained seven of a possible nine points in Colorado. Birarda also got a chance to allow players like Paige Adams, Desiree Scott, Tayrne Boudreau and Kirsteen Buchan a chance to shine.

They'll be useful again when the club returns home for a 4 p.m. Sunday rematch with Fort Collins, because the national team players will be hosting Italy in an exhibition near Toronto.

"Kirsteen has run miles and miles and miles, and given the team positive energy through this," Birarda said. "When things weren't going well she'd be into an extra tackle or closing space faster than anybody."


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