'Caps gel without vets

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

They passed the test, now on to the rest.

Vancouver Whitecaps added 10 of a possible 12 points to their tally atop the W-League with three wins and a tie during a four-game stretch without the club's best veteran players such as Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and Andrea Neil.

The club held on to first place overall with two wins and a tie in Colorado and a last-minute penalty kick goal for a 1-0 Sunday win over the Fort Collins Force at Swangard Stadium.

The club lost eight players to national team duty for a training camp in Nanaimo before the three away games against Mile High Edge, Real Colorado Cougars and Fort Collins Force.

The "Nats" returned for a 3-2 win over the Seattle Sounders in Seattle last Wednesday but six were dispatched to Etobicoke, Ont., for Sunday's 2-1 friendly win over Italy.

"Last week when we had eight of them come back in it was an interesting dynamic," Whitecaps women's coach Bob Birarda said. "We haven't had the same 11 go yet twice. It's been good to give a bigger base of players an opportunity, so we have them in the playoffs and final four."

The club will be near full strength for Friday's "home" game against San Diego Gauchos, which will be played in Nanaimo's Caledonia Park.

Whitecaps have one more Swangard Stadium date remaining against Real Colorado Cougars July 6.

The club will use that as an opportunity to tune-up for the W-League playoffs and final four tournament, which will be staged at Swangard on Aug. 4 and 6 to determine the women's soccer champion of North America.

"The battle isn't on us anymore," said Tiffeny Milbrett, scorer of Sunday's game-winning goal. "It's on those other teams trying to make that spot."

Whitecaps will, however, have to battle the rest of the season without Kara Lang.

She suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her right knee during training.

Surgery is planned for mid-July. Like teammate Katie Thorlakson, Lang will also be unavailable for Women's World Cup qualifying this fall.

It may take Lang a year to recover. Lang will also miss her sophomore season at University of California Los Angeles.


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