Time for the Fantastic Four

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

Vancouver Whitecaps want to beat the Seattle Sounders Saints for the fifth time in 2006 on Friday so they can play for the W-League championship at home on Sunday.

"Seattle is a real good team with a lot to offer when things are going well for them," said Whitecaps' head coach Bob Birarda. "They can surprise anyone on the right day."

Seattle edged Mile High Edge 1-0 Sunday night for the Western conference title on Tafara Pulse's 76th minute goal. Whitecaps qualified automatically as host of the North American women's soccer club championship. Four of their 11 wins were against Seattle, including the first three of the season. Whitecaps beat the Sounders Saints 4-1, 1-0 and 3-2 in consecutive May games and added another 3-2 result in late June.

Tiffeny Milbrett led Vancouver with three goals and two assists during the four games, while Christine Sinclair and Stephanie Smith had two goals apiece. Shuree Hyatt led Seattle's attack with three goals while Pulse had one.

The key to the Whitecaps' success could actually be in training tomorrow and Thursday. Unlike the other three teams, the full Whitecaps' squad has not played a meaningful game since July 6's 8-0 regular season finale over Real Colorado Cougars. National team commitments took the best veterans and developing players out of town. The rest remained and played with the reserve team.

"We have had no preparation time," Birarda said. "Some of the players have done an awful lot of work; others have been trying to keep their form locally."

A win over Seattle in Friday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff would match the Whitecaps with Eastern champion Ottawa Fury or Central champion Charlotte Eagles in Sunday's 5 p.m. final.

Ottawa upset the defending champion New Jersey Wildcats 3-2 on July 30 with a hat trick by Saskatchewan's Amy Vermeulen. Vermeulen has goals in six of her last seven games, but Whitecaps can't overlook gritty midfielder Diana Matheson or speedy forward Rhian Wilkinson.

"Wilkinson, she's the one with Canada who plays with all the pace down the flank and she was whipping in the crosses [to Vermeulen]," Birarda said. "Amy did very well to score thee goals and Amy has some extreme pace as well. It would be exciting to play them in the final."

Charlotte Eagles are making their second trip to a Vancouver-hosted W-League final four. They lost the 2002 final to the Boston Renegades after upsetting the Vancouver Breakers in a thrilling semifinal decided on penalty kicks.

They won 2006's Central title on Saturday when Heidi Drummond succeeded on a 70th minute penalty kick. Eagles eked by the Minnesota Lightning in Friday's semifinal in a 5-4 shootout after a 1-1 draw through extra time.

Drummond scored seven regular season goals. Teammates Ashley Swinehart (five) and Darcel Mollon (eight) also contribute to the Eagles' attack.

"Charlotte is an athletic, high energy team that likes to attack and has a great team spirit," Birarda said.

A FINE HISTORY

'Caps were known as the Vancouver Breakers when they made their first W-League championship tournament appearance in 2001.

Andrea Neil's overtime goal gave the Breakers a 1-0 semifinal win over the Hampton Roads Piranhas, but the club lost 5-1 in the final to the Boston Renegades at Virginia Beach, Va.

Breakers hosted 2002's final four at Swangard, but lost 5-4 on penalties to the Charlotte Eagles after tying 1-1 through extra time. 'Caps beat Denver Cougars, now the Real Colorado Cougars, 2-0 to win bronze.

Seattle Sounders and Whitecaps drew 2-2 in 2003's Western final, but Seattle advanced 3-1 on penalty kicks. Whitecaps edged Seattle 1-0 in regulation time a year later to earn a trip to the final four in Ottawa.

'Caps tamed the Chicago Cobras 2-1 in the semifinals and beat New Jersey Wildcats 4-2 on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie in the final. Erin McLeod earned the shutout and scored the winner in the shootout. Vancouver won its first North American soccer title since 1979 when the original Whitecaps won Soccer Bowl.

Last year, 'Caps were 2-1 semifinal losers to host New Jersey, but had a 3-1 third place triumph against the Central Florida Crush.

Amber Allen is Vancouver's all-time W-League playoff goal scoring leader with seven.


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