'Caps unleash fury, claim title

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Vancouver Whitecaps are North America's women's soccer champions for the second time in three seasons.

Whitecaps won the W-League championship 3-0 over the Ottawa Fury Sunday before 4,218 fans at Swangard Stadium.

Whitecaps had a simple game plan: Stop Ottawa's Amy Vermeulen and Rhian Wilkinson.

Vermeulen's hat-trick, assisted by Wilkinson, upset defending W-League champion New Jersey Wildcats in the Eastern conference final.

Ottawa's dangerous duo appeared ready to strike in the 16th minute at Swangard when Wilkinson found Vermeulen in the goalmouth. 'Caps keeper Erin McLeod had slid out of position, but defender Sasha Andrews arrived to clear Vermeulen's ball off the goal line.

Wilkinson was stymied in the 53rd minute when McLeod used her right foot to make her only save of the game.

"We knew they were going to possess the ball," said Whitecaps' captain Andrea Neil. "We didn't fear their possession, but it was about taking away their penetrative attack."

Sinclair put a Tiffeny Milbrett cross inside the left goalpost in the 33rd minute for a 1-0 lead. Milbrett was key in the second Vancouver goal when she sent a ball into the goalmouth on a corner kick. Neil played it to Christine Sinclair whose rebound off Fury keeper Leisha Alcia was put away by Franko for the injury-time marker.

"Any time you can score a goal late in the half it kills a team," said Sinclair, who was voted W-League championship MVP.

Andrews put the game out of Ottawa's reach when she headed Franko's free kick off the inside left post for a 74th minute goal.

"It feels like relief right now, we all expected to get through it," said rookie head coach Bob Birarda. "When you play against Ottawa ... there's so much talent there you have some doubt."

Ottawa, the 2005 runner-up, beat Charlotte Eagles 2-1 in a Friday semifinal. Vermeulen scored on a sixth minute header and Leah Robinson on a 79th minute free kick. Eagle Ashley Swinehart's goal after the 90th minute ruined Alcia's shutout bid. Whitecaps embarrassed the Seattle Sounders Saints 5-0 in the other Friday semifinal. Sinclair had a pair of goals, while Stephanie Smith, Franko and Milbrett had singles.

Seattle won Sunday's third place match 1-0 over Charlotte on a 36th minute unassisted goal by Lyndsay Patterson. Goalkeeper Lisa Brookens made eight saves for the shutout.

TOURNEY NOTES

No fellows in yellow

Sunday's matches featured all-female officiating crews. Referee Jill Proctor, assistants Isabelle Nielsen and Candace Brown and fourth official Michelle Pye in the third place match. In the final, it was Carol-Anne Chenard "in the middle," Charlene Douglas and Romy Kozak on the lines and Darci Konowalchuk as fourth official.

Who'll be back?

Head coach Bob Birarda and star striker Christine Sinclair both plan on returning in 2007. Captain and assistant coach Andrea Neil is a question mark, but "as long as I'm passionate, stay injury free and [with] coach's discretion, I'm thrilled to come back." American star Tiffeny Milbrett said she'd be back, unless a professional team signs her.

Whitecaps have been part of talks aimed at resurrecting the professional Women's United Soccer Association, which ceased league play in 2003.

Quote of the day

"I knew it was something special when I'm starting to get nervous before a semifinal matchup and before the finals."

Veteran American Whitecap Tiffeny Milbrett, who now has a W-League championship gold medal to go along with her 1996 Olympics and 1996 Women's World Cup gold medals.

Stadnyk up

David Stadnyk has gone from disgraced ex-owner to sponsor. His company Patch International is a field-level advertiser at Swangard and sponsored the Saturday banquet. Stadnyk was owner of the Vancouver Angels women's team when he bought the 86ers from David Braley in 2000. He resurrected the Whitecaps' name and turned the Angels into Breakers. Things went awry in early 2002 when cash-strapped Stadnyk fired Lenarduzzi and ran away from the Whitecaps in mid-season. Luckily, Greg Kerfoot came to the rescue that fall. The Breakers became Whitecaps in 2003. Unlike Stadnyk, mysterious Kerfoot was a no-show at the banquet.


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