'Caps on verge of title

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

It will be a defensive battle when the Vancouver Whitecaps make their United Soccer Leagues' First Division championship debut on Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. against the Raging Rhinos.

Don't be surprised if extra time is needed. Or even a penalty kick shootout.

Rochester goalkeeper Scott Vallow played every minute of the team's 28 regular season games and was key in the Rhinos' semi-final series win over the Charleston Battery. Rochester needed only one goal over the two games to book a berth in the final.

Whitecaps scored their first win over the Montreal Impact in more than five years with a pair of late extra time goals by Eduardo Sebrango and Tony Donatelli, both assisted by David Testo, last Sunday.

Whitecaps will need to find a way to solve Vallow, who won 13 games, tied 11 and registered 14 shutouts. Two of those shutouts were against the Whitecaps: A scoreless draw on May 22 at Swangard Stadium and a 2-0 Rochester home win on July 3.

Whitecaps will need their best back line effort of the season to avoid ceding a goal to Rhino leader Matthew Delicate. Conversely, Vancouver cannot afford to be too careful. Rhinos are an impressive 10-0-3 when scoring the game's first goal, so Tony Caig will need to have his biggest game of the season. The Whitecaps' key offseason signing has been the difference. Another big performance Sunday could earn him another chance to play in the Premier League back home in England.

Rochester opened the season with a five-game winning streak, then a six-game tying streak and finished a point behind first place Impact. Rhinos are aiming to add more silverware to their trophy case after winning the league in 1998, 2000 and 2001. Rochester was also 1999's U.S. Open Cup champion.

Whitecaps won four Canadian Soccer League championships as the 86ers from 1988 to 1991 and have never been to a USL final. The original Whitecaps, who were North American Soccer League champions in 1979, were 6-3 against the Rochester Lancers from 1974 to 1980.

The teams appear to have been on a collision course. Whitecaps have five wins and three ties in their last eight games, while the Rhinos haven't experienced defeat since Aug. 9. USL cut no slack to Vancouver, which is making its third trip to the eastern time zone in this year's playoffs.

Whitecap Martin Nash played for Rochester when it won those back-to-back titles and is poised to break late-86er star Domenic Mobilio's consecutive games streak of 68. It'll happen in Rochester's new 17,000-seat PAETEC Park. A full house would certainly add to the drama and the flavour of the Can-Am second division championship.

Kickoff is Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT on Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports World Canada and AM 730.


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