A beaming Vancouver Whitecaps squad made a triumphant return home yesterday as the new United Soccer League champions.
The team arrived at Vancouver International Airport late yesterday afternoon to the cheers of loyal fans still celebrating their first ever league title following a 3-0 away win against three-time champion Rochester Rhinos in the USL final on Saturday.
"It's good to be back in Vancouver and see the support and to be able to celebrate the championship with all the people here," said head coach Bob Lilley in the festive atmosphere as fans waived flags and banners.
"It would have been nice to have the game in Vancouver, but I guess we'll just hve to have the party here. There has been a strong group of fans and friends that have been behind us all year," said defender Steve Kindel.
Last time the Whitecaps raised a league trophy was 1991 when they were called the 86ers and had won their fourth consecutive Canadian Soccer League crown. Vancouver joined the USL's predecessor, the American Professional Soccer League, in 1993 and had never advanced to the final until 2006.
"The championship is unbelievable since we had to face to top two teams in the playoffs," Lilly said, referring to Rochester and the Montreal Impact, who the Whitecaps beat in a two-game semi-final.
In front of a hostile Rochester crowd of nearly 10,000, Saturday's match remained goalless - a Rochester goal was ruled offside in the ninth minute - until the 45th minute when Joey Gjertsen's shot was deflected by a Rochester defender into his own net. Tony Donatelli, 55th minute, and Sita-Taty Matondo, 86th, added to the tally to finish off the Rhinos.
Caps keeper Tony Caig recorded his 11th clean sheet of the year, a Vancouver record, while captain Jeff Clarke was named tournament MVP.