Trophy takes centre stage

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

A banner for the Vancouver Art Gallery's Emily Carr exhibit hung above the Vancouver Whitecaps as they shared their new trophy with fans yesterday.

Like Carr's paintings, the Whitecaps' 2006 United Soccer Leagues' First Division championship run was a British Columbia masterpiece. They won four times - including Saturday's 3-0 upset of host Rochester Raging Rhinos in the league final - tied once and allowed just one goal.

Head coach Bob Lilley said the team was "mentally too strong" to lose in the playoffs.

He called veterans Jeff Clarke, Steve Kindel, Steve Klein and Martin Nash "the glue that held the new coach, a new system, and many new players together at critical times."

Whitecaps began July with their only slump of a 12-6-10 regular season by losing twice and tying once on an eastern road trip. Their August-opening pair of wins in Miami and Puerto Rico provided the turning point, said goalkeeper Tony Caig.

"The players really believed, from that weekend, we could go on to win it," Caig said.

Nash was absent yesterday because he was called to the national team for an Oct. 8 friendly in Jamaica. The USG final was his 69th consecutive match, surpassing the late Domenic Mobilio. Captain Clarke said Mobilio's spirit lifted the team to victory.

"All three goals were scored with left-foot shots," Clarke said. "That was Domenic's signature. That just sealed the fact it was meant to be."

Vancouver is home to the continent's men's professional soccer champion for the first time since 1979's original North American Soccer League Whitecaps. 


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