Time to defend the title

BOB MACKIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

Can they do it again?

The Vancouver Whitecaps begin the defence of their 2006 United Soccer Leagues' First Division championship tomorrow night against longtime rival Seattle Sounders. Kickoff at Swangard Stadium is 7 p.m.

"Expectations are high and I think they should be. We've got a lot of talent here," said head coach Bob Lilley. "It's not going to be easy. We will be a target, week in, week out."

The "core four" of captain Jeff Clarke, Martin Nash, Steve Kindel and Alfredo Valente remains intact, plus "Super Sub" Dave Morris. All-star defender Geordie Lyall was lost to Walsall FC of England's Football League Two.

Cuban-born Eduardo Sebrango, instrumental in the playoff run, leads the attack. League MVP Joey Gjertsen has recovered from sports hernia surgery and could be ready tomorrow. Jason Jordan, the 2005 MVP, is out indefinitely after last year's turf toe. Lilley dealt Sita-Taty Matondo to the Montreal Impact for ex-Atlanta Silverback Jason McLaughlin. Trinidad and Tobago-born Joel Bailey also seeks starting assignments.

Josh Wicks' departure to the Portland Timbers means last year's No. 3 goalkeeper Serge Djekanovic and Surrey-born NCAA star Tyler Baldock are vying to back up Tony Caig.

The Whitecaps' success rests on the shoulders of British import Caig, who allowed just one goal in five playoff games.

"We have to set our standards high after doing so well last year," Caig said. "It's well within our reach if we stay focused and keep the squad fit and healthy."

Whitecaps are 11-6-3 in home openers since debuting as the 86ers on June 7, 1987. They're 2-4 against Seattle on opening day.

"There's too much rivalry there," Kindel said. "They're going to want to spoil the home opener, they're going to want to spoil the fact we're celebrating the return off a championship season."


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