Whitecaps hope to write some new history in USL final
There have been a lot of disappointing endings written in the Vancouver Whitecaps' playoff history.
Coach Bob Lilley says it's time to write a new chapter when the Whitecaps face the Rochester Raging Rhinos in Saturday's United Soccer Leagues First Division championship game.
The final will be played at Rochester's new 12,500-seat, soccer-specific US PAETEC Park Stadium.
"We are excited about the opportunity to finish the job," Lilley said in a telephone interview. "I think this franchise is long overdue.
"We have to get it done. We didn't come this far to have disappointment at the end of the road."
The Whitecaps advanced to their first USL championship by defeating the Montreal Impact 2-0 Sunday. The Rhinos, who will be playing in the sixth final in their 11-year history, defeated the Charleston Battery 1-0 in the other semifinal.
Rochester is looking to win its fourth league title and has history on its side. The home side has won the championship game on all 13 previous occasions.
That trend doesn't worry forward Joey Gjertsen, the Whitecaps' leading scorer and league MVP
"I don't think it matters for us where we're playing," said Gjertsen, who had 13 goals and seven assists in 31 games for Vancouver.
"We're just going to play our style. I look forward to the opportunity to be the first away team to win a championship."
The Whitecaps and Rhinos have never faced each other in the playoffs. The teams played twice this year, settling for a 0-0 draw in Vancouver and the Rhinos winning 2-0 at home. Rochester 'keeper Scott Vallow was brilliant in both games, especially the last one when Vancouver held a 20-8 advantage in shots on goal.
"I have a good idea what we do well against Rochester," said Lilley. "We're not going to change a lot.
"Both games (this year) their goalkeeper was the difference. At home, we had the better chances and their keeper was outstanding. The game in Rochester, we played them out of the park. We were unlucky."
Vancouver won the old North American Soccer League title in 1979 and took the now defunct Canadian Soccer League championship four times between 1988 and 1992. But since then the Whitecaps have been dealt some cruel playoff blows.
In 2000, Vancouver opened a two-game, total-goal series against Minnesota with a 3-0 win, then lost the second game 4-0. In 2002, they took a 1-0 lead into the final minute of a semifinal game against Milwaukee, only to have one goal scored on them in injury time and the winner in overtime.
Another time they lost a semifinal series against Seattle on penalty kicks.
"There's just been so many different ways," said Steve Kindel, a defender-midfielder who joined the team in 1995. "It was almost like we were finding ways to lose."
The team also had its off-field problems. Kindle said he's been through three owners during his time with the club.
The Whitecaps gained some stability when Vancouver billionaire Greg Kerfoot bought the club in 2002. Kindle said there has been a change in the team's attitude.
"We don't associate with those teams because we are so focused on what is going on with this team," said Kindle. "Maybe because we are in an environment now that so many of the young players are oblivious to that history, it's not something that is in the back of our minds anymore.
"We are very forward looking and not dwelling on what happened. We are so concentrated on what this team can do and not what past teams have done."
The Whitecaps will play the final without forward Eddy Sebrango. He was issued his second yellow card of the game for pulling off his jersey when he celebrated scoring the winning goal against Montreal.
"No team is going to win if they can't overcome a couple of players out of the lineup," said Kindel. "Rochester probably has a few injuries.
"We'd love to have Eddie, he gives us something different but we have other options. We're disappointed but we're not at all panicked or overly worried about it."