Club and country on minds of players - The Province

Several 'Caps in action today in frame for Olympic call-up

Marc Weber
The Province

With two games remaining on their W-League schedule, the Vancouver Whitecaps are set to open the season for a third time this afternoon at 4 p.m. as the Fort Collins Force visit Swangard Stadium.

"Yeah, it is almost like that," said head coach Bob Birarda, who along with most of the Whitecaps' opening-day roster, has been away for the past month qualifying for the FIFA under-20 World Cup.

Other Caps roster players have been in and out of Evan Pellerud's senior squad and some famous faces -- Christine Sinclair and Randee Hermus -- made one-time appearances in Vancouver, adding to the revolving-door feel this season.

Replacements -- many of them local university or Team B.C. players -- were brought in last month and did an admirable job in keeping the Caps (5-2-3) in second place in the Western Conference.

Now that most of the under-20s are back from their trying triumph in Mexico -- some have been lost to attrition or moves to W-League teams closer to home -- the challenges are integrating the groups quickly and, for the under-20s, overcoming the CONCACAF tournament hangover.

"I wish I had more time," said Birarda, whose squad will host a playoff game if it hangs on to second place and if conference-leaders Pali Blues (11-0-0) top the entire W-League.

"Winning a tournament like that [under-20], there's excitement and relief and a bit of depression that it's over and it takes a while to recover from all that."

It won't be surprising then if a few Caps players look a little sluggish today, especially the ones carrying the added weight of their Olympic dreams.

Richmond's Jodi-Ann Robinson along with Kaylyn Kyle, Lexi Marton and Amy Vermeulen did not take part in Thursday's 1-1 friendly against Brazil in Toronto, but all have been a part of the senior squad recently and could still get the call from Pellerud, who is expected to make final decisions on his Beijing 18 and four-player taxi squad early this week.

"The Olympic Games is the pinnacle for most of these players," said Birarda, who added that lineup decisions today will be as much about heads and hearts as they are about will and skill.

"It's our job to motivate them to play club soccer and, if we do, we can go on a little run here and cause some problems."

mweber@png.canwest.com

© The Vancouver Province 2008