Impact leads 'Caps in what may be last final - Vancouver Sun

By Ian Walker

NEXT GAME

Saturday at Montreal Impact

11:30 a.m.

FSWC/TEAM

Montreal leads two-game, total-goals championship 3-2

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Hi. So nice to see you. Come on in. Welcome to the party.

Let me take your coat. Now, come this way so I can introduce you. Everyone who's anyone is here, baby. Over there, the well-dressed man in the corner, that's United Soccer Leagues president, Tim Holt. He's just in from Tampa and talking to the senior director for the USL First Division, Chris Economides.

Now look a few people to his right, the good-looking guy with the cool hair, that's Montreal Impact general manager Nick De Santis. And, of course, a man who needs no introduction, Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. He's just down the hall, sharing a laugh with the elephant in the sitting room.

As you well know, we're all here to celebrate the crowning of the USL-1's 19th champion. Maybe even its last. But that's on the down-low. The game's on, silly.

"I think it's exciting to have two such accomplished teams, with such history in the final," said Holt, during halftime of the Impact's 3-2 win over the Whitecaps in the first-leg of the two-game aggregate-goal championship series at Swangard Stadium on Saturday.

"The Whitecaps go all the way back to the NASL days, and Montreal back to the early 90s with the APSL, and it's the first time they've met in a final. So beyond being Canadian teams, they're two of the marque teams in our league for the better part of two decades."

A nice thing to say, all things considered.

The Whitecaps and Impact also just happen to be two of the most powerful members of the Team Owners Association, a group made up of eight USL teams prepared to start their own league next season. Unless, that is, they get more say in how the league is run. A recent sale of the USL by former owner Nike to an outside party is at the crux of the standoff.

Did I say standoff?

"We're happy for the league and we're happy for the owners of the respective teams," continued Holt. "No one has done more than those two guys for the growth of professional soccer in Canada this decade. So we're happy for them and their teams. It's a great atmosphere ... it's an exciting game."

He's right about that. The first-leg match was everything you'd hope for in a league championship. A 90-minute roller coaster of a ride that skirted a wide range of emotions.

An own goal gave the Impact a 1-0 lead at the break. Then, Vancouver captain Martin Nash was booked with a red card, ending his season early. Despite playing with only 10 men, the Whitecaps rallied twice to tie the game before former Whitecap Eddie Sebrango scored the game winner in the last minute of regulation.

As if that wasn't enough, Marlon James rolled a shot just wide of the left goal post in injury time.

"I don't think there'd be any fewer people watching the final on TV than if it were two American teams," said Holt, who would not offer a timeline of when the league and owners will next meet. "Fans want to see the best and it's the two best teams that this league has to offer. We look at ourselves as a North American league. More people from the outside look at it as two Canadian teams in the final -- we look at it as marque teams."

Whenever the two sides do resume discussions, there won't be a lot of time to quibble. The USL-1 usually has it season schedule in place by the Nov. 20 league meetings. On the other side, if the Team Owners Association is serious with its threat, they'll need time to get a league up and operational.

"We're not here to talk about anything but the championship," said Holt. "There will be plenty of time for everyone to analyze that stuff after the weekend. Right now, we have too much respect for the two teams, all the players, coaches and the fans than to talk about anything other than competition."

Such manners.

iwalker@vancouversun.com

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