Whitecaps FC women play crucial match in Penticton on Friday against Santa Clarita Blue Heat

Friday kickoff set for 7 p.m. PT at Kings Park

The biggest match of the season for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC women’s squad is this Friday night in Penticton, BC, as the 'Caps battle for top spot in the United Soccer Leagues W-League Western Conference against Santa Clarita Blue Heat. The match kicks off at 7 p.m. PT at Penticton's Kings Park.

WHITECAPS FC

Whitecaps FC are coming off of an impressive 5-0 Canada Day win against Victoria Highlanders FC women last weekend. Sydney Leroux led the way for the ‘Caps, scoring four goals to earn W-League Team of the Week honours. Her fine display now puts her second in the league with eight goals, one spot ahead of teammate Tiffany Weimer, who has seven goals.

It’s been a superb season for Hubert Busby Jr.’s side at home this season, as they’ve played at communities across British Columbia as part of the Whitecaps Women’s Soccer Series presented by Kia. The ‘Caps have yet to allow their opponents to score while playing in front of their home fans, outscoring the opposition 11 to nil.

BLUE HEAT

Santa Clarita come into the match after a 2-2 draw against Highlanders FC women in Victoria on Wednesday night. Victoria took the lead in the last minute of regulation, but Liz Franco scored for the Blue Heat in stoppage time to salvage a point against the last-place Highlanders. The result leaves Santa Clarita three points back of Whitecaps FC for top spot, but with two games at hand.

The Blue Heat have emerged as an unexpected force in the W-League this season after finishing with a disappointing record of 2W-6L-2D in their inaugural campaign last year. Under new head coach Fabian Sandoval, the team has been almost completely rebuilt for 2011, and have obviously found a winning formula. That formula includes plenty of goals, as Santa Clarita boast one of the most potent attacks in the league.

Leading the Blue Heat in attack is midfielder and Portuguese international captain Edite Fernandes, who combines clinical finishing with astute playmaking. The most eye-catching player on the squad, though, is English-born forward Hannah Beard, a quick and mercurial dribbler with a talent for running past defenders like they aren't even there. Other weapons in the Santa Clarita arsenal include Cal State Los Angeles stars Franco and Ann Marie Tangorra, as well as former Mexican U-20 international midfielder Janet Mendez.

The Blue Heat are also strong defensively, allowing the fewest goals in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo has been very steady, while the defensive core includes the young VanDine sisters, Madison and Kendall.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Whitecaps FC got a first-hand taste of Santa Clarita's scoring prowess back on June 5, suffering their only defeat this season in a 5-2 loss to the Southern California-based outfit. It was Vancouver's first regular season loss since 2009, and was only the second time ever that the Blue and White have been burned for five goals.

The 'Caps have an all-time record against Santa Clarita of 2W-1L-0D, including a 2-0 home win last season. Santa Clarita are a very different team this year, though, and anything could happen in Penticton.

LEROUX NAMED TO W-LEAGUE TEAM OF THE WEEK

United Soccer Leagues announced on Wednesday that Whitecaps FC striker Sydney Leroux was named to the W-League Team of the Week. Leroux scored four goals in a 5-0 Canada Day win over Victoria Highlanders FC women last Friday. She now sits second in the league with eight goals on the season.

Following Friday's match in Penticton, Whitecaps FC will play their final regular season match, as they host Colorado Force on Friday, July 15, in Langley, BC, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. PT at McLeod Athletic Park. The match is part of the Whitecaps Women's Soccer Series presented by Kia - in partnership with the Girls Metro Soccer League - and is hosted by the United Summer Soccer League (USSL). Tickets for all home games are available online for just $12 at whitecapsfc.com/wtickets.