Year in Review: Whitecaps FC women continue to shine

A fine display from 'Caps girls and women's programs

This past year was another fine display of excellence from our girls and women’s teams. Our first team had another stellar year in the W-League, making a second consecutive Final Four appearance, while our U-18 Girls Elite squad saw a new manager and continued to make positive strides.

GIRLS ELITE

The ‘Caps began the fall by hiring Carrie Taylor as Girls Elite manager and women’s assistant head coach. The squad welcomed the addition of Taylor, as they continued to grow and learn in the ‘Caps development system. The club also welcomed back former goalkeeper Sian Bagshawe to assist coaching with the Girls Elite squad.

On the field, the team had great success. They went undefeated in matches here at home, and showed well at the 2011 NCAA Final Four Showcase. The elite training regimen saw many talented players earn scholarships (with several more players recently committing as well), while some players on the squad were also called up to play for their country.

W-LEAGUE

2011 was a captivating season for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC women’s team. The ‘Caps proved to be one of the most exciting teams in the W-League, thrilling fans throughout British Columbia, as they played home matches in Coquitlam, Chilliwack, Surrey, Richmond, Penticton, and Langley as part of the Whitecaps Women’s Soccer Series – presented by Kia. Although they came up a tad short of their ultimate goal of winning a third W-League title, the team did build on their winning tradition and can still look back positively on a great season.

THE ROSTER

With many regular players off in Germany representing Canada at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 11 fresh faces joined Whitecaps FC for the first time, including eight Americans. Among them were team captain and All-Western Conference player Kelsey Hood, All-League performer Tiffany Weimer, and frequent starters Krista Kruse, Carrie Patterson and Jen Stoltenberg.

Also on this season’s roster was budding striker Sydney Leroux. Having made her debut for Whitecaps FC at only 15-years-old, Leroux returned to play for Vancouver after a six-year hiatus. One of the top prospects in the women’s game, Leroux proved that she’s come a long way since she first put on a ‘Caps jersey, as she finished tied for second in the W-League with 11 goals and 24 points to earn the W-League's Rookie of the Year award.

Another welcome sight was the emergence of youngster Jenna Richardson. One of eight players on the roster to have recently come through the Whitecaps FC U-18 Girls Elite program, Richardson made an immediate impact, as she scored two goals against Colorado Force in her W-League debut. The White Rock, BC, native went on to tally five goals on the season, including the game-winning goal in the Western Conference playoff final.

THE SEASON

Despite having a roster filled with players who had never played together, former head coach Hubert Busby Jr. and the ‘Caps set a clear goal of returning to the W-League Championship. The season began well, as they shutout their first three opponents en route to three victories, including two in front of enthusiastic crowds in Coquitlam and Chilliwack. They continued with a three-match California road trip. Things started fairly well, as they played to a 1-1 draw against Pali Blues before beating LA Strikers 4-2. However, in their next match, the squad got their first taste of adversity, as they were defeated 5-2 by Santa Clarita Blue Heat - a team they would get to know well.

Following the bitter loss, the ‘Caps responded by going undefeated in their next six matches, as they went 4W-0L-2D. The run included two wins at Surrey’s Newton Athletic Park, and a 5-0 Canada Day win against provincial rivals Victoria Highlanders FC at Richmond’s Minoru Park. Not only had the ‘Caps won each of their first five home matches, they had also yet to concede a goal on their home turf, as they had outscored the opposition 11-0.

In their next home match in Penticton, BC, they met the team that had handed them their lone loss – Santa Clarita. With the BC Provincial B Cup also happening that weekend, a rambunctious crowd of 2,050 came out to watch a battle for first-place in the Western Conference. The ‘Caps got off to a fast start, with Leroux heading home a goal in the 13th minute. However, a pair of stunning goals from the visitors ultimately saw the 'Caps drop a 2-1 result to the Blue Heat – despite the fact that Vancouver had outshot them 25-10.

Needing a win in their final regular season match, the ‘Caps faced Colorado Force at Newton Athletic Park in Langley, BC. A rocky first half saw Vancouver go down 3-0, but a valiant effort allowed them to salvage a heroic 3-3 draw. Despite not getting a win, Whitecaps FC received the help they needed to qualify for the W-League playoffs.

THE PLAYOFFS

After a fine regular season (8W-2L-4D), the ‘Caps ventured to California to play their first Western Conference playoff final away from home. They were once again matched up against Santa Clarita - the only team to have beaten them.

The 'Caps went down a goal early, but Leroux came through with a laser into the top corner to level the match 1-1 after 32 minutes. Two late-season additions then made the difference, as veteran Martina Franko scored just before halftime and Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle – having recently returned from the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup – scored early in the second half to make the score 3-1. Santa Clarita, though, would not go down easy and quickly responded with a pair of strikes to even the match back at 3-3. Things got tougher with ten minutes remaining, as defender Lexi Marton was sent off. Despite the setback, the team persevered, with Richardson slotting home an 87th-minute rebound to give the ‘Caps a late 4-3 win and send them back to the W-League Championship ‘Final Four’.

Playing in the W-League semifinals just across the border in Tukwila, Washington, the ‘Caps were confident of finishing their season with two wins. They first had to play Eastern Conference champions Atlanta Silverbacks. A see-saw affair saw Atlanta go ahead, but Weimer rapidly responded for Whitecaps FC with a 20-yard blast. In the end, the ‘Caps had more than double the shots of their opposition (15-7), but as was the case in the team's previous losses, the Silverbacks capitalized on their opportunities to down Vancouver 3-1, ending the 'Caps chances of W-League glory.

While they could have sulked from a disappointing defeat, Whitecaps FC instead came together in the third-place match to end their season on a high note with a 2-1 comeback victory over rivals Seattle Sounders women.

After the completion of the W-League season, many players went on to star for their schools during the collegiate season, and we tracked their progress all year long in our “Women’s Weekly” (scroll to bottom for earlier editions).

Off the field, Whitecaps FC continued to be recognized for their distinguished history of promoting women’s soccer by winning the 2011 W-League Marketing Award.