LOVELAND - Playing against one of her childhood idols, Tiffany Milbrett, was pretty special, Emmalie Pfankuch said.
Losing to the former U.S. National Team standout and her Vancouver Whitecaps teammates despite outshooting them 11-6 and generally outplaying them in the second half Friday night wasn't so hot.
But that's the fate Pfankuch and her Fort Collins Force teammates suffered in their W-League opener before about 400 fans at Loveland Sports Park.
Jonelle Filigno, a 17-year-old who plays for the Canadian National Team, shouldered in a corner kick by Milbrett in extra time at the end of the first half to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 victory.
"Emily Zurrer touched it, she headed it. I was trying to head it, too, but it got my shoulder," explained Filigno, a high school senior from Mississauga, Ontario, who is headed to Rutgers next fall. "I thought the first half was just about to finish, so it's good that we got that in just before it was over."
The Force controlled the second half of play, wearing down the Whitecaps (2-0-2), who had played to a 1-1 tie with Real Colorado a night earlier in Littleton. Five of Vancouver goalkeeper Erin McNulty's six saves came in the final 20 minutes, including a punch save to knock a high shot by Jenni Annicchiarico just over the crossbar in the 80th minute.
"At the end, we pushed really hard," said Pfankuch, who graduated last weekend from Fort Collins High School and is headed to perennial national champion North Carolina on a soccer scholarship. "I wish we could have played that way the whole first half, too."
If so, the Force might be celebrating a special victory instead of lamenting their missed opportunities. Vancouver won W-League titles in 2004 and '06, while Colorado was a combined 7-14-3 over the past two seasons.
"We hung on for sure those last 30 minutes," Vancouver coach Bob Birarda said. "It was a good performance by them."
Kara Linder, a University of Colorado player, made just one save for the Force and got plenty of good defensive support from Cayla Deacon, the coach's wife, and Northern Illinois' Mo Smunt.
Milbrett, who is in her third season with the Whitecaps, was one of the stars for the U.S. National Team when it won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and won the 1999 Women's World Cup.
"She and Mia Hamm were our idols," said Pfankuch, who has worn No. 16, the number Milbrett wore for the national team, since she began playing competitive soccer shortly after the United States' World Cup victory. "It's cool to play with her, and it's even better to play at her level. It kind of makes me feel like I've gotten to a spot where I've always wanted to be."
Playing against a Vancouver team that lost 16 players to Canada's World Cup and Olympic teams this year and filled the gaps with members of the country's junior national teams, Pfankuch, University of Colorado player Nikki Marshall and Northern Illinois' Katie Eriksson pushed the pace throughout the second half but couldn't break through.
"This is our second game in two nights here up at altitude, where we're not adjusted, and it showed," Milbrett said. "That last 20 minutes our fatigue definitely showed. They did a good job of keeping the ball, Fort Collins did. We held tight and had to batten down the hatches.
"We definitely held on, and we got one."