Hot on the heels of a 15-win regular season and a second-place finish in the United Soccer League First Division, the Whitecaps will host the Minnesota Thunder in a two-game total goals series starting Friday at 7 p.m. at Swangard Stadium.
The teams then fly to the Twin Cities for the return leg on Sunday. Head coach Teitur Thordarson had the choice of playing the home game first or last and went against conventional wisdom by choosing the home game first.
Thordarson made the move because it forces the Thunder to travel twice, flying out to Vancouver for Friday's game and then back home for Sunday's rematch.
The Thunder and Whitecaps split their three games this year, with each team taking 1-0 road wins early in the season before a scoreless tie on Sept. 7 at Swangard. The last time the teams met in the playoffs, in 2000, the Thunder prevailed in extra time.
The 'Caps enter the playoffs on a high after a 3-2 road win in Seattle Saturday. Eduardo Sebrango, Justin Moose and New Westminster-born Jeff Clarke scored for the 'Caps in what is their final USL game against the Sounders. Seattle is graduating to Major League Soccer next year, and Whitecaps brass hope that their next meeting will be in that league if and when Vancouver gets an MLS expansion franchise.
The Whitecaps' victory was also meaningful because it allowed the team to clinch the fan-based Cascadia Cup for the third time in club history. Sounders, Whitecaps and Portland Timbers fans started the trophy and award it to the team that wins the head-to-head series each year. Vancouver previously won the award in 2004 and 2005.
The Whitecaps withstood a furious early attack from the Sounders, as keeper Jay Nolly had to parry off shots from Leighton O'Brien and Sebastien Le Toux in the first four minutes. Nolly wasn't so lucky minutes later when Le Toux took a flicked pass from fellow striker Roger Levesque and slotted it past Nolly.
The Whitecaps got all their goals early in the second half, with all three coming in a 13-minute stretch before Roger Sakuda narrowed the margin and set up a frantic final 25 minutes. Clarke's winner came off a diving header from Moose's corner in the 67th minute.
© Burnaby Now 2008