By Jeff Paterson
For the second time in three years, the Vancouver Whitecaps have a chance to win the United Soccer League First Division championship. But unlike 2006, when they captured the crown on the road in Rochester, this time the Caps will host the one-game, winner-take-all showdown on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Swangard Stadium.
The Whitecaps will face the Puerto Rico Islanders in a battle of the top two teams in USL-1 during the regular season. The Islanders finished ahead of the Caps in the standings, but lost the right to host the championship game based on a questionable bid process when USL officials determined that Vancouver was a more suitable site for the contest.
It seems a little strange that you play all season to win the Commissioner’s Cup as division champions, and then have the right to host the final ripped away by that same commissioner and a bunch of guys around a boardroom table. The Caps won’t argue, but this might be an issue should the home side win on Sunday.
In their three meetings in 2008––all late in the regular season––Puerto Rico had a slight edge on the Whitecaps, winning once and drawing twice, including a scoreless game at Swangard on August 31. Sunday’s weather forecast is calling for sunshine, although the fall temperatures won’t be what the Islanders are used to and the start time will likely mean a chilly autumn night by the end.
The Caps are hoping for their seventh sellout of the season and a boisterous crowd of close to 6,000. A big crowd and a victory would certainly strengthen the Whitecaps’ case just a month before Major League Soccer announces where it plans to expand in 2011.