By BOB MACKIN, 24 HOURS
- THE BUZZ
The Vancouver Whitecaps are in the United Soccer Leagues' First Division championship for the second time in three years, but are hosting it for the first time. They meet the Puerto Rico Islanders at 4 p.m. Sunday in Burnaby's Swangard Stadium (Team 1040 and Fox Sports World Canada).
- HOW THEY GOT HERE
The 15-6-9, first-place Islanders got a first-round bye for winning the Commissioner's Cup and needed OT to win their semifinal series 3-2 over the Rochester Rhinos on aggregate. The 15-7-8, second-place Whitecaps beat the Minnesota Thunder with a 5-4 quarterfinal aggregate and eliminated the Montreal Impact with a 2-1 semifinal aggregate.
- EXPERIENCE COUNTS
Captain Jeff Clarke is one of nine Whitecaps remaining from the 2006 championship team that upset the Rochester Raging Rhinos in upstate New York. "We've got momentum, we've got a good rhythm, we're moving the ball well, creating chances and putting them away," Clarke said.
- TRAVEL TOLL
The Islanders lost 3-0 to Santos Laguna in a Wednesday CONCACAF Champions League match at Torreon, Mexico. Puerto Rico started October in Guatemala. "It's been pretty tough, but we've got a strong squad of players," said head coach Colin Clarke (no relation to the Whitecap). "We go all the way down to the 20th man."
- A LONG TIME COMING
The last time the Whitecaps hosted a league final at Swangard was 1992 when the team was known as the Eighty-Sixers and they played in the Canadian Soccer League. The loss to the Winnipeg Fury came after winning the four previous CSL finals at home.
- HISTORY IN THE MAKING
A North American league championship has been decided here only three times before where a Vancouver team was present. The New York Islanders claimed 1982's Stanley Cup at the Pacific Coliseum over the Canucks. The 1994 B.C. Lions kept the Grey Cup in Canada by beating visiting Baltimore. The Vancouver Canadians beat the Oklahoma City RedHawks for 1999's Pacific Coast League championship at Nat Bailey Stadium.
- LEAGUE AWARDS
Islanders' goalkeeper Bill Gaudette was already named netminder of the year. Midfielder Jonny Steele is nominated for most valuable player in tomorrow's league awards luncheon. Bench boss Colin Clarke is up for coach of the year and Cristian Arrieta is a candidate for defender of the year. Whitecap Vicente Arze could win rookie of the year.
The 8,798 kilometre gap between Vancouver and Bayamon, P.R. is the biggest distance between rival cities in any domestic soccer league on the planet. U.S.-governed Puerto Rico has a population of 3.9 million people in an area one-tenth the size of British Columbia.