For the first time since 1992, the Vancouver Whitecaps will be hosting the final of a major soccer championship.
Not since the championship days of the Canadian Soccer League has a Vancouver squad - they were known as the '86ers then - hosted a game for all the marbles at Swangard Stadium. The final goes on Sunday Oct. 12 at 4 p.m.
The Whitecaps won their finals berth by beating the Montreal Impact 2-0 on Sunday afternoon to overcome a 1-0 deficit from an Oct. 3 loss in Montreal.
The Whitecaps face the Puerto Rico Islanders, themselves masters of coming from behind after they turned a 2-0 deficit to the Rochester Raging Rhinos into a 3-2 aggregate win.
The Islanders, who finished a point ahead of the Whitecaps during the regular season, also put in a bid to host the final, but United Soccer League officials chose the Vancouver bid instead, citing the fact Puerto Rico didn't meet the minimum requirements for hosting the final.
Sunday's match turned during a five-minute stretch where the 'Caps scored two high-impact goals.
In the 37th minute, New Westminster-born Jeff Clarke unleashed a 'Bend It Like Beckham' shot from 30 yards out that eluded Impact keeper Matt Jordan.
"Sometimes that goes in Row Z, and sometimes it goes top corner," Clarke told a media throng after the game. "I'm just happy it came in a game like this."
Four minutes later, striker Charles Gbeke narrowly kept the ball in play and made a cross-crease pass to Eddy Sebrango, who made no mistake, scoring the eventual series-winning goal.
The Whitecaps had dug themselves a hole on Friday when the Impact got the benefit of a suspect call from referee Steve De Piero.
After Impact midfielder Antonio Ribeiro crashed into Whitecaps goalie Jay Nolly in the 52nd minute, Nolly was shown a red card for allegedly throwing a punch.
"I pounced on the ball, and (he) just clobbered me," Nolly told The Province. "He stuck his hand in my face, and I swatted it away. ... I didn't throw a punch. It was just a scrum."
Nolly was suspended for the Sunday rematch, and backup Tyler Baldock had to finish both the Friday game and play Sunday's game. The 24-year-old was up to the task in his professional start.
In an ironic twist, Ribeiro scored Montreal's only goal, and that slim margin wasn't enough for the Impact to continue a long season that also sees them representing Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.
This Sunday's final isn't without a bit of controversy as the higher-seeded Islanders would traditionally have the honour of hosting the final game.
But, according to USL executive vice-president and chief operating officer Tim Holt, Vancouver's bid was better than Puerto Rico's in many aspects.
"The higher-seeded team has certain first rights of hosting, providing it is willing and able to meet all the specifications put forth," Holt told The Province.
"It's our responsibility, as it's a league-owned event, to do what's best in the interest of the league.
"I won't say that it was an easy decision, and we knew it would be an unpopular one. But when we got to Vancouver's proposal, it was a superior proposal on an overall basis."
Vancouver will be trying to win its second title in three years, after winning in Rochester two years ago.
Tickets for Sunday's final start at $21 and are available through Ticketmaster.
© Burnaby Now 2008