Second championship in three years thanks to free-flowing style
"Like oil and water."
That's how captain Jeff Clarke describes the two systems the Vancouver Whitecaps have won titles under in the past three years -- first under Bob Lilley in 2006 and now, with a 2-1 win over the Puerto Rico Islanders, under Teitur Thordarson.
Lilley's way was methodical, possession-oriented. Thordarson's style is much more direct and free flowing.
That the Whitecaps have been able to again reach the USL First Division summit after a seventh-place finish and first-round exit in 2007 is surely a credit, in part, to Thordarson. It's hard to overlook, too, the impact a healthy Eddie Sebrango and a top-flight goalie like Jay Nolly can have -- the two elements missing most of last season.
But as much as anything, it speaks to Clarke and Martin Nash and the rest of the core group that again found ultimate success, but in a radically new style and with 15 new faces around.
Standing on the track at Swangard Stadium, lingering longer than everyone after the mobbing fans and chants of "ole, ole, ole" subsided, Clarke acknowledged there was an added element of satisfaction in getting it done in such different ways.
"As a professional athlete you have to adapt to what your boss wants," Clarke said. "Teitur asked us to play more direct and we did it, we won with it.
"I think the core guys allowed the new guys to see what playing for the Whitecaps is all about and the new guys really came around in July and August and really picked up the slack. It was a full team effort come September and October."
Thordarson, meanwhile, deserves kudos for his willingness to let younger players learn on the job -- 17-year-old Ethan Gage was not at all out of place in the championship final -- and most importantly for delivering on his promise of providing an offensive brand of soccer for the hometown fans.
Dull nights were few and far between this season and Sunday's final was no exception.
"I knew it would take time to get the new way of playing into the team," said the Icelandic boss, who felt things really started to shift in a positive direction midway through the season. "I'm so delighted. I just can't explain it.
"You can get results in many ways, but we are trying to play an attacking style of soccer and we were still able to win a championship."
© The Vancouver Province 2008