Good feeling grew for Caps - The Province

Started to believe in title chance at Puerto Rico Marc Weber The Whitecaps men earned one of a possible six points on a late-season road trip to first-place Puerto Rico, but came away with so much more. Vancouver players said Monday that their results in the Aug. 31 and Sept. 5 two-game set against the Islanders -- a 1-1 tie and 1-0 loss -- fostered the feeling they could win it all. Vancouver met that same squad Sunday, this time on home turf, and clinched their second USL First Division title in three seasons with a thrilling 2-1 victory. "We were competing against the top team, dominating at times," veteran midfielder Alfredo Valente said of that road trip. "Everyone said, 'This might be a team we play in the finals.' We felt we had a chance to win this year. "I think Taka Hirano's goal in the dying minutes to get us a draw in that first game was huge ... I do believe that road trip was where everyone opened their eyes." Valente, who rivals defender Omar Jarun as the team's biggest Dallas Cowboys fan, had only Tony Romo's broken finger to complain about on Monday -- Valente's fantasy team taking a massive hit in the process. The coach of the Coquitlam Metro-Ford club had already been out of the house to give the awards at a Thanksgiving tourney, where he found "a lot of congratulations and people coming up to me." Never falling into a big funk was also key this season, said Valente. Last year, the team suffered a 12-game winless skid. This year, three games was the longest without winning in league, and that included the draw and loss to Puerto Rico that proved the turning point. "It was never really up and down," said Valente. "The odd time we had a bad game, the team would come up with a great performance. I think we surprised ourselves sometimes, like, 'Where did that come from?'" Goalkeeper Jay Nolly, whose red card in the first leg of the Montreal semifinal series seemed to spell doom at the time, agreed:. "After Puerto Rico, I felt we could easily go and win this thing. I think having that confidence really helps you in tight situations and it helped us against Montreal." © The Vancouver Province 2008