By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
The buildup to the 2009 USL First Division Championship Series began on Friday afternoon, as media and officials gathered for a pre-series press conference in downtown Vancouver.
Players, coaches, and staff from Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Canadian rivals Montreal Impact joined officials from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) on the main floor of Gastown's historical Landing building to help launch this year's championship showdown. It is the first time in USL-1 history that two Canadian clubs will battle for the league championship, with the 2009 final being contested as a two-match, aggregate score series. The first leg goes this Saturday night at Swangard Stadium at 6:30 p.m. PDT, with the second leg set for Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec, on Saturday, October 17, at 11:30 a.m. PDT.
Those in attendance heard short speeches from USL-1 senior director Chris Economides, Impact head coach Marc Dos Santos, and his Whitecaps counterpart Teitur Thordarson before all interested parties took questions from the gathered media.
Economides expressed his excitement of what was to take place between Vancouver and Montreal over the next two weekends. "It's no surprise that both these teams are meeting each other in the final, considering the quality organizations they both are," he said. "I think this is going to be one of our best finals in league history and it is the first time that we're doing a two-legged final. We wish both teams the best of luck."
Dos Santos hopes the series captures the imagination of soccer fans across Canada. "I think Canada should be proud of these two teams in making the final," said the Impact head coach. "Both ourselves and Vancouver had similar seasons, in which there were good and bad moments for both of us. I just hope everyone in Vancouver and Montreal can enjoy this series and that there is a lot of fair play and good soccer."
Thordarson talked of his delight at seeing his young Whitecaps squad reach this year's final. "At the start of the year, I feel it wasn't obvious that we would be here in the championship series after bringing in a lot of young and inexperienced players that have not played at this level before," said the former Iceland international. "Looking back on that now, I'm extremely happy for the results we have managed to get and I congratulate all my players on a great effort this season. I'm very much looking forward to two good games with Montreal."
It was also at Friday's press conference that Whitecaps striker Marcus Haber was presented with the 2009 USL-1 Rookie of the Year award following a fine first season with his hometown club. "I owe this award to my teammates and the coaching staff around me," Haber said upon receiving the award. "I don't think I would have done as well as I would have done this year, if it wasn't for the people around me having the confidence in me. I definitely learned a lot in a short period of time, so I thank my teammates and everyone at the club for this award."
Don't miss out on Saturday's first leg of the 2009 USL-1 Championship Series and the Whitecaps final match of the year at Swangard! Whitecaps individual match tickets start at just $20 and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and by phone at 604.280.4400 or 1.800.663.9311. CLICK HERE for information on our individual match tickets.