On Sunday evening, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC women's squad (8W-2L-4D) will begin their quest for a third W-League title when they battle in the Western Conference playoff final for the seventh time in their United Soccer Leagues W-League playoff history, as they take on Santa Clarita Blue Heat (8W-1L-5D) at College of the Canyons in Southern California. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT. The match will be streamed live online for free on Sunday at http://www.vrtsports.com/.
Whitecaps FC finished just one point behind the Heat and a point ahead of Pali Blues in a tight playoff race in the W-League’s Western Conference.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
The winner of this 'do-or-die' single-match contest advances to the W-League Championship 'Final Four' tournament hosted by Seattle Sounders women at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington, July 29 to 31. There, they will join the Eastern and Central Conference champions, as well the host Sounders.
This is the first time Whitecaps FC have played in a Western Conference playoff final without hosting it. Vancouver previously hosted the Western final six times, winning in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2010, while losing in 2003 and 2008. All of those matches were played at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium.
After a nail-biting conclusion to the playoff race, head coach Hubert Busby Jr.'s side will look to take care of business against a tough Santa Clarita opponent that has already defeated Vancouver twice this season. Coach Busby also can not be pleased with the five goals the 'Caps conceded in their final two home matches, and will look to tighten things up against the Blue Heat.
The 'Caps will look to the return of Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle to help control the midfield in Santa Clarita. The 22-year-old started all three of Canada's matches at the recent FIFA Women's World Cup, and is now in her fifth season with Vancouver.
In attack, Sydney Leroux stormed to the lead in Whitecaps FC scoring with a string of goals in the final few games. She finished with 11 goals and two assists, putting her tied for second in W-League scoring. Midfielder Tiffany Weimer, meanwhile, finished sixth in league scoring with seven goals and four assists.
It took until the very end of the W-League regular season before Santa Clarita claimed top spot in the West, as they drew 0-0 with Pali Blues in the league's final match. The Blue Heat had a great start to the year, but lost momentum down the stretch, winning only one of their last six matches. Significantly though, that win came against Vancouver.
The key player for the Blue Heat is midfielder and Portuguese national team captain Edite Fernandes, who finished fourth in league scoring with nine goals and five assists. Three of those goals came against Whitecaps FC. Her parcipation is in question, however, as she has missed the last several matches due to injury.
Even if they’re missing Fernandes, the Blue Heat have a strong supporting cast which includes tricky English-born forward Hannah Beard, and a trio of Cal State L.A. star attackers in Liz Franco, Ann Marie Tangorra, and playmaker Stacey Rodwell.
Santa Clarita are looking to become the first team in W-League history to beat Whitecaps FC three times in one season. Santa Clarita overpowered Vancouver 5-2 back on June 5 in Southern California, then were 2-1 winners in the return match on July 8 in Penticton, BC.
That is quite the turnaround from last season when Whitecaps FC defeated Santa Clarita in both their meetings, including a 4-0 romp in their first-ever encounter on June 17, 2010, at College of the Canyons.
Whitecaps FC fans can follow Sunday's match live on whitecapsfc.com, twitter.com/whitecapsfc and facebook.com/whitecapsfc. Should the 'Caps triumph against Santa Clarita and win the Western Conference playoff final, they'll qualify for the 2011 USL W-League Championship 'Final Four', hosted by the Seattle Sounders women from July 29 to 31 at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington. Watch the match live online for free here.