VANCOUVER - Goals from Tiffeny Milbrett and Julie Armstrong were enough to earn the Whitecaps second place in the Western Conference - and the right to host local rivals Seattle Sounders in the Western Final next Saturday.
However, captain Milbrett said afterwards that the exhausted Vancouver side - which almost allowed the Colorado Cougars to grab a tie with a tired second-period display - would need to focus on resting this week, to recharge its batteries and have a chance of making the Final Four. "
We have a lot of players who were involved in the Under-20 campaign, trying to make it into the Olympic team and we were tired as a group today," Milbrett said, after Nicole Lukens scored late for the visitors. "They gifted us a couple of goals, but no other teams will do that from here-on-in. We have to rest now and be ready to perform to the best of our ability against Seattle."
Having been guaranteed a play-off spot courtesy of the Pali Blues' victory at Los Angeles Legends on Friday, the pressure was off the Whitecaps somewhat; though they knew a win or tie was still required to avoid slipping to third in the league - and having to travel to Denver to face the Cougars, who would have leapfrogged them in the table.
In a cagey opening, both sides gave little away, only for Cougars goalkeeper Brianna Schulze - who had been struggling with an ankle injury and was later substituted - to reverse that trend twice in the space of three minutes.
First, following Karla Schacher's searching throughball, the visitors' No. 1 allowed Milbrett's innocuous looking near-post chip -which the forward later admitted was meant as a cross - to slip through her fingers and give the home side the lead in the 13th minute.
Less than 180 seconds later Schulze then completely misjudged Kaylyn Kyle's swinging cross and could only watch helplessly as Armstrong instinctively half-volleyed into an unguarded net to double the Whitecaps' advantage.
After the home defence easily dealt with a rare Cougars attack on the half-hour mark, substitute goalkeeper Katie Bell thwarted the Whitecaps with a diving save from Schacher's 20-yard shot-on-the-turn.
Home supporters were on their feet again at half-time, saluting the parading Canadian women's Olympic soccer team, who head out to Singapore this morning for a training camp - ahead of the Beijing Games, which starts on Aug. 6.
But their enthusiasm was subdued a little after the interval, as Real Colorado camped inside the Whitecaps's half, enjoying a spell of concerted pressure. Substitute Kellyn Farrell wasted a good opportunity with a tame shot straight at Erin McNulty, before Lukens went even closer, rising to meet a teasing corner with a looping header which clipped the top of the crossbar.
The pressure finally told in the 88th minute when Megan Flanagan fed Lukens on the right side of the penalty box and the forward chipped a shot beyond McNulty into the far corner. Straight from the restart, Buchan was set free and bounced a shot off the Colorado crossbar, before the home defence rode its luck in the dying seconds. First McNulty was called upon to make a decent save from a Lukens header, then Vanessa Mais came within a violin string of tying the game, seeing her header bounce to safety off the bar.