BURNABY, B.C. — The Vancouver Whitecaps are playing in the USL First Division Championship for the second time in three years, but unlike their 2006 victory in Rochester, the Whitecaps will enjoy home field advantage.
Even if they didn't technically earn it. The Whitecaps, who again beat the Montreal Impact in the semifinals - as they did in 2006 - should have been playing on the road in the final, this time against Puerto Rico, who ended the season with a league-best 54 points.
But fortunately for the Whitecaps, the USL deemed Puerto Rico an unsuitable venue and handed Sunday's championship final to Vancouver (7 p.m. ET).
"You know what, it'll mean a lot for us for motivation and intensity," said Whitecaps captain Jeff Clarke, who calls Burnaby's Swangard Stadium a "fortress."
"However, Puerto Rico won the league so they went into a lot of stadiums like (Swangard) throughout the season and came away with points. So I think for the first little bit the crowd might give us a lift; we have to take advantage of that because they're a quality side. We've got to do the job on the field."
Five players from the 2006 Championship starting line-up, including Martin Nash, are still on Vancouver's squad, giving the Whitecaps a strong veteran presence. Nash believes his team will quickly adapt to the atmosphere and pressure that comes with playing a championship at home. And as for the youngsters, he hopes the playoff win over Montreal will calm any pre-game nerves.
"Experience makes a big difference because a lot of us have been there before," he says. "It will be similar to the game last Sunday (against the Impact) so it'll be a similar type of atmosphere. I think that will help us."
For current Whitecaps coach, Teitur Thordarson, who was not with the team back in 2006, this is his first experience in a championship final in North American soccer. However, he does feel his coaching experience with teams in Europe will help him heading into the game.
"It's a big game without a doubt," says Thordarson. "It's quite similar to playing cup finals in Europe and I've had some of those, so I know how it is."
Thordarson said that he is satisfied with how the team has performed in training before the game, and that he's tried to keep things as normal as possible with the team.
"It's a championship game and I think that everybody knows the importance of winning that one. The atmosphere is relaxed but focused. All season we have been quite similar before the games, very relaxed."