Connecting with the community - The Province

Playing games away from Swangard a way to connect with fans By Marc Weber The Vancouver Whitecaps women felt hard done by on their three-game California road trip, so playing at home is a relief. Home, however, looks different today. New Westminster's Mercer Stadium is the site for this afternoon's W-League matchup between Vancouver (1-2-4) and the Colorado Force (1-1-4) at 4 p.m. The Whitecaps, who normally play out of Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, will also host a game at Coquitlam's Percy Perry Stadium on July 5. It's a new initiative, in partnership with the Girls Metro Soccer League, to connect better with the women's soccer community. "It's nice to play at Swangard; that's our home," said head coach Alan Koch. "But it's great we're reaching out, and we hope the community comes out and makes our temporary home feel like home." California was not kind to Koch's squad. The coach was peeved that the floodlights went out against the L.A. Legends, tied 1-1 in the 87th minute and when he felt his team had all the momentum. They lost 3-1. He was far more ticked off that the Pali Blues were awarded a second penalty kick -- also in the 87th minute -- that proved the winner in a 2-1 game. "The referee decided to be a hero," he said. "Their player crossed the ball and it hit Randee [Hermus's] arm from a metre away." The math is now simple for the Whitecaps: Win their last five games and there's an outside shot at the playoffs. Seattle (3-0-4) holds down the second and final playoff spot. "We have to be optimistic," Koch said. Vancouver's roster is littered with under-20 national team players, and four women have at least 20 caps for Canada's senior side. Yet the full team didn't come together until two weeks before the season, which Koch said has contributed to its slow start. "We're only truly becoming a team and creating our identity now," he said. Midfielder Selenia Iacchelli, a two-time U20 World Cup participant and four-year Whitecap, has joined the squad but is coming off foot surgery and might not play right away. Forward Nikki Wright has left for the World University Games in Serbia, while the status of Canadian international Julie Armstrong of Delta depends on her class schedule at the University of Oregon. Armstrong has only played 24 minutes this season. As for the Whitecaps' traveling home show, expect to see the program expanded in the future. At least until big-ticket local stars like Christine Sinclair can be lured home again by a Women's Professional Soccer franchise. "With the men moving into BC Place in 2011 [for Major League Soccer], we wanted to look down the road as to what the women's program will look like," said Whitecaps director of youth development Dan Lenarduzzi. "Because our women aren't paid professionals, it's more about player development and connecting to the community." NEXT GAME Colorado Force at Whitecaps women Today, 4 p.m. Mercer Stadium, New Westminster © Copyright (c) The Province