This coming Sunday, July 24 at 7 p.m. PT, Whitecaps FC women travel to Santa Clarita for the 2011 W-League Western Conference Final against the first-place Santa Clarita Blue Heat. This will be the seventh time the ‘Caps play in the West Final, but the first time that they’ll travel to play the conference playoff away from home.
In anticipation of Sunday’s do-or-die battle, we take a look back at the team’s history in the Western Conference Final.
2001: Vancouver Breakers 3-0 Texas Odyssey
Known at the time as Vancouver Breakers, the first taste of the W-League playoffs was an interesting experience for the club. Vancouver (12W-1L-1D) finished in first place and were preparing to host the West Final at Swangard. Texas, meanwhile, thought that they’d been eliminated after losing their final match 4-3. However, a complicated bonus point system by the USL at the time meant that the Odyssey were given a bonus point for scoring three goals, a point that qualified them for the playoffs.
Only realizing that they’d qualified when Vancouver called them to confirm hotel bookings, Texas managed to bring just nine players with them. With their opponents two players short and without subs, the Breakers promptly downed their southern foes 3-0 to win the West final and move onto their first W-League Championship Final Four.
2003: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-2 Seattle Sounders Women (*Seattle wins in PK shooutout)
After hosting the 2002 W-League Championship Final Four, the newly re-branded Vancouver Whitecaps FC women were back in the Western Conference playoffs. The ‘Caps cruised through the regular season (10W-1L-1D) to host Seattle Sounders Women in a postseason matchup.
An early goal from Whitecaps FC defender Sasha Andrews put them ahead, but Seattle fired back to take a 2-1 lead. Andrea Neil then found an equalizer 65 minutes in before the teams finished regulation knotted at 2-2. Extra-time settled nothing and the teams went to a shootout. Unfortunately for ‘Caps fans, Seattle came out on top this time, but the ‘Caps would have their shot at redemption the following season.
2004: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 Seattle Sounders Women
A highly successful, unbeaten regular season (13W-0L-1D) paved the way for the ‘Caps to host Seattle at Swangard for the second straight year.
With a team laden with Canadian national team players, the ‘Caps sought to avenge their defeat from the prior season. In the end, it was current Whitecaps FC player Martina Franko who played the hero, scoring the lone goal of the match just before halftime to boost Vancouver to a 1-0 win. The ‘Caps went on to win their next two outings at the W-League Championship in Ottawa to capture their first-ever W-League title.
2005: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4-0 Arizona Heatwave
A dominating regular season (13W-1L-0D) in which the team surrendered only four goals against set up the ‘Caps to host their third straight Western Conference Final, and fourth overall. Aided by a hat-trick from all-time leading goalscorer Amber Allen, Vancouver rolled to an emphatic 4-0 win the West final for the third time on route to their fourth trip to the W-League Championship Final Four.
In a highly competitive Championship weekend, the ‘Caps would ultimately bow out in the W-League semifinals to the host New Jersey Wildcats.
2008: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 0-1 Seattle Sounders Women
With Vancouver hosting – and winning – the 2006 W-League Championship Final Four, and then missing the playoffs for the first time the following year, 2008 was the first time the club played in the Western Conference Final in three seasons. The ‘Caps actually finished in second in the Western Conference (7W-2L-3D), but with the first-place Pali Blues qualifying to the W-League Championship Final Four automatically as hosts, Vancouver hosted the West playoff match against third-place Seattle.
A young ‘Caps lineup featuring current players Julie Armstrong, Kaylyn Kyle, Lexi Marton, Erin McNulty and Tina Romagnuolo put in a gritty effort against their Pacific Northwest rivals, but it was not to be as they fell 1-0 to Seattle.
2010: Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-1 Pali Blues
Topping the Western Conference regular season standings for the first time since 2006 with another unbeaten regular season (6W-0L-4D), Whitecaps FC again found themselves hosting the Western Conference Final. This time they were up against the two-time defending W-League champion Pali Blues, a team that hadn’t lost a game in their first two seasons.
A terrific first half buoyed the ‘Caps to a 2-1 victory against their Californian rivals, with current ‘Caps striker Amy Vermeulen scoring the winning goal. Hubert Busby Jr.’s side went on make the W-League Championship Final. Despite a valiant effort, the ‘Caps were defeated 3-1 to Buffalo Flash in Santa Clarita, California.
Now they return to the scene where last year’s season ended, intent on capturing yet another Western Conference crown to get another shot at W-League glory.
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 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.