Two wins. That’s what separates the Vancouver Whitecaps FC women from a third W-League title.
The first hurdle comes this Friday, July 29 as the ‘Caps battle Atlanta Silverbacks in the semifinals of the 2011 W-League Championship ‘Final Four’, just across the border in Tukwila, Washington.
In honour of the ‘Caps seventh trip to the W-League Championship tournament in their 11-year history, whitecapsfc.com takes a look back at past trips to the big dance for the Whitecaps FC women.
2001: A nearly perfect first season
Known then as Vancouver Breakers, the club came close to completing a dream first year in the W-League. The old format of the United Soccer Leagues (USL) women’s league saw two tiers, W-1 and W-2, with Vancouver playing in the top W-1 division. After a dominant regular season (12W-1L-1D), Vancouver defeated Texas Odyssey 3-0 to win the Western Conference Final and advance to their first W-League Final Four, held that season in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Vancouver faced the host Hampton Roads Piranhas in the semifinals and came away with a 1-0 win in extra-time, courtesy of a goal from Andrea Neil. Playing in their first W-League Championship Final turned out to be an eventful occasion for the club, far more eventful than they’d hoped. Torrential rain and lightning caused a lengthy weather delay – and in fact the cancellation of the Third Place match. After the teams finally got on the field, Vancouver walked into another storm, as they were defeated 5-1 by Boston Renegades on the soggiest of field conditions. Current Whitecaps FC player Ciara McCormack was a member of the winning Boston side.
2002: Hosting the party
Following another impressive regular season (11W-1L-0D), Vancouver hosted the W-League Final Four for the first time. This was also the first year of the new league format, as W-1 and W-2 were combined into a single tier.
In the semifinals, Vancouver played the defending W-2 champion Charlotte Lady Eagles. A 1-1 draw in regulation ultimately needed penalty kicks to decide who would advance to the final. In the end, Charlotte’s Esther Thompson saved Diana Artuso’s fifth round shot to send the Lady Eagles to the final against Boston Renegades, setting up a battle of the 2001 W-1 and W-2 champions. Vancouver, meanwhile, went on to take third place with a 2-0 win against Western Conference rivals Denver Lady Cougars in the consolation match.
2004: Third time’s a charm
After missing out for the first time in 2003, the newly re-branded Vancouver Whitecaps FC women were back in the W-League Final Four. A sensational undefeated regular season (13W-0L-1D) saw the ‘Caps exact revenge on Seattle Sounders women from the prior season and defeat them 1-0 in the Western Conference Final.
The 2004 W-League Championship Final Four, hosted by Ottawa Fury, was arguably the most competitive in league history, as the four teams combined for only one total loss between them heading into their meetings. For the ‘Caps, that meant facing the undefeated Chicago Cobras (12W-0L-1D) in the semifinals. A tight 0-0 match at halftime was broken open in the first 15 minutes of the second half as Andrea Neil and Amber Allen scored to give the ‘Caps a 2-0 lead. Chicago would get one back, but the ‘Caps held on for a 2-1 win.
In the final, Vancouver had to play another undefeated team in New Jersey Wildcats (17W-0L-0D, including playoffs), who had beaten hosts Ottawa in the other semifinal. With both teams intent on keeping the other off the scoreboard, the match finished 0-0 through regulation and extra-time. In the end, Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Erin McLeod played the hero, making a pair of stops before slotting home the winning spot kick herself as the Whitecaps FC women became the first Canadian team to win the W-League title.
2005: New Jersey, new victors
With one title in hand, the ‘Caps were keen to repeat their championship glory of 2004. The road was again relatively smooth as they lost only one regular season match (13W-1L-0D), sending them back to the Western Conference Final where they defeated Arizona Heatwave 4-0.
The road back to the Final Four was relatively straightforward, but the next match in the W-League semifinals was a daunting task. Not only were the ‘Caps facing the tournament host New Jersey Wildcats, they also were playing the team that they beat in the previous year’s Championship match, meaning that the Wildcats were especially hungry for revenge. The ‘Caps got off to a dream start, with Amber Allen scoring a goal in the first minute, but New Jersey ultimately prevailed 2-1 before beating Ottawa Fury 3-0 in the final. Vancouver, meanwhile, finished third after downing Central Florida Krush 3-1 in the consolation match.
2006: Home sweet home
With a proud group of players, the Whitecaps FC women were determined to win another title after faltering to retain their title the previous season. Another unbeaten regular season (11W-0L-1D) was impressive, but it was the W-League Championship that they wanted, and this time they had the advantage of hosting the Final Four on home soil.
Playing in front of the home crowd at Swangard Stadium, the ‘Caps demolished rivals Seattle Sounders 5-0 in the W-League semifinals to reach the W-League Final. The pivotal match was an all-Canadian affair, as Vancouver squared off against Ottawa Fury, who were looking for a reverse of 2004 when Whitecaps FC won the title on their home ground. The Fury put up a good fight, but the ‘Caps proved too much and won the deciding contest 3-0 to capture their second W-League title in three seasons.
2010: A new generation
For three seasons the ‘Caps struggled to get back to the dominant form that they’d shown in the early stages of their young history, twice failing to make the playoffs while falling to Seattle in the West Final in 2008. But in 2010, the ‘Caps were back, and this time with a new crop of talent. Led by national team striker Melissa “Tank” Tancredi, burgeoning midfielder Kaylyn Kyle and former Ottawa Fury striker Amy Vermeulen, the ‘Caps achieved yet another unbeaten regular season (6W-0L-4D).
Playing in the W-League Final Four in Santa Clarita, California, Vancouver met Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues in the semifinals. Goals from Kyle and fellow current Whitecaps FC player Martina Franko gave the ‘Caps a 2-0 lead within the first 15 minutes, as they controlled the match and powered their way to a 3-1 win.
In a battle of undefeated teams in the final, the ‘Caps matched up against Buffalo Flash (13W-0L-2D, including playoffs). After a scoreless first half, Vancouver struck first from a terrific strike from Vermeulen. However, the Flash showed why they too were unbeaten, answering quickly with a pair of goals before netting an insurance goal late to edge the ‘Caps 3-1 and swipe away the W-League title.
Now back in the W-League Final Four, Whitecaps FC are on the cusp of adding to their trophy case, but as evidenced by past appearances, it will be no easy task.
Having defeated the Santa Clarita Blue Heat in last Sunday’s W-League Western Conference Final, Whitecaps FC now travel across the border for the W-League Championship 'Final Four' in Tukwila, Washington. The action begins this Friday, July 29, as they face Atlanta Silverbacks in the W-League semifinals. Should Whitecaps FC win on Friday, they will face the winner of the other semifinal between the host Seattle Sounders Women and the undefeated Ottawa Fury in the W-League Championship Final on Sunday, July 31, with kickoff set for 4 p.m. PT. Tickets for this weekend’s championship action can be purchased online by clicking here.