Is this what Mr. Berra was referring to when he remarked that “this is like déjà vu all over again”?

Echoes of the Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 North American championship year appeared during that season’s silver anniversary in 2004 with an equally unexpected, but no less impressive North American championship for the Whitecaps Women. Both Vancouver teams traveled across the continent and defeated a heavily favoured team from the east coast to be crowned.

“Many comparisons can be drawn between ’79 and this team’s accomplishments,” said coach Chris Bennett. “The biggest is that a workman-like, no-stars team took on an opponent of superstars and came up with a victory that stood this part of the soccer world on its ear.”

Fair enough. Let us reminisce.

Playing in the 36-team W-League, the top women’s league on the continent after WUSA ceased operations in 2003, the Whitecaps cruised through the regular season undefeated with a record of thirteen wins, one tie, and no losses, which included a franchise record twelve-game win streak. In those fourteen games, the team scored 56 goals, while conceding only eleven.

The stingy backline was led by Sasha Andrews, who was named W-League defender of the year. Martina Franko spearheaded the attack with eighteen goals, while Amber Allen slotted ten. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod recorded a team record eight shutouts. The large roster also boasted numerous international players, including some of the most familiar in Canadian soccer—captain Andrea Neil, Brittany Timko, Kara Lang, and Katie Thorlakson.

In the W-League Western Conference final, Vancouver defeated their bitter rivals from Seattle 1-0 off an Ashley McGhee corner finished by Franko to advance to the four-team W-League final playoff in Ottawa joining the Chicago Cobras, New Jersey Wildcats, and Ottawa Fury. How tough was the competition? The four teams combined for a record of 52 wins and two ties against a lonely single loss during the regular season.

In the semi-finals, the Whitecaps faced the Chicago Cobras, who had been boosted by numerous WUSA escapees, including Canadian international Charmaine Hooper. Although Hooper wouldn’t play against Vancouver, the team was led by centre back Santa Cooper, 2003 W-League defender of the year. Matching Chicago’s physical style, the Caps held on for a 2-1 victory on the strength of strikes from Neil and Allen.

Playing the heavily favoured New Jersey Wildcats in the W-League final the very next day, the task at hand was daunting. New Jersey had fashioned the league’s only perfect record through the season and playoffs (17-0-0), while outscoring opponents by an amazing 86-12. The Jersey attack featured French international Marinette Pichon, the league’s leading scorer, and Finnish playmaker Anne Makinen.

Coach Bennett made a surprising tactical move for the final, switching the team’s regular 4-3-3 formation—used to great success all season—to a more conservative 4-4-2, in an effort to contain Pichon and Makinen, who were man-marked by Randee Hermus and Neil, respectively. After ninety scoreless minutes of regular time, the two teams battled through thirty minutes of extra time with nothing decided.

The ensuing shootout brought more surprises and drama. Vancouver’s first three shooters—Franko, Neil, and Lang—all scored, leaving Vancouver ahead by one. Then Bennett shocked everyone by picking goalkeeper McLeod for the fourth shot and she didn’t disappoint firing to the corner to seal the win. It was the first time McLeod had ever shot in a shootout in her life. For her efforts taking Pichon out of the game, Hermus was named championship MVP.

The victory marked the first time a Canadian team had won the women’s North American championship, earning front-page headlines in BC pushing hockey, football, and everything else to the back pages.

Many of the same players returned to bring Vancouver its second championship in 2006.

Perhaps Yogi knew what he was talking about after all.

Team Members:
Amber Allen, Sasha Andrews, Amy Apps, Diana Artuso, Chris Bennett (head coach), Liz Conner, Martina Franko, Michele Gademans, Kelly Haxton, Randee Hermus, Rosalyn Hicks, Tera Kasubuchi, Kara Lang, Bob Lenarduzzi (director of soccer operations), Sara Maglio, Ashley McGhee, Erin McLeod, Sadie McLure, Carmelina Moscato, Andrea Neil (playing assistant coach), Jan Peace (team doctor), Sari Raber, Pat Rohla (assistant coach), Claire Rustad, Sophie Spilborghs, Arnout Stams (physiotherapist), Katie Thorlakson, Brittany Timko, Phebe Trotman, Diana Voice (manager), Darren Woloshen (goalkeeper coach).

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.