HOUSTON - There's only one thing standing between the FC Dallas U-18 Academy team and the coveted U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship: the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The only team in the Academy not from the United States, the Whitecaps now have a chance to take the U.S. Soccer club title home to Canada if they can win on Sunday night.
“It would be a fairytale end,” Whitecaps FC Residency head coach Craig Dalrymple told whitecapsfc.com. “They’ve been fantastic this week and it’s just been a culmination of all the good things they’ve done this year."
In their first season competing in the Development Academy, Vancouver's U-18s posted an overall regular season record of 22-6-4 through 32 games to take first place in the Northwest Division. Their leading scorer in the regular season was forward Caleb Clarke, who scored 24 goals in 27 games played.
That regular season included a meeting with FC Dallas at the 2011 Winter Showcase in Florida. The Whitecaps took a 2-0 lead in that match off goals by midfielder Bryce Alderson and Clarke, but FC Dallas battled back with two goals scored by midfielder Danny Garcia to salvage a draw with their fellow MLS side.
“They’re probably the best footballing side we’ve seen this year,” Dalrymple said of FC Dallas. “They try to out-possess teams and they’re very creative so they’ll test us and they’ll test our defensive resolve. But they’ve also got that fight and grit about them. They’re a competitive bunch. They lost in the final last year so certainly they’re here for revenge.”
Vancouver had a less than ideal start to the Academy Playoffs in Frisco last month, dropping a 3-2 result to Pateadores after losing a one-goal lead in their first match. But the Whitecaps righted the ship in the next two matches, beating Weston FC 4-0 and Texans SC Houston 2-0 to win their group and advance to Finals Week in Houston. Vancouver's leading scorer during the Playoffs was midfielder Ben McKendry, who scored a goal in each of the team's three matches.
Here at Finals Week they've been led offensively by midfielder Ben Fisk, who scored a hat trick in each of Vancouver's first two matches to lead the team to a 4-1 win over North Carolina Fusion and a 4-2 win over De Anza Force. Fisk's goal total remained stagnant at six through the Whitecaps' third match, a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids with Spencer Deboice scoring the lone goal for the Canadian side.
Fisk, McKendry and Clarke will all be on the radar of the FC Dallas defense Sunday night as the team from Texas looks to return to form in the final match.
"We're gonna try to get better defensively," said center back Mark Ashby after scoring the game-winner in FCD's 3-2 win over Solar to advance to the championship game. "We haven't had a shutout in a while and our defense is normally a lot better"
Ashby is one of 11 players on this FC Dallas roster who made the trip to Finals Week last year where the team came up one goal short of a national title.
"We all remember last year, the disappointment," said Ashby. "We understand that we need to finish it this year because we just, we can't do that twice in a row.
"Two years in a row of losing in the final would be terrible."
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. CT at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. Tune into FCDallas.com to access a live stream of the match and for full post-game coverage.