rcThe 2006 USL 1st Division title game is set and it will be the Vancouver Whitecaps heading to Rochester to take on the Rhinos at PAETEC Park. The game will be at 7pm on Saturday, September 30th. Tickets will go on sale today at 10am and you can get them through Ticketmaster.com , at the PAETEC Park ticket office, or by calling 454-KICK.

The Rhinos and the Whitecaps both got to the final by playing strong defense and having opportunistic offense. Neither team can be accused of playing the most attractive brand of soccer, but they got the job done and have put themselves in a position to win a title.

The Rhinos semifinal series versus Charleston started out with a game at PAETEC Park that changed when Battery midfielder Omar Daley was sent off late in the first half as he received his second yellow card of the game on a play that appeared to warrant a foul, but a sending off was harsh. But, given the number of bad calls that have gone against the Rhinos this season, perhaps it was a matter of calls evening out throughout the year.

In the second half, the Rhinos opened up the attack and took 10 shots at Dusty Hudock and the Charleston goal. Greg Howes was given too much time and space and let a shot go from 30 to 35 yards out that Hudock was unable to stop as it rocketed into the upper left corner of the goal. And thanks to the stellar Rhinos defense led by Scott Vallow, that was all the offense the Rhinos would need to advance to their first championship game appearance since 2001.

Missing USL 1st Division All-League First Team midfielder Ben Hollingsworth (broken foot) and starting midfielder Omar Daley (suspension) in the second game of the series, it was a tall order for Charleston to break through and advance against a stingy Rhinos defense. Scott Vallow was called upon to make a couple huge saves, but as usual, he was up to the task. The 1-0 aggregate score line might not be enough for some fans, but there is no debating that this team is living by the old adage that "Defense wins championships".

Vancouver advanced in a similar fashion in their All-Canadian match up with the Montreal Impact. The first leg of their series in Vancouver was far from a barnburner as the Impact entered the game with the sole goal of not giving up a goal in Vancouver. Both teams combined for a total of 9 shots as the first game of their series ended in a scoreless draw.

In Montreal, there was more of the same. Although, Vancouver had more of the pressure during regulation as they out shot Montreal 9 to 4 and Greg Sutton had to make 5 saves, whereas Vancouver goalkeeper Tony Caig was not called upon to make a save until after 90 minutes of play.

After 180 minutes of scoreless play, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact looked to be headed to penalty kicks. But, former Montreal (and ex-Rhino) forward Edy Sebrango had other ideas. David Testo was able to spring Sebrango through on the right wing in the 115th minute and Sebrango was able to finish the breakaway to put Vancouver ahead 1-0. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Sebrango ripped his jersey off in celebration drawing an automatic yellow card. This was Sebrango's second yellow of the match (and third of the playoffs), so he was sent off from the match and will not be able to play in the final.

Vancouver salted the game, and series, away in the final seconds as Tony Donatelli, who was in Rhinos camp in Cary earlier this year, was able to make the final score 2-0 and send the Whitecaps through to their first league championship in style.

Pack the Park Challenge

I am throwing out this challenge to everyone that reads this and wants Rochester to pack PAETEC Park for the USL 1st Division title game: Put together a group and come out to the game.

The prices for group sales tickets are as follows:

Upper Center-$16

Personally, I am going to try and put together the largest group I can to come out to the game in an attempt to give this team the packed house they deserve by getting this far this season and to try and get Rochester to look good on Fox Soccer Channel for once this season.

When Sam gets back from Charleston, I'll see if we can come up with a prize for the largest group that is put together for the final. So, just in case contact Norm Maurer [nmaurer@rhinossoccer.com] and tell him Soccer Sam sent you!

UPDATE: Norm from the Rhinos just e-mailed me with the prize pack for the "SoccerSam.com Pack the Park Group Sales Challenge".

The person that organizes the largest group and tells Norm that they are part of the SoccerSam.com Pack the Park Group Sales Challenge will receive a replica Juninho DaSilva jersey and a certificate good for 4 club seats to the 2007 Rhinos home opener.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to send any comments or complaints to news@soccersam.com. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.