English keeper brings experience to Whitecaps
It's been over a year since Siobhan Chamberlain has had a break from soccer, but the Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper hopes to keep playing for at least a couple more weeks.
The London-born Chamberlain joined the Whitecaps in May, just five days after wrapping up her season with Chelsea Ladies FC. She will be in goal when Vancouver faces the Pali Blues Saturday at Swangard Stadium in the W-League Western Conference sudden-death playoff match.
A win would send the Whitecaps to the W-League Final Four July 29-31 in Santa Clarita, Calif.
Analytical in both her speech and game, the 26-year-old Chamberlain was very matter-of-fact in explaining the importance of the one-off playoff.
"It's all very well winning your conference," she said after a recent practice. "To get that far and not win the Final Four would be a major anti-climax. We need to go out and perform on Saturday."
The Whitecaps finished first in the Western Conference with a 6-0-4 record. The Blues, a team from the Los Angeles area, squeezed into the playoffs with a 3-4-3 mark.
The Whitecaps can't afford to take the Blues lightly. Pali won back-to-back W-League championships and were undefeated in 33 matches before losing to Vancouver on June 19 in Los Angeles.
"They are a good technical team," said Chamberlain, who was in goal when the Whitecaps beat Pali 3-2 on June 27. "They are quite good attacking wise. That's their strongest point.
"If we attack them high up on the pitch and don't let them attack, I'm sure we will be successful."
The Whitecaps won the W-League title in 2004 and 2006, but missed the playoffs last season. When Hubert Busby Jr. was hired as head coach during the off-season, one of the first things he did was begin looking for a goalkeeper to add veteran experience to the club.
"I used some of my contacts I have throughout the world to knock on a few doors," said Busby.
His timing was perfect. Chamberlain, who had helped Chelsea to a third-place league finish during the 2009-10 season and an English Football Association Women's Cup semifinal appearance, was anxious to answer the call.
"I always wanted to come and play in America or Canada," she said. "Our season was finished.
"If I had stayed in England there would be no football for me."
The tall, lean Chamberlain played in eight games for the Whitecaps and had a 4-0-3 record. She allowed eight goals, made 17 saves and posted two shutouts.
Busby said the numbers alone don't tell Chamberlain's contribution to the team.
"She brings leadership at the back," he said. "Sometimes with a team that is good in front of you, you don't have to make a whole lot of saves but you have to make the big saves at the right time.
"She has been able to do that."
The Whitecaps have young goalkeepers Kristen Funk and Stephanie Panozzo on the roster. Busby said Chamberlain has added a veteran's poise.
"We needed a level head at that position," he said. "You need somebody that has been there and done it before. That allows your younger players to grow into that position."
It's been a long haul for Chamberlain. She played for the English team that lost to Germany 6-2 in last September's European Championships. After a winter with her club team she joined the Whitecaps.
"My body is starting to feel it a bit at the moment," she said. "I think that's more training on turf everyday and playing on turf. I am used to playing on grass.
"I do like the hard work."
Busby said Chamberlain came to the team with an impressive skill set, but has benefited from working with Whitecaps' goalkeeper coach Raegyn Hall.
"When she leaves here she will be a better goalkeeper from our environment and working with our goalkeeping coach," said Busby.
"I have seen the improvement in her with some of her technical things."
Chamberlain didn't know what talent level to expect when she came to the W-League, a North American development league below Women's Professional Soccer.
"To be honest I have been surprised how good it was," she said. "It's a challenging league.
"You always know that Americans and Canadians are going to be strong, big athletes that are fit. Technically, all the players are really good. It's a very good standard."
Chamberlain has made 16 appearances playing for England and has a 10-4-2 record. She was the third-string keeper on the English team at the 2007 World Cup in China.
Several members of Canada's national team play for the Whitecaps plus other teams in the W-League.
Chamberlain knows her English teammates will have plenty of questions for her the next time the team plays Canada.
"I'm sure I'll get asked who has strong points and weaknesses," she said. "I will have a little advantage knowing them."