For the first time in the three-year history of the American Soccer League, the two best teams in the regular season will meet in the championship series.

Unlike in the previous two years, there were no semifinal upsets and no letdowns by the favored clubs. As anticipated, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Maryland Bays will play for the title in what promises to be a contrast in styles.

Game 1 of the home-and-home series will be tonight at 8 at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia. The second match and, if necessary, a 30-minute tiebreaker, will be Aug. 25 at the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, Fla.

The ASL champion will play the Western Soccer League champion for the American Professional Soccer League title Sept. 22 at Boston University's Nickerson Field.

The youthful Bays (17-5) used their explosive attack to win the Northern Division title and sweep the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the semifinals. They set an ASL record with 42 goals in 20 regular season games and scored six times in two postseason victories.

The Strikers (17-5) have become a permanent fixture in the championship, losing to the Washington Diplomats in 1988 and defeating the Boston Bolts last year. With a solid and experienced lineup, they choose steadiness and consistency over flash.

The Bays like to utilize their speedy forwards, Jean Harbor and Phillip Gyau, and go for the quick score. The Strikers prefer to wear down an opponent with their composure and experience, as they did against Albany in the semifinals.

Maryland has scored at least two goals in 18 of 22 matches, but was limited to one goal in 3-1 and 3-0 losses to the Strikers earlier this season. Does Fort Lauderdale know something the rest of the league doesn't?

"You have to match their speed, which is nearly impossible," Strikers player-coach Thomas Rongen said. "I firmly believe {Gyau and Harbor} are the most dangerous attack this league's ever had."

The Bays move in waves with Gyau (13 goals, six assists) and Harbor (11, 7) at the point, Johnny Abe (3, 5) and Kevin Sloan (5, 2) on the wings and Rob Ryerson (7, 2) and Omid Namazi (1, 6) distributing from midfield.