Whitecaps juggle net assets

Last season's 'keepers' not so much as team retools between pipes

Ian Walker
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Vancouver Whitecaps had as many goaltenders as goal scorers last year.

It's a slight exaggeration.

Tony Caig, Richard Goddard, Lutz Pfannenstiel and Matt Nelson all made appearances in goal for the United Soccer Leagues First Division team over the course of the season. There were in fact twelve different players responsible for Vancouver's 27 goals in 2007.

In a more fitting indictment of the Whitecaps' goaltending woes, none of the four above mentioned are back with the team this year. Instead, management turned to a pair of former Major League Soccer backups to backstop the 'Caps this season.

After a tightly contested battle, Srdjan Djekanovic will get the start in net tonight when the Vancouver Whitecaps FC men's team opens the regular season against the Montreal Impact at Swangard Stadium. The 25-year-old Vancouver resident earned the nod over Jay Nolly, who joined the Whitecaps this winter after a season with D.C. United.

"It was difficult to choose between them, they have been playing very well and training very well," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, following Friday's practice at the team's training facility at SFU. "I just felt that Serge was a little bit ahead."

At least for now. Thordarson is taking a game-by-game approach with his goaltending.

Which is just fine by Djekanovic, who said he's treating the situation as his ball and it's up to him to run with it. Except by "run with it" he means doing everything within his power to stop the ball from crossing the goal line.

"It's one of those things where you have to be on your toes the whole time and you have to keep the performances going -- you can't afford to slip up," said Djekanovic, a perennial backup in his previous three years with the 'Caps. He signed with Toronto FC last season, posting a 2-3-2 record with two shutouts and a 1.28 goals-against average before re-signing with Vancouver this winter. "It's going to be competitive and I just want to keep doing well and the team is winning and that will take care of that."

The rest of the Whitecaps starters will not be named until closer to game time, when it will be clearer whether or not first-year defender Omar Jarun will be a part of the starting 11. There aren't expected to be any surprises, either way.

"We are expecting to play a good team and I think we are prepared for that," said Thordarson, who will make his North American soccer debut today. "We focus more on our team than our opponent, but we are aware of the qualities of the Montreal team. Obviously they have had a very good preseason, they have had the possibilities to prepare in a fantastic way."

The Impact finished with a 4-2-2 record in the pre-season and training included exhibition games in Italy and Portugal as well as a 3-1 friendly win over the Honduran national side during a recent trip to Florida. Midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo was the top scorer with three of his team's 14 goals.

Tonight will be the first of five games that the two Canadian clubs will play against each other this season.

"Everybody knows the importance of this first game and we are looking forward to it," said Impact head coach Nick De Santis. "The team's confidence is excellent right now, but I'm expecting a tough game."