Nolly returns for final - The Vancouver Sun

Keeper to start against Puerto Rico after serving suspension

John Atkinson

NEXT GAME
SUNDAY
Whitecaps vs. Puerto Rico Islanders
4 p.m. at Swangard Stadium

- - -

Jay Nolly will return between the posts for the Whitecaps on Sunday, eager to atone for his Montreal misdemeanour by helping Vancouver clinch their second USL First Division championship in three years.

Goalkeeper Nolly, 26, was sent off in the Quebec leg of the playoff semifinal for allegedly throwing a punch (which he insists he didn't), leaving Vancouver to try and stifle the Montreal Impact in front of their own fans with only 10 men.

The fact his teammates returned only a goal adrift and were able to turn things around with a sterling 2-0 victory at Swangard Sunday, helped ease some of the American's guilt.

But the Florida-born keeper still feels like he's been given a second chance to help the Whitecaps repeat their 2006 success.

"I was just sitting [in the stands] saying I [don't] want my [or the team's] season to be over," Nolly said of last Sunday's game. "It would have just been a sour way for me to go out for the season. "I [felt] guilty for putting them in a 10-man spot and for [the fact they had to] battle that hard for the rest of [the first leg] game just to get the 1-0 loss.

"[But] it was just great the way they played [in] the first half [at Swangard]. It was the best we've played all year."

After serving a one-game suspension, Nolly is now excited to have the chance to savour the sweet taste of championship glory again. He was part of the Indiana University side that won back-to-back NCAA Division 1 titles in 2003 and 2004.

"It was the highest collegiate level, so definitely something very hard to achieve," he said. "[And having] been in championship situations, [I] understand how to keep the pressure down -- which is good."

"Good" is also how Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson described having Nolly available again for the Puerto Rico encounter. Well, "very good" actually -- being as he's 6-3, more than 200 pounds and likes to get stuck in.

"Tyler [Baldock, who replaced Nolly] did a great job and I'm very satisfied with [his performance against Montreal]," Thordarson said. "But [the two goalkeepers] have different qualities." (Baldock is 6-feet-tall and 30-odd pounds lighter, for one).

"Puerto Rico is a physical team and Jay is very strong in the air coming out [for] crosses. [So] it will definitely be a very good thing to have him back."

Thordarson also hopes inspirational skipper Jeff Clarke (calf strain), top scorer Eduardo Sebrango (sprained ankle) and Geordie Lyle (hamstring) are fit for Sunday's season finale.

If the captain makes it as expected, Omar Jarun may return to partner Wes Charles in central defence, with Clarke pushing forward to link up with Martin Nash in midfield.

If not, Vancouver's Icelandic leader will have no qualms about giving talented youngster Ethan Gage another start.

"Ethan has been fantastic," Thordarson said.

"He is very accomplished for a 17-year-old; physically strong, [with] a good mentality [and] attitude to the game. [He also] understands the game very well and is very disciplined.

"[He's had a] seamless transition into the first team and is now ready for the big games."

Gage, an otherwise typical 17-year-old who fires himself up for games by listening to rapper Lil Wayne, is also just pumped to be mixing it with the 'big boys'.

"I'm excited," he said.

"I had no idea when I first joined the Whitecaps [last] September that I'd be starting with the men's team this soon."

And if he joins Nolly and the rest of the Whitecaps men in helping conquer Puerto Rico on Sunday (Swangard, 4 p.m.), he'll cement his meteoric rise.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008