Whitecaps are USL champs, Puerto Rico go down 2-1 - The Province
By Marc Weber
Some players have a nose for the net - Charles Gbeke has a whole head. And it's a noggin that Vancouver Whitecaps fans are long going to be nostalgic over.
Gbeke twice struck header goals in the second half of Sunday's USL First Division championship game to lift the Whitecaps to a 2-1 win over the Puerto Rico Islanders in front of an over-capacity crowd of 5,822 fans at Swangard Stadium.
It's the second title in three seasons, the seventh championship in club history and the first at home since beating the Toronto Blizzard in 1991.
"I'm still looking around and I don't know what's happened," said veteran defender Jeff Clarke, who flicked on Alfredo Valente's 55th minute corner to set up Gbeke's opener. "Our fans are joining in it with us and it's just a wonderful feeling. Now that we've done it [won at home], I don't know if you can compare the two [Rochester in '06 and Sunday] - it's on a different level."
Gbeke's winner came in minute 73, as the hard-to-handle 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward firmly finished off Justin Moose's whipped-in cross.
Midfielder Sandi Gbandi had pulled Puerto Rico even in the 68th minute, heading in a pass from Noah Delgado in an open, entertaining final.
"The two biggest goals of my career and it feels great," said a beaming Gbeke, who was on the losing end with Rochester in '06 and today leaves for Brazil, where he will get married in December. "I was crying that day ['06 final] but today is great, being Canadian, winning here with Vancouver."
Since his first stint with Vancouver in 1998 - the reason he wears No. 98 - Gbeke has played for five teams in this league and has also spent time in France, Brazil and Denmark.
Dealt from Montreal mid-season for midfielder Tony Donatelli and cash, he joined the Whitecaps for a fourth time - this version of the squad searching for scoring depth beyond Eduardo Sebrango.
It's a trade that's worked well for both sides but, today, it's Vancouver's deal to gloat about.
"Tony's an outstanding young player and to know he's not going to be around for the next five years is a blow," said Clarke, "but you trade for a guy like Gbeke, who steps up in a game like this, I don't know if there's much left for Charles to repay the club."
The Islanders' best chance to tie was in the 79th, as the ball fell to Gbani with Nolly well out of position after he raced out to punch away a cross. Gbani sailed a 20-yard shot high.
"I'm very disappointed," said Islanders head coach Colin Clarke, whose side was 1-0-2 against Vancouver this regular season. "It was another tight game. We didn't do a good enough job on set plays and if you don't defend your box, defend your goal, then you're not going to win games."
His players' heads weren't in it quite as much as Gbeke's.