Tired of midfield merry-go-round - The Province

'It's just about putting it together,' says Martin Nash

By Marc Weber

Martin Nash's name is written in permanent pen. The rest of the midfield? More like a No. 2 pencil, and the eraser is getting an early-season work out.

The Vancouver Whitecaps host the Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium tonight in a rematch of last year's title game, won 2-1 by Vancouver.

It's the sixth league match for the Whitecaps, who know little more about their men in the middle than they did at the outset. They are still trying to find someone to complement Nash in a central role, and still searching for consistency on the wings.

"It's difficult, we've not quite found what we're looking for right now," said Nash, the Caps' captain and axis of the revolving door.

In a 1-0 Nutrilite Canadian Championship loss at Toronto FC on Wednesday, Nash partnered up with Justin Moose in central midfield with Ansu Touré and Vicente Arze starting on the wings.

It was the fourth starting midfield combination laid out by head coach Teitur Thordarson in six total matches. And after generating just one great chance at goal against Toronto, expect another shift tonight, perhaps Moose

moving out to the right wing and 18-year-old Ethan Gage rejoining Nash in the middle.

"I think all the guys are capable," Nash continued. "It's just about putting it together. We're still working at it for sure and there are options. We're going to have to try some things and there are three, four, maybe five capable players who are going to get a chance in there [central midfield] before it gets set."

January signing Kenold Versailles, a central midfielder from Haiti, is out indefinitely with a nerve problem in his leg, but Burnaby's Gordon Chin is also an option in the middle.

Moose played 66 minutes against TFC after coming off the bench the two previous games -- all in central midfield as opposed to on the wing where he played last season.

He gives the Whitecaps a more offensive look than they have with Gage or Mason Trafford there.

"I like being isolated on the outside, but you're more involved in the middle," said Moose, who missed the entire preseason and first three games while rehabilitating his osteitis pubis injury. "Nash is a great player and I know that we can play better together but we haven't had much time to start clicking."

That the Whitecaps are 2-1-2 through five USL-1 contests without consistency in such a crucial part of the pitch is encouraging. The ceiling for this team appears high once they are able to service their towering forward duo of Marlon James and Charles Gbeke -- and once Gbeke finds his finishing touch.

"We're still finding our way with a lot of new players," said Nash. "We still haven't found our groove.

"I think [tonight's] game is huge. We've got off to a slower start than we'd like to and it's a big test against a team we know is going to be there in the end."

mweber@theprovince.com

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Puerto Rico Islanders

Kickoff: 7 p.m. today

TV: None

Webcast: USLlive.com

Last time these teams met at Swangard Stadium was Oct. 12, 2008 when Charles Gbeke twice scored header goals to help the Whitecaps claim the USL-1 championship 2-1. That final was a meeting of the top two teams from the regular season, as Puerto Rico clipped the Caps by a single point for the Commissioner's Cup. This season is expected to play out in similar fashion as the Isles and Caps are second and third.

Puerto Rico Islanders

League record: 2-0-2

Defender Christian Arrieta's first-half goal was canceled out as the Islanders drew 1-1 with the expansion Aztex in Austin on Friday night.

Top league scorer: Nick Addlery (2)

Vancouver Whitecaps

League record: 2-1-2

Predicted starting XI: J Nolly; T Hirano, W Charles, J Parke, W Knight; A Toure, M Nash, E Gage, J Moose; C Gbeke, M James.

Top league scorer: Marlon James (3)

mar-vellous

scoring

When it comes to facts, they don't get any more bizarre (and undeniably useless) than this: Each of the Whitecaps' six goals this season have come from players whose first names begin with the letters "Mar."

Marlon James 3

Martin Nash 1

Marco Reda 1

Marcus Haber 1

Top league scorer: James (3)
© Copyright (c) The Province