Whitecaps looking for air support - The Province

Burly defender should provide physical presence on the back line

BY MARC WEBER,

Don't think too long and hard about what Justin Thompson brings to the mix tonight as the Vancouver Whitecaps host the Montreal Impact in Nutrilite Canadian Championship action.

"It's not rocket science," the 6-foot-3, 200-pound central defender said of assessing his game.

"I'm a physical guy, and I should win my aerial battles and provide some leadership at the back."

Thompson, getting his first start of the season, knows a thing or two about simple assessments.

When the opportunity came up in December to return to his hometown Whitecaps, the North Vancouver native and former Portland Timber made what he called an easy decision.

And asked to evaluate his season so far -- just two appearances in nine games across all competitions -- Thompson was expectedly blunt.

"I'd be lying if I said it's been an easy year for me," said the 28-year-old who first played for the Whitecaps in 2004.

"It's been challenging -- of course I came in to play. But I respect [head coach] Teitur's [Thordarson] decision a lot and we've put ourselves in a position to advance in this competition and we're amongst the leaders of the USL-1."

Tonight, the Whitecaps look to complete the Nutrilite sweep of Montreal and set up a massive home meeting with Toronto FC on June 2. The eventual winner of this competition represents Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Impact are missing a handful of key players, including suspended captain and centre back Nevio Pizzolitto and midfielders Rocco Placentino and David Testo to injury. Complacency is not a concern though, said Thompson, speaking especially for himself.

"It's easy for me to take the attitude that it could be my last game, because it very well could be," he said. "I don't have the luxury of coming off four or five good games where you can have a half off. I have to be on top of my game every minute and I expect that from myself.

"I have to do everything I can to take my chance."

Thompson was a starter for the Timbers top-rated defensive squad two seasons ago and also for the last-place Timbers team in 2008.

He took things in stride when the Whitecaps went out and signed central defenders Marco Reda and Jeff Parke after inking him to a one-year deal plus club option.

Thompson comes off as a guy who truly wants the best for the team, and he loves the challenge of competition, both internal and external.

"He's shown great character in working hard and always being ready when we needed him," said Thordarson, who starts Thompson in place of the suspended Wesley Charles, a similarly sturdy, tough-as-nails type. "I really appreciate this kind of attitude. It's never easy to sit out -- a player with his experience and at his age."

Reda was also an option for the coach, declared fit to play after recovering from a concussion, but Thompson played well in Vancouver's 2-0 win at Montreal last week, coming on for an injured Parke in the 30th minute.

"Physically, Justin is so strong," Thordarson said. "That is needed."

Mentally so far this season, he's been tough, too.

- - -

MONTREAL IMPACT AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. tonight

TV: Sportsnet

Supporters pub: Doolins Irish Pub, 654 Nelson St.

With another win over the Montreal Impact tonight, the Vancouver Whitecaps will, in many minds, wrestle away the favourites tag from Toronto FC in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. A victory pulls Vancouver even with TFC on points with only a home game remaining for the Whitecaps against the MLS side on June 2. TFC still plays the Impact again, but it's in Montreal on June 18.

Goal differential is the first tiebreaker and could certainly play a role in the final outcome of this tournament. It will be interesting to see how Vancouver plays if they get up a goal tonight.

The Impact, who won last year's tournament to earn the Voyageurs Cup and move on to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League, are saying they still believe they have a chance, but really have assumed the spoiler role after dropping their first two games.

Four Whitecaps are sitting on a yellow card in this competition, which means they'll miss the Toronto game if they pick up another tonight. Captain Martin Nash and forward Charles Gbeke would be devastating losses. Gordon Chin and Justin Moose are the other two.

Montreal impact

(USL-1 record: 1-3-2)

The Impact were left feeling unlucky after last Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to

Vancouver, outshooting the Whitecaps 18-6 and hitting three crossbars.

Top league scorer: Joey Gjertsen (2)

Vancouver Whitecaps

(USL-1 record: 3-2-2)

Predicted starting XI: J Nolly; T Hirano, J Thompson, J Parke, W Knight; A Toure, M Nash, E Gage, G Chin; C Gbeke, M Haber.

Top league scorer: Marlon James (3)

Nutrilite Championship tournament schedule

Pts W-L-D GF GA GD

TOR 6 2-0-0 2 0 +2

VAN 3 1-1-0 2 1 +1

MON 0 0-2-0 0 3 -3

May 6 VAN 0 at TOR 1

May 13 MON 0 at TOR 1

May 20 VAN 2 at MON 0

May 27 MON at VAN, 7:30 p.m.*

June 2 TOR at VAN, 7:30 p.m.*

June 18 TOR at MON, 5 p.m.*

*Live on Sportsnet / all times PT

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