Whitecaps strike first, lightning second - The Province


The Vancouver Whitecaps were upstaged again on Saturday night. Fortunately for the club, it was by the weather and not by an opponent.

Lightning strikes ripped through the sky around Swangard Stadium and a severe thunderstorm resulted in a two-hour break between halves. But when play resumed the Whitecaps dominated in a much-needed 4-1 route of the Puerto Rico Islanders.

Vancouver (6-7-3) had just two victories in nine league games heading into Saturday, and up next is a tough three-game road trip.

The Whitecaps first two goals came off brutal defensive plays by the visitors. The last two came off the foot and head of substitute Marlon James, who now has six goals in just 450 minutes. He’s battled hamstring and calf injuries all season and his return to full fitness could well be the key to turning around this season.

Former Whitecap Josh Hansen responded with a pair of goals for the Islanders, including one off a penalty kick.

The game started at 7 p.m., ended at 11:02 p.m. and around 1,000 of the original 5,725 fans stuck around right to the end.

It was a wacky start in Burnaby where biblical rain greeted the teams after kickoff.

Whitecaps forward Marcus Haber could have scored two minutes in. Teammate Charles Gbeke was stopped on a clear breakaway from just inside the halfway line one minute later, and Haber opened the scoring on a comical miscue less than 60 seconds after that.

Islanders defender John Krause played a defensive header backward from 15 yards, but goalkeeper Mike Behonick was charging out and the ball looped over him and landed near the goal line, where Haber tapped in.

“Oohs” and “aahs” filled the stadium in the opening half, but the fans were reacting to the lightning flashes as opposed to the disjointed game.

The first half was called three minutes early and fans were instructed to vacate the metal bleachers on the south side of the field. Later, those not in the grandstand were asked to vacate the concourse and hang out instead on the grassy area outside the stadium.

Vancouver dominated much of the entertaining second half, making it 2-0 on an own goal in the 51st. Whitecaps midfielder Tyrell Burgess curled in a corner kick that was headed in on the short side by Islanders defender Kyle Veris.

James ripped in a 20-yard strike top corner in the 64th to open up a 3-0 lead. His cool header off a Burgess feed in the 82nd made it 4-1.

With the opening leg of their Champions League qualification series looming against Toronto FC on Wednesday, the Islanders (9-5-7) rested six regular starters against Vancouver. Among them, 2008 USL-1 most valuable player, midfielder Jonny Steele, reigning defender of the year and leading scorer Christian Arrieta and goalkeeper of the year Bill Gaudette.

Behonick played his first minutes of the season between the posts.

While all is relatively well for the Whitecaps at home, where they are 5-2-1 with 15 goals for and eight against, the road is a completely different story. Vancouver is just 1-5-2 away from Swangard Stadium with 10 goals for and 15 against.

E-mail reporter Marc Weber at mweber@theprovince.com

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