Whitecaps seek playoff prowess - The Province

Starting tonight versus Austin

By Marc Weber

The pressure's off the Vancouver Whitecaps to make the USL-1 playoffs after Miami took themselves out of the race Friday night. But the pressure is decidedly on to lift their level in the final two regular-season games.

"It's about showing championship material," said forward Marlon James, who will make his first start in eight games today against the expansion Austin Aztex. "We need to be more physical, take on the ball and not let teams come into Swangard and run us off the park.

"But I'm confident we can really push and give a good run in the playoffs."

After facing second-last place Austin today, Vancouver hosts last-place Cleveland City -- the 2008 USL-2 champions -- on Friday. Their combined road records: 3-21-2 with 18 goals for and 61 against.

It's like a double shot of wheatgrass to fuel their title defence. Vancouver has just two wins in 11 games.

"We've got two games that are there for the taking, at our place," said midfielder Martin Nash. "It's important to go into the playoffs winning, having that winning attitude and feeling."

The Whitecaps will have to do the job today without Nash, who will miss his fourth straight game with a hamstring pull. He hopes to play Friday, but head coach Teitur Thordarson admitted he's concerned that his captain could miss a playoff game.

Thordarson also said he'll play James as much as possible as he tries to quickly work his talented striker back into game shape. James's most recent injury was a groin pull that kept him out a month.

Ever-positive, James said he could still lead the league in scoring. He has eight goals in 15 games, three off the leaders, who have all played at least 25 games.

"It's possible," he said of finishing tops in tallies. "Why not? I think I owe the club probably 1,000 minutes on the field. I hope I can help everybody and make up for what I've missed."

Defender Geordie Lyall, plagued by injuries the past two years, is done for the season after sustaining an abdominal injury in Montreal. The Victoria resident, 33 on Tuesday, isn't yet prepared to discuss his future.

Today's game

Austin Aztex at Whitecaps 4 p.m., Swangard Stadium TV: None Web: USLlive.com More on today's game at theprovince.com/blogs. Click on Back of the Net
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