Big fella fit to fell a Timber or two - The Province

Michigan native relishes chance to replace injured Mouloud Akloul

By Marc Weber

The Whitecaps confirmed Tuesday what everyone who saw Mouloud Akloul writhing in pain Saturday suspected: the newly signed centre back will be out for a long time.

Four months was the assessment that followed Monday's surgery to repair a broken left ankle.

It's not the way Greg Janicki wanted to win back his starting spot, but he's hoping to make the best of the opportunity starting Thursday at the Portland Timbers.

"It's terrible," said Janicki, a 25-year-old Michigan native signed in December. "Mouloud's a really good player and was off to a great start. I feel bad for the guy, but I've just got to step up. I've got a spot, yeah, but only until the next guy comes in, so you never get complacent. You just keeping working hard."

Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said there are no immediate plans to add another defender. Luca Bellisomo, who has been starting in central midfield, can play at the back, and left back Zurab Tsiskaridze can slide into a central role.

Free agent Wesley Charles, a Whitecap in 2008 and '09, continues to train with the team, but only as a means to keep fit while he looks for another home, Thordarson said.

Janicki, who spent the past two seasons with Major League Soccer side D.C. United, doesn't have Akloul's skill or experience, but he's a big, strong player who doesn't lose too many battles, especially in the air.

"And he brings a work ethic to the team," said fellow centre back Nelson Akwari, the Whitecap with the most MLS games to his name. "A lot of guys come down from MLS and have a hard time adjusting -- they don't know they have to work really hard -- but Greg knows that."

Injuries played a big role in Janicki's rise and fall with D.C.

He was plucked from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of USL-2 after the 2008 season and went from D.C.'s reserves to starting CONCACAF Champions League games in a matter of days.

"I was at home doing nothing, not expecting much, and they just called me and asked me to play a reserve game," Janicki said. "I played terrible actually but they kept me around and there were so many injuries I ended up getting an opportunity and played pretty well."

Well enough to sign a senior contract for 2009. But in the season opener Janicki collided with a teammate and sustained a concussion that kept him out for two months.

He recovered to make six more starts -- and square off against Ronaldo, Kaka, Robben and the rest of Real Madrid in front of 70,000 fans -- but says he was never able to regain his form.

"I just didn't play well," Janicki said. "I wasn't shocked when they released me."

Tommy Soehn, D.C.'s head coach at the time, said Vancouver would be a good fit. Soehn then joined the Whitecaps as their director of soccer operations a month later.

For Janicki and the Whitecaps (2-0-1), Thursday's game at Portland (2-0-1) will be their first true test, and an interesting measuring stick since both clubs jump to MLS in 2011.

The Timbers were last season's regular-season champions and have the hottest scorer in USSF D-2 right now in Ryan Pore (four goals and an assist).

"Portland is definitely going to pressure us and it will be interesting to see how we manage that," said Thordarson, whose side won a memorable two-leg semifinal playoff series against the Timbers last season, including a 3-3 away tie.

Janicki played against Pore in the first round of the 2004 NCAA tournament. Pore's University of Tulsa side beat Janicki's Michigan State squad 3-1. Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly had the last laugh that year, as Indiana shut out Tulsa 4-0 in the regional final en route to the title.

"They kicked our butts and he scored a couple of goals, so I know a little about him," Janicki said of Pore. "He's a big part of their offence, definitely a guy we have to watch out for."

Nolly and the Whitecaps have three straight shutouts to start the season, but in Saturday's 1-0 win at Swangard, St. Louis wasn't even able to muster a shot on target. That won't be the case Thursday with a fast Timbers team on the field turf at PGE Park.

"We've had a really good shape," said Nolly, "and from a defensive standpoint that's how we want to start the season. Now we just need to start putting some more in, and this will be a huge test for us on the road."

mweber@theprovince.com
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