Matchup in Miami against new Blues - The Vancouver Sun

Caps won't have to worry about heat, just a better lineup of talented 'strangers'

By Bruce Constantineau

The Vancouver Whitecaps shouldn't get beat by the heat in Miami this weekend.

A forecast calling for a high of 25 degrees with scattered showers on Saturday sounds a lot more inviting than the 34-degree conditions the Caps faced when losing to the Blues in Miami last summer.

"They don't have too many fans but the 12th opponent there is usually the heat," Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said Wednesday. "That has been a major problem for us down there before."

The Caps fly to Florida today to face a dramatically different Miami FC Blues squad than the one the Caps played three times last year -- beating the Blues twice at Swangard Stadium by margins of 3-2 and 2-0 and losing 2-1 in Florida.

Vancouver will try to build on its season-opening 2-0 win over NSC Minnesota Stars last weekend, when it overcame a poor first half to elevate its play and score two second-half goals.

Just five current Blues players were on the 2009 Miami team that went 8-17-5 and missed the USL-1 playoffs for the third straight year. Former Brazilian international Zinho has been replaced as head coach by Victor Pastora.

The roster purge left room to bring in talented and experienced players like 35-year-old Argentine midfielder Christian Gomez, a former Major League Soccer MVP in 2006 when he played with D.C. United.

The gifted playmaker scored 45 goals in 124 appearances with D.C. United from 2004 to 2009 and a Rochester Rhinos defender shadowed him in the season opener last week when the teams played to a 1-1 draw.

Thordarson said Gomez is still a talented player but doesn't plan to assign anyone to chase him around the field for 90 minutes.

"We know their strengths and will try to do something about that," he said. "The way we play ourselves is the way we take care of people. If we play well, we won't have to worry too much about any of their players."

Other key off-season additions for Miami this year include 28-year-old American forward Abe Thompson -with considerable MLS experience in Dallas, Kansas City and Houston -and 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder Paulo Le Petit.

Another young Brazilian - 20-year-old forward Paulo Araujo Jr. -- scored Miami's only goal last week and hit the crossbar on another chance after coming on as a second-half substitute.

New Whitecaps centre back Mouloud Akloul is expected to start Saturday if the paperwork surrounding his international transfer is completed this week.

The 27-year-old French/Algerian defender has impressed in training since signing with the Caps last week.

Thordarson said Vancouver striker Marcus Haber should make his first start with the team on Saturday, playing alongside striker Marlon James. Haber is with the Caps for two months under a loan transfer with West Bromwich Albion.

Whitecaps captain Martin Nash said it can be challenging to play in front of the small crowds that Miami normally draws.

The team attracted about 1,000 fans to its season opener last week and just 405 to the match against Vancouver last year.

"It can take the wind out of your sails when you're warming up but we have to learn to fire ourselves up," he said. "These games really mean something."

Whitecaps defender Zurab Tsiskaridze, who played with Miami last year, said he enjoyed his one-year stint with the Blues but saw crowds dwindle there as the season progressed.

"You'd think the Latin community would love soccer but a lot of people in the community are Cubans who seem to prefer baseball," he said.

SIDE KICKS Defender/midfielder Blake Wagner's left foot injury is more serious than first thought and he will not make the trip to Miami ... Midfielders Jonny Steele and Takashi Hirano continue to recover from knee injuries, with Hirano looking fit during wind sprints Wednesday ... A new Caps residency program candidate, 18-year-old striker Doudou Toure, trained with the team on Wednesday. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound U.S. resident was born in Mauritania and spent the past year with Monterrey FC in Mexico.

bconstantineau@vancouversun.com
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