Snakebitten Whitecaps still win - The Province
BY MARC WEBER
Mouloud Akloul scored the winning goal and left his Whitecaps debut to cheers, but he left on a stretcher.
After a 2009 season where everything possible seemed to beset the club in central defence -- 10 players were used at the position -- Saturday brought a new, cruel break.
Akloul, an experienced French centreback signed two weeks ago, was awaiting an X-ray following the game, but it was almost certain that he'd fractured his trailing left ankle when he finished off a Martin Nash corner kick with his right foot, landing awkwardly.
It came just 19 minutes into the 1-0 win over expansion side AC St. Louis at Swangard Stadium.
"I just thought, 'It starts again,'" said head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I didn't imagine it could be so serious. We don't know it yet, but if the case is that he's broken his leg, that's a major blow for us."
There were no immediate consequences in front of 4,815 fans on Saturday.
Greg Janicki, who had lost his starting position to Akloul, stepped back in and cleaned up the few balls that came his way.
St. Louis (0-4-0), having played Thursday in Portland, did not offer much. Their first, and only, shot came in minute 61. Jay Nolly did not have to make a save as the Whitecaps (1-0-1) posted their third straight shutout to start the USSF D-2 season.
"It's about trying to stay mistake free and not get complacent," Janicki said of these low-pressure games.
But Akloul's injury could soon be felt. The next match at Swangard is May 5 against the Montreal Impact. It's the first of four Nutrilite Canadian Championship games and the start of a hectic nine-games-in-a-month run for the club.
The Nutrilite winner represents Canada in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, and those high-level games would provide Vancouver a great transition into Major League Soccer next March.
"I'm ready for whatever," said Janicki. "I just want to be on the field, keep getting better and help the team win."
Janicki almost made it 2-0 in the 31st minute when he headed off the crossbar behind St. Louis goalkeeper Alec Dufty. The Whitecaps controlled the first half but their possession was sloppy in the second and it was generally a dull affair.
Captain Martin Nash lamented his team's play in the final 45 minutes.
"In the second, we just for some reason didn't move the ball quick enough and that was our problem," the midfielder said. "We started to cause our own problems. They didn't create much, but that isn't the way we wanted to play. We wanted to impose ourselves."
Marcus Haber, on a two-month loan from English side West Bromwich Albion, made his first home appearance this season. Last year's fan favourite and rookie of the year almost added the insurance goal in the 88th minute but his shot dribbled just wide of the left post.
Haber partnered his former Canadian under-20 teammate Randy Edwini-Bonsu up front as Marlon James sat out with a tight hamstring.
For Edwini-Bonsu, a 20-year-old who has come through the residency program, it was his first career start for the club.
Right winger Wes Knight also had an injury scare. Last year's leading assist man tweaked his left knee late in the first half and gave way to Nizar Khalfan.
Knight had off-season meniscus surgery on that knee, but said after he was just being careful.
"It scared me more than anything," he said.
The Whitecaps are at the Portland Timbers on Thursday.
Portland, like Vancouver, will be making the jump to the MLS in 2011.
Whitecaps 1, AC St. Louis 0
Goal: Mouloud Akloul 19' Cautions: None
Lineup: Nolly; Tsiskaridze, Akwari, Akloul (Janicki 22'), Williams; Toure (Moose 59'), Bellisomo, Nash, Knight (Khalfan 37'); Edwini-Bonsu (Sanchez 61'), Haber
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