Special to the Sun
A fully fit Wes Charles returns to the Whitecaps (14-7-8) starting line-up at Seattle's Starfire Sports Stadium tonight determined to make up for lost time.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines international defender has missed the Vancouver sides last four USL First Division games with a quad strain.
But he has patiently accepted waiting until the time was right to return and is now a potentially crucial part of the Whitecaps push for playoff success.
"I've missed four games, so it is good to feel fit and healthy again," Charles said, ahead of the Whitecaps final match of the regular USL-1 league season. "It will also be good to play [Seattle] and get 90 minutes under my belt.
"It was frustrating watching the home games from the sidelines and I did try to come back for the [Montreal] game, but the physio and coach both wanted me to wait.
"I think that was the best decision as my leg is now 100 per cent and I'm good for the play-offs [providing], fingers crossed, I don't get injured [against Seattle]."
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson is also happy to have the burly centre-half back for what will be the last league encounter against Seattle (10-9-10) for a while as the Sounders will become a Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit next year.
"It is extremely good to have Wes back," Thordarson said. "We have been doing quite well without him, but he could have made a difference in the games we have played. He is a very solid defender and a leader type and we always need those kind of players."
Left-back Takashi Hirano is also close to full fitness again and will likely come off the bench to play some part in Washington. Only centre-half Omar Jarun (suspension) and Georgie Lyall (groin injury) are unavailable.
Regardless of whether Puerto Rico grabs at least a point tonight in Atlanta to clinch the league title, Vancouver is already guaranteed to finish second in the table. Whitecaps skipper Jeff Clarke said his side would be on the offensive tonight.
"We're going out for a win in Seattle," he said. "We have a healthy squad right now and just need to manage the minutes and get through the game without any injuries."
At which point, the Whitecaps can really think about repeating their 2006 play-off final success.
As it stands, Thordarson's team is in line to face Minnesota Thunder (currently lying seventh) in the first playoff round with the Whitecaps (a high seed) likely to elect to travel to Minnesota for the first leg.
"[In] my experience of the European Cup, it is always better to play the first [of major two-legged games] away," Thordarson added.
"[Because] if it is then a tight second game, which goes to extra time and penalty kicks, its better to be at home [with the crowd support]."
Though the Whitecaps are gunning for three points against the Sounders tonight, one would be enough to clinch their third Cascadia Cup, the tri-club competition which also features Portland Timbers.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008