Gbeke gets his chance - The Province

Whitecaps striker wants one ring before getting another Marc Weber Charles Gbeke is only 90 minutes away from the best bachelor party he could ever ask for. The Vancouver Whitecaps' Big-Friendly-Giant-of-a-forward leaves Monday for Brazil, where, in less than two months, he will marry Juliane, his 25-year-old Brazilian girlfriend of three years. Winning the USL First Division title and the CONCACAF Champions League might have been the double on players' minds at the start of the season. But this version -- victory and vows -- would be hard for the striker to top. "It would be perfect," said Gbeke (pronounced Bee-kay), who starts in partnership with Eduardo Sebrango today as the Whitecaps seek their second title in three seasons, this time against the Puerto Rico Islanders (4 p.m., Swangard Stadium, TEAM 1040, Fox Sports World Canada). You'd be hard-pressed to find a player more pumped for the championship showdown than the well-traveled Ivory Coast-born forward. Gbeke's hunger has reached ravenous proportions after twice coming close to the title. In 2005 -- after Montreal enjoyed an 18-3-7 regular season -- he scored in the 72nd minute to pull the Impact even with the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of their semifinal. Sounders forward Roger Levesque spoiled the party in the 90th minute. And in 2006, it was the Whitecaps breaking his heart, as Gbeke's Rochester Rhinos were routed 3-0 in the final. "I came so close to winning, but it never happened," said Gbeke. "I'm so excited for this. Did you see how happy I was after the Montreal game [semifinal win Sunday]?" Now the man who this season delivered on his vision of a match-winner against Montreal -- his hometown team that traded him to Vancouver in June -- is again feeling predictive. "Sometimes you have doubts, but I don't have any doubts," he said of the final. "When [Montreal] traded me, I told my dad, 'Montreal is crazy. I'm going to play with Eddie Sebrango and they've just given us the championship.' "That's what I thought, and I still think it, because Eddie and I have great chemistry together." The two forwards played side-by-side on occasion with the Impact in 2005 and they seem to have found a West Coast groove at just the right time -- Gbeke's concussion in August stalled his progress. Head coach Teitur Thordarson was flipping between Gbeke and Nicholas Addlery for a time, but he's settled on Gbeke, who gives the Whitecaps, among other things, a force in the air. In last Sunday's semifinal clincher against Montreal, Gbeke let his feet do the work, setting up Sebrango for the 2-0 goal that booked Vancouver's place in the final. "He's strong, he can hold the ball and I can play off him," said Sebrango. "I'm happy for him and happy for me too." If they connect again today, it could well be enough to make Sebrango the best man tonight. mweber@theprovince.com © The Vancouver Province 2008