BURNABY, B.C. — Any doubts Charles Gbeke had over the trade that saw him come to the Vancouver Whitecaps from the Montreal Impact disappeared in a champagne-soaked celebration Sunday night.
Gbeke headed in two second-half goals, the second coming in the 73rd minute, as the Whitecaps defeated the Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 to win their second United Soccer Leagues First Division championship in three years to thrill a hometown crowd.
"Those are the two biggest goals in my career," Gbeke shouted over the cheers and singing of a crowd of 5,822 at Swangard Stadium. "It's great for us. This championship is big for us."
The Whitecaps acquired Gbeke in a trade from Montreal in July. The Ivory Coast native, who grew up in Montreal, admitted the deal caught him off guard.
"I didn't expect to get traded," said Gbeke, who was named player of the game. "I had my family in Montreal, I grew up in Montreal. I told my dad when I got traded playing with (forward) Eddie Sebrango is going to bring a lot to my game. That's what happened here."
At at six-foot-two and 210-pounds, Gbeke is built like a football linebacker. He used his size and strength on both goals.
He snapped a 1-1 tie late in the game when he leaped in the air and headed in a cross from midfielder Justin Moose. That goal came 18 minutes after Islanders midfielder Sandy Gbandi took a pass from Noah Delgado and headed it past Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.
Gbeke put Vancouver up 1-0 in the 55th minute off a corner kick. Alfredo Valente sent the ball into the box, where it deflected off midfielder Jeff Clarke and then to Gbeke, who headed it home.
"He scores big goals," said Clarke, who held his seven-month-old son Elijah in his arms. "He won't score you 30 goals but he'll get you 10 or 20 game-winning goal or game-tying goals. Tonight he did that."
Gbeke was a member of the Rochester Rhinos who lost 3-0 to Vancouver in the 2006 USL final.
"I was crying that night," he said. "Today is great. Being Canadian, winning here, is great."
The victory also was an exclamation mark on Teitur Thordarson's first year as the Whitecaps coach.
"I am so delighted," said Thordarson, a former international player with Iceland. "We have been playing an attacking style of soccer and we managed to do that and managed to win the championship with that."
It was a frustrating loss for the Islanders who were playing in their first final after five years in the league.
"I don't think we deserved to get beat," said Puerto Rico coach Colin Clarke. "It was a good tight game. It was just one of those things."
Vancouver advanced to the final after beating the Montreal Impact 3-2 in a two-game, total-goal series. Puerto Rico defeated Rochester 3-2 on aggregate.
Whitecap banners flew and Canadian flags waved among the noisy crowd. After the game Whitecap players climbed into the stands at the stadium's south end to shake hands with fans.
A drum-pounding, bell-ringing contingent of fans from Puerto Rico sang and managed to make themselves heard throughout the match that was tied 0-0 at half time.
It's the first time Vancouver has celebrated a soccer championship at home since 1991.
"It's difficult to get to the championship game," said Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps president, who also played for and coached the team. "You think you are going to get there a lot more often than you actually do.
"To be able to host a championship game is a huge bonus. To be able to win it in front of your own fans is something very special."
Winning the title also will help the Whitecaps bid to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Vancouver.
"It keeps the profile of the club in the limelight," said Lenarduzzi. "I don't think it's something that is going to push us over the top.
"What is going to push us over the top is our actual bid."
The Islanders finished the regular season first in the league, one point ahead of the Whitecaps, with 54 points from a 15-win, six-loss, nine-tie record. Vancouver had 53 points and was 15-7-8.
The game would have been played in Puerto Rico but the USL deemed the Islanders' venue unsuitable and the final was moved to Vancouver.
Vancouver won the North American Soccer League championship in 1979 and took the Canadian Soccer League title four consecutive times from 1988 to 1991.
Notes: It was the first time the USL championship was played between two teams from outside the United States. ... Six members Vancouver's 2006 championship team remain on the Whitecaps roster this season. ... A distance of 6,097 kilometres separates Vancouver from Puerto Rico. The only league with two teams further apart is in Russia where there is 7,363 kilometres between Vladivostok and Kaliningrad.