By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC recorded their first-ever win on the African continent following a 2-1 victory over Tanzanian Premier League outfit Simba Sports Club on Thursday afternoon.
Two goals by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines captain Marlon James helped Teitur Thordarson's side to victory in the second match of their historic preseason trip to Tanzania, with all three goals coming before halftime. Forward Haruna Moshi scored Simba's consolation goal in the friendly contest at the Tanzania National Main Stadium in Dar es Salaam. The result was a positive reply by the Blue and White following the disappointment of Monday's 3-0 defeat to Simba's arch-rivals Young Africans FC.
Thordarson made four changes to his side for Thursday's game. Brazilian Diego replaced Jay Nolly in the Whitecaps goal, while Justin Thompson and Wes Knight earned starts in the Vancouver backline. Ansu Toure took the place of Vicente Arze in midfield, while Charles Gbeke partnered James in the Whitecaps attack.
It was the 'Caps that claimed an early advantage when James scored the opening goal after just three minutes. Toure's cross from the left-hand side allowed James to neatly lob the ball over the Simba goalkeeper for 1-0.
The goal came during a bright early spell of play from the Canadian visitors, but the late afternoon heat soon started to take a physical toll on the 'Caps, with Simba eventually dominating possession during the opening 45 minutes. On 24 minutes, substitute Moshi made it 1-1 after eluding three Whitecaps defenders before striking home the equalizer for the Dar es Salaam club.
Though the first half proved to be hard work for Thordarson's squad, they would claim the winning goal just before the break. Toure freed Takashi Hirano down the left-hand side before the Japanese defender's cross found Gbeke at the far post. His downward header found an unmarked James, who easily converted his second goal from two yards out for a 2-1 halftime lead.
As evening descended on Dar es Salaam, the heat of the late afternoon sunshine disappeared, with the stadium covered in shade by the time both sides restarted the friendly contest. The conditions contributed to an improved Whitecaps performance after the break, as they created several more chances to seal the win.
Ten minutes into the second half, however, Simba were handed a chance to level matters again when they were awarded a penalty after Whitecaps captain Martin Nash was adjudged to have handled the ball in his own box. Diego, however, would deny the Tanzanian side, as the South American dove to his left to deflect Mussa Mgosi's spot kick off his own post and away to safety.
In fact, it was Vancouver that looked the more likely to score before the final whistle, with Gbeke releasing James on the break for a chance to score his third goal of the match with five minutes remaining. The Simba keeper, however, was equal to the striker's finish by making a good save to his right. The chance did not affect the final outcome, as the Whitecaps secured the one-goal victory.
Thordarson was pleased his team worked through the hot conditions to get the result on Thursday. "Though it was a tough first half for us in the heat, we scored two good goals through Marlon and had several chances to score more goals," he told whitecapsfc.com. "Simba were a very good side to play against. Like Young Africans, they had some individual qualities that caused us some concern, but I felt we deserved the victory today."
With less than a month before the USL First Division season opener versus Charleston Battery, Thordarson feels his side have progressed well since starting preseason in January. "I feel that our shape defensively and offensively is getting better," he said. "Though these games have been physically very taxing for our players, I've tried to give them plenty of playing time to help improve their match fitness. It is particularly important for our most experienced players that they play as much as possible at this stage of preseason. We still have a ways to go, but I feel things are coming together."
The Whitecaps will complete their three-match schedule in East Africa when they take on Tanzania’s national team on Saturday. Thordarson expects the weekend match to be their most challenging of the trip. "It will be a tough game for us, as the kickoff will again be in the late afternoon, when it is usually very hot here," said the former Iceland international striker. "The fact that it is their national team means it will be the toughest task of this trip for us. It will be important for us to rest and recover well over the next 48 hours before that final game."
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Diego; Takashi Hirano, Justin Thompson (Mason Trafford 65'), Wesley Charles (Alex Semenets 86'), Wes Knight (Luca Bellisomo 65'); Ansu Toure (Vicente Arze 53'), Martin Nash, Kenold Versailles, Tyrell Burgess (Gordon Chin 52'); Charles Gbeke, Marlon James
Subs not used: Simon Thomas; Gagandeep Dosanjh