By Gary Kingston, Vancouver Sun
As the first few passes Saturday night to new Vancouver Whitecaps striker Marcus Haber were pinging off his chest or feet like an arcade-game ball, it was clear the 20-year-old rookie was fighting a case of nerves.
Sure, he'd played in big games with Canada's U-20 national team. And he'd spent the previous two years in Holland with FC Groningen's youth side.
But this was his debut as a pro for his hometown team, having grown up in the Dunbar area. And Haber, a big target man at 6-3, was having trouble holding balls.
"The first 10 minutes, I was a little nervous," admitted Haber, who had a good number of family and friends in the opening night crowd of 5,037 at Swangard Stadium.
Then in the 14th minute, he was put into the clear in the box by a terrific through ball from midfielder Vincente Arze. Haber's rolling right-foot shot went past a diving Dusty Hudock in the Charleston Battery net, but glanced off the far post.
It was Vancouver's best chance in what turned out to be a 0-0 draw as the new-look 'Caps began defence of their 2008 USL-1 title on the rain-slicked turf at Swangard.
And it appeared to help calm Haber, who turned in an encouraging effort in place of Vancouver's most heralded off-season signing, St. Vincent and the Grenadines international Marlon James, who injured an ankle in training.
"I had a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy," said Haber, who used his speed and size to challenge the Battery back line. "It felt good to play here. As I settled in, things just started to get better."
The 'Caps were solid defensively -- goalkeeper Jay Nolly was credited with two saves, though neither was difficult -- and with all seven of the corners in the game, controlled play much of the night. But except for a scramble in front of the Charleston net in injury time, they didn't get any real gilt-edged chances after Haber's near miss.
"I would have liked some more goal chances and some goals, but unfortunately we didn't manage that," said Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson, who put out a starting 11 that had just three men who started the '08 opener.
"We did well, especially with so many new players on this level. We kept the pace up, had good speed on the ball and lots of good movement, but didn't manage to create the chances we wanted."
Captain Martin Nash, one of the handful of holdovers from last season's championship team, said it's going to take some time for everyone to get comfortable offensively.
"It's just getting a read on guys, how they like to play and connecting passes. Expecting guys to be in places and then you look up and they're not there. Little things like that. That will come in time."
Haber may well get that time next week. Thordarson said he doubts James will be ready for games in Puerto Rico on Saturday and Austin, Tex., on April 21, and Haber has earned another shot with his play against Charleston.
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