By Marc Weber
VANCOUVER- He'd hit the post, had a goal-bound ball cleared off the line and had another called back on an offside this season.
As of Sunday night, Charles Gbeke finally has a goal to call his own and it came at a most opportune time.
The big, friendly forward - who's been a little more grumpy lately - headed Wes Knight's cross past an outstretched Bill Gaudette in the 82nd minute as the Vancouver Whitecaps beat the Puerto Rico Islanders 1-0 in front of 5,023 fans at Swangard Stadium.
It was a rematch of last year's United Soccer Leagues First Division championship tilt - won 2-1 by the Whitecaps at Swangard - and it vaulted Vancouver (3-1-2) into first place.
"I was getting down," admitted Gbeke, who had taken to swinging his arm wildly, punching the air, after squandered opportunities. Like when he was denied brilliantly by reigning goalkeeper of the year Gaudette on another header in the 20th minute.
"I got a big weight off my shoulders, it was a relief for me," said the 31- year-old from Montreal. "I give credit to my coaches, to my boys - they believe I can score big goals in big games."
Gbeke proved that last season, most notably in the title game as he headed in both goals to beat the Islanders. He scored five times in 18 starts.
The Whitecaps hope there's plenty more attacking punch in that head of his, especially after watching talented forward Marlon James drop to the grass, clutching his right hamstring, late in the first half.
James, who leads the team with three goals, said he "heard a pop." The initial assessment of head coach Teitur Thordarson is that James is done for three-to-six weeks, which means residency forwards Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Dever Orgill could soon be part of the 18-man roster.
"It was good for (Gbeke) to score tonight," the coach said. "He's been frustrated and it was extremely good for him and good for his confidence. He'd had some opportunities in the games so far, but I've been a striker myself and been in a similar situations.
"So I just said `Slow down, continue to play and the goals will come.'"
Vancouver controlled play for much of the first half with strong possession and a handful of chances off the wings thanks to Vicente Arze and Ansu Toure.
Arze sent James in alone in the 27th minute but a terrible touch erased that chance. In a sluggish second half, the Bolivian midfielder almost opened the scoring himself, but his deflected 20-yard strike was denied by a hockey-like kick save from Gaudette.
Puerto Rico's best chance came after Nick Addlery crossed into the box in the 75th minute. Knight managed to clear the loose ball, but it involved some luck, deflecting off Jay Nolly's knee away from goal, rather than into it.
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