BY MARC WEBER
The Vancouver Whitecaps' Monday practice was filled with fresh attitudes and fresh faces.
After a week off to recuperate from an emotional, draining section of the schedule that saw USL-1 mediocrity mixed with dashed Nutrilite Canadian Championship dreams and a sprinkle of teammate-on-teammate violence, the Caps return to action Thursday at home to the Minnesota Thunder.
The 18-man roster will be familiar for now, but there's also heightened competition in training with several new players on trial. The latest: Tanzanian national team midfielder Nizar Khalfan and defender Nadir Haroub, who were spotted on the Caps' preseason tour to their country and joined the club over the weekend.
"I think it was necessary," goalkeeper Jay Nolly said of the week off that seemed to come not a moment too soon. "Everybody could go and gather themselves and get geared up for the rest of the season.
"We've only got one goal now and that's our league. We've got to put ourselves into a position to get into the playoffs and see where it takes us."
Vancouver (4-5-3) is ninth in the 11-team loop, though the Whitecaps have as many as five games in hand on teams.
Still, it has been a disappointing start to USL-1 play for the defending champions, and last-place Minnesota (1-7-5) offers the perfect remedy.
Forward Marlon James -- the Caps' big offseason signing -- scored a hat trick in Vancouver's May 2 road win over Minnesota. The Saint Vincent and Grenadines international played only 369 minutes through the first part of the league schedule because of injuries. He sat out most of practice Monday, too, after tweaking a calf muscle, but should be fit to start Thursday.
"All that stuff is behind us now," he said of a hectic June that included an in-game scrap between teammates Wesley Charles and Charles Gbeke, both of whom have served out their two-game suspensions.
"We've got to get up the table, get our confidence back and push to where we need to be. We're focusing on the positives."
Head coach Teitur Thordarson greeted the squad with a fitness beep test upon their return. Rookie Wes Knight took top honours.
© Copyright (c) The Province