Vancouver goalkeeper keeps his head in the game despite making franchise history
By Ian Walker
Jay Nolly had never heard of Arnie Mausser before Thursday. Born generations apart, it's no wonder. Still, the two will forever be entwined in Vancouver Whitecaps lore as the only two goalkeepers in franchise history to play every minute of every game in a single season.
You'll have to excuse Nolly for not being overly nostalgic following the Whitecaps' 1-0 victory over the Carolina RailHawks in the first leg of their two-game aggregate score series at Swangard Stadium in front of 5,135 fans. He was more interested in concentrating on the future -- completely understandable considering Vancouver needs just a win or a draw on Sunday in Cary, S.C., to knock off the No. 2 seed and advance to the second-round of the United Soccer Leagues First Division playoffs.
"We showed a lot of intensity and did a lot of the right things tonight and pulled out the clean sheet, so that was huge," said Nolly, who was named the team's most valuable player in a pre-game ceremony. "It's definitely a step forward. It's going to be a tough game in Carolina, but this was a step in the right direction."
Substitute Randy Edwini-Bonsu scored the game winner, beating goalkeeper Caleb Patterson Sewell to the ball before scoring into the empty net for his first goal as a professional in the 77th minute. Until that point, the game had been a chess match, with neither side wanting to risk giving up too much to chance.
"It feels amazing, I've been working really hard for this and it finally came at an important time," said Edwini-Bonsu, who has come off the bench in each of his 10 previous games played. "Their midfielders were moving the ball well, just like ours, and they battled hard, so we were fortunate to get the one we did and come out of her with the win."
The thing is, the Whitecaps have proven all season they can win at home. Now, more than ever, they have to do it on the road. Vancouver has just two wins away from Swangard to go along with seven draws. Anything less this weekend will end the team's chances of defending its USL-1 championship. Not helping matters is the RailHawks' 11-2-2 record at home. But wait, it gets worse. Carolina has allowed just eight goals against compared to 32 goals scored at WakeMed Soccer Park.
"They will obviously have to open up a bit, but that's not necessarily a bad thing for us," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I just hope that we can defend as well as we did today at the same time create a few more chances."
While not tested often, Nolly had to alert on Daniel Paladini's hard shot from distance in the 17th minute and again on Kupono Low's free kick late in the first half. John Cunliffe had possibly the RailHawks' best opportunity to get on the board, beating his marker then firing a hard shot from 15-yards out in the 54th minute, but Nolly had little trouble handling the direct shot on goal.
Nolly said he never anticipated playing all 2,700 minutes this season, but was hopeful he'd get at least the chance.
"As a player I want to play every game and that's nothing to our No. 2 or No. 3, but in this profession you want to be out there," he said. "Good thing for me I stayed healthy and coach kept calling my name.
Nolly and Mausser also share something else -- neither started playing the beautiful game until their teens.
"His name might be familiar, I'll have to check him out on the internet when I get home," said Nolly, of the National Soccer Hall of Famer who played all 26 games and a playoff match for the Whitecaps in 1977.
The RailHawks were without three of their top four scorers, Gregory Richardson, Joseph Kabwe and Joseph Bundu, maybe opting to rest them for the second-leg match.
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Sunday at Carolina RailHawks, 2 p.m.
Whitecaps lead two-game, total goals series 1-0
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