By Marc Weber
Randy Edwini-Bonsu has half a great story to tell.
The Vancouver Whitecaps' rookie forward — a 19-year-old graduate of their residency program — scored his first senior side goal in the 77th minute Thursday night at Swangard Stadium to give Vancouver a 1-0 win over the Carolina RailHawks in the first leg of their USL-1 quarterfinal playoff series.
The second leg goes Sunday at 2 p.m. PT in Cary, N.C. (USLlive.com).
The No. 7 seeded Whitecaps need a win or tie to advance to the semifinals, where they would face regular-season table toppers Portland Timbers.
If No. 2 seed Carolina wins by a goal, the teams will play two 15-minute extra-time sessions (no golden goal), followed by penalty kicks.
"We've done half the job," said Caps captain Martin Nash, who missed the final five games of the regular season with a hamstring pull.
Both teams will head to Carolina feeling confident after a defensive battle.
Vancouver has the lead, yes.
But the RailHawks were 11-2-2 at WakeMed Park this season, outscoring teams 32-8.
The Whitecaps were just 2-7-6 away from Swangard, including a loss and a draw in Carolina.
"Everyone has to come together now because we've had pretty poor road results," said Edwini-Bonsu. "We just have to work as hard as we did tonight for 90 minutes."
After some good build-up in the first half for Vancouver, the game stalled in the second and head coach Teitur Thordarson made four substitutions, including Edwini-Bonsu in the 57th minute.
Twenty minutes later, Marlon James flicked on a booming kick from goalkeeper Jay Nolly, and Edwini-Bonsu, the 5-foot-5 speedster from Edmonton, exploded past a defender, took a touch around 'keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell and confidently finished from 15 yards.
"I'm so happy right now," he said. "Last game [against Cleveland City] I had a breakaway and missed. This one, I had to help out my team somehow and I got this break and it's just phenomenal how we got the win."
Nash admitted to puffing in the final 20 minutes, but even after a month off the 33-year-old was one of the best players on the field. He brought a calm to Vancouver’s game.
“It’s huge for us,” Thordarson said of having his captain back. “It means so much. He is the leader out there. He can speed up the game and slow it down as he wants, and generally conduct the troops so we do things right.”
Luca Bellisomo also filled in admirably for Chris Pozniak (groin) in central defence and will likely start again Sunday.
The second-half substitutions didn’t just help spark Vancouver’s attack. They also leave the Caps with a relatively rested group of forwards for Sunday’s rematch.
But Carolina, which played a defensive 4-1-4-1 on Thursday, left some players at home. Most notably absent were co-leading scorers Sallieu Bundu and Gregory Richardson.
Richardson, a member of the Guyana national team, has six goals and four assists in just 12 games since signing on with the RailHawks after a stint with MLS side Colorado Rapids.
It was a night for the home teams in USL-1 playoffs. No. 5 Montreal Impact beat No. 4 Charleston Battery 2-0 at Saputo Stadium, while No. 6 Rochester Rhinos clipped No. 2 Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 in upstate New York.
All three higher-seeded teams chose to open their quarterfinals on the road, wanting their home fans behind them for the second leg.
Last season, teams that were trailing after the first leg won a quarterfinal series and both semifinal series.
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