By Ian Walker, Vancouver
Think back to that darting-upright-and-shifting-to-the-front-of-your-seat feeling you got whenever a young Pavel Bure got the puck in space in the early 1990s with the Vancouver Canucks.
That's how it's been for Whitecaps fans most times Randy Edwini-Bonsu has touched the ball this season. You know, movement so fast it seems now like a blur in your mind's eye? That's the type of speed Edwini-Bonsu possesses.
"He was a breath of fresh air to the game," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, one day after the rookie came off the bench to score and give Vancouver a 1-0 victory over the Carolina RailHawks in the opening round of the USL-1 playoffs at Swangard Stadium on Thursday. "And not only the goal. I thought he caused [Carolina] all sorts of problems the rest of the game because of his pace. He has that game-changing speed and ability.
"He's definitely exciting and the kind of player people want to watch."
It's just too bad that an ankle injury suffered on April 5 limited the 19-year-old residency team player to just 10 games with the Whitecaps senior side this season. His game-winning goal Thursday was his first as a professional and offered a preview of what more could come from the native of Ghana, who relocated to Edmonton with his family in 2002.
Even if the second-seed RailHawks win by a goal on Sunday, the two teams will still play two 15-minute extra-time sessions (no golden goal), followed by penalty kicks, if needed. But be forewarned.
Nothing is guaranteed. If anything, Carolina should still be considered the favourite. The RailHawks lineup is expected to be bolstered by the addition of three of its top four scorers — Gregory Richardson, Joseph Kabe and Sallieu Bundu — all of whom did not play in Vancouver. The trio combined for 18 of the team's 43 goals during the regular season.
"It was a tactical decision," said RailHawks head coach Martin Rennie, code for we rested them for the second-leg match. "Outside that I don't want to say a lot about our lineup."
The RailHawks are also one of the league's top teams at home, going 11-2-2 while allowing just eight goals against. The Whitecaps are 2-7-6 on the road, having scored one or fewer goals in 12 of those contests.
"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, who could have at least one change to his lineup from the opening match. "I just hope that we can defend as well as we did today at the same time create a few more chances."
No matter which way the game is leaning, expect the speedy Edwini-Bonsu to be a factor off the bench.
"He's always dangerous, he has exceptional qualities in terms of his speed," said Thordarson. "He's still growing as a player and is doing extremely well. He scares everybody."
- The Whitecaps handed out the team's player awards before Thursday's victory. Winners included goalkeeper Jay Nolly (Most Valuable Player); Charles Gbeke (Golden Boot); Takashi Hirano (Outstanding Defender) and Marcus Haber (Newcomer of the Year & Fan Favourite). Vincente Arze and Lyle Martin shared the Blue & White award for community service.
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