By Gavin Day
If the Vancouver Whitecaps are to repeat as United Soccer Leagues First Division champions, they will have to overcome a one goal deficit in the second leg of the final against the Montreal Impact — and they will have to do it without captain Martin Nash.
Nash was issued a straight red card in the second half of the 3-2 loss in the opening leg Saturday after a late foul on Impact forward Roberto Brown. Whitecaps players feel foul did not deserve a straight red card.
"It seems harsh," said Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly. "Obviously, he went after the player. I think the player made a meal of it. He barely got clipped. It was a tough decision for (the referee) to make.
"I felt like there were a lot of fouls that were left open and that's what happens sometimes."
Brown needed to be taken off the pitch on a stretcher after the foul ,but was able to get right back onto the field just a matter of seconds after coming off.
Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson admits Nash made a bad tackle on Brown. but the way Brown acted after the tackle was just as questionable.
"I've seen it many times. I think the tackle is not a good one, definitely not," said Thordarson. "It's not good. I think he was trying to get Martin off at that point and that is not sportsmanship. I want my players to stay to the rules. Be tough and hard but do not be unfair and do not try to get players off. I do not like that."
In the teams' final training session before they fly to Montreal, Thordarson used a number of different players in different positions.
Former Toronto FC defender Chris Pozniak seems to be the man to replace Nash in the centre of midfield. Pozniak is a natural central defender, but spent the majority of his time last season with Dundee FC of the Scottish Premier League as a central midfielder.
"Other than two games I played at right back, I played at centre mid pretty much the whole time. It's not a difficult transition. I think it's just a matter of doing it," Pozniak said.
In addition to Nash's suspension, the Whitecaps will be without midfielder Lyle Martin. Martin had to be substituted due to injury in the first leg and was still visibly limping while the team was training.
The Whitecaps line-up has been a revolving door this season, with a number of players coming in and out due to injuries or suspension.
"It would have been nice to come to this game with everything set. Unfortunately this has been like this all season," Thordarson said. "We have lost players out with injuries and cards and disciplinary things so we have had to drill players in all the time. But we will be fine. We'll give them a good game."
The Whitecaps will get a player back for the second leg. Veteran Justin Moose, who has only made one regular season start for the club, looks to regain his spot on the right side of midfield.
Moose says the thrill of being in a championship will help him overcome any lack of fitness he may have.
"I haven't really played a full game in a long time, but in a championship you get an extra wind," he said. "It's not going to be that hard to push it all the way up because it's one of the biggest games I've played in.
"I'm definitely not going to try to pace myself too much. We've got a lot of guys on the bench that can come in to take my place easily."
With away goals counting the same as home goals in the two-game series, Vancouver only needs just one goal to level the aggregate score and force extra time. The players and coach are wary that they need to go forward and attack, but they cannot neglect their defensive duties.
"I think we just need to know that it's a long game. We need to not do anything stupid. We just need to stay compact and when it's on, go for it," said Nolly.
"We can't get too stretched out because if we let a goal in it's going to be really tough for us."
"We don't have to throw all defending away and just go forward," added Thordarson. "The way we have to do it is to just be structured defensively and then use our opportunities when we get them.
"We are usually an attack-minded team. We will not give that away. We have to measure this right and be tactically clever. I think with the strategy we are approaching, we will get some good chances."
Should Vancouver come away with the victory, it would be the club's second USL First Division Championship in as many years and third title in the last four years.
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.