By Yvonne Zacharias
If Whitecaps captain Martin Nash had any ill feelings about being slapped with a red card in last Saturday’s spellbinding game against the Montreal Impact, he was keeping them to himself in the hours and minutes leading up to Saturday’s crucial second leg of the United Soccer Leagues Division-1 final in Montreal.
The 33-year-old centre midfielder has reflected a bit on the controversial call which got him tossed out of the game and series. “It is something you have to leave in the past,” Nash said in a phone interview from Montreal Thursday. “The team and myself have to move forward. There is another game to play and we have to worry about what we need to do Saturday.”
Still, the influential playmaker had to admit he was hurting a little over the prospect of sitting on the sidelines during the do-or-die game that will determine which of the two marquee teams emerge as the USL-1 champs.
“I will be watching from the stands. It will be a little bit difficult to watch, but the guys are capable of getting the job done.”
The red-card call, issued in the second half after a late foul on Impact forward Roberto Brown, touched off a storm of controversy with fans booing Brown and the official.
Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson has admitted it was a hard tackle but that the way Brown reacted, returning to the field a matter of seconds after being carried off on a stretcher, was just as questionable.
With the Whitecaps losing 3-2 in the opening leg at home, Vancouver must win by two goals on Saturday to win the two-game aggregate series. A one-goal Vancouver win will force overtime, which will involve two 15-minute extra-time periods and then possibly a shootout.
While Nash’s absence will leave a gap on the field, it’s not as though the team hasn’t played without him in the past. He missed the several games of the regular season after pulling his hamstring in a game against the Rochester Rhinos on Aug. 29. The team’s record without him was an encouraging 4-1-1.
Even though his season is over, Nash said he is still trying to lead. “I am going out and working with the team, trying to push the guys and trying to get them prepared for Saturday’s game.”
The Whitecaps will also be playing minus Lyle Martin and Gordon Chin, who have been laid up by injuries.
But Nash, a great passer and greater leader, is confident that players like former Toronto FC defender Chris Pozniak and Kenold Versailles will be able to fill the void. He praised both players to the skies.
But there is no way around it — it will be a tough fight for the Whitecaps, who have lost four straight games against the Impact after winning the first two games of the season series with Montreal.
Nash said it is circumstances such as these that bring out the best in the Whitecaps. “Our greatest strength is our never-say-die attitude. We have almost played better when we’ve been down, so we’re hoping that is the case on Saturday. If we play like we have been this year when we were down, I think that we can cause a lot of problems.”
Citing earlier wins in the season, Nash said the Whitecaps are capable of beating the Impact but “it’s going to be tough. They are going to have a big crowd behind them.”
He expects Vancouver will have few fans there, too. And what’s more, “the guys believe in themselves and we believe in each other. I think that’s a big key.”
The game, which starts at 11:30 a.m. PST, will be broadcast on Fox Sports World television, radio-canada.ca and TEAM 1040 radio. If the Whitecaps win, they will be the USL-1 division champions for the second year in a row.
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