French/Algerian centre back seen as strong candidate for MLS-bound Whitecaps
BY BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
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Thursday at Portland Timbers 7 p.m.
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You couldn't make up a more hard-luck scenario.
After waiting two weeks for his international transfer papers to be approved, French/ Algerian centre back Mouloud Akloul sparkled in his debut for the Vancouver Whitecaps but broke his left ankle or leg while scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over AC St. Louis.
He was carried off the field in a stretcher and faces a long recovery period. X-rays revealed a fracture in the high ankle or low leg area and Akloul is expected to undergo surgery as soon as possible.
It's a devastating blow as Akloul is considered a strong candidate to make the transition with Vancouver to Major League Soccer next year.
"This is a very rough thing if he has broken his leg," Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said after the game at Swangard Stadium on Saturday. "It's hard for us -- very hard."
Akloul was signed April 8 after Caps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn watched him play in Switzerland. The 27-year-old former French U-17 international impressed in training with his new team, displaying skills and on-field leadership ability that would make him a fixture on the back line.
Greg Janicki -who started the first two league games this season at centre back - replaced Akloul shortly after the goal was scored 19 minutes into the game. Akloul directed a Martin Nash corner kick into the net but was injured on the play when he landed awkwardly on his left side.
Janicki said it was tough to enter the game under those circumstances but he performed well against an expansion St. Louis squad that offered little resistance -getting its lone shot at goal at the 61-minute mark. Janicki nearly scored in the first half when his header hit the crossbar.
Thordarson said Janicki has been one of his team's better players this year and is confident he can carry the load as a starting centre back in Akloul's absence. Janicki - a former defender with D.C. United of MLS -is ready for the challenge.
"I'm ready for whatever," he said. "I just want to be on the field, keep getting better and help the team win."
Akloul joins a growing list of injured Whitecaps players. Midfielder Wes Knight left the game in the first half after tweaking a knee while striker Marlon James sat out the contest to nurse a hamstring injury.
Defender Takashi Hirano and midfielder Jonny Steele are recovering from knee injuries, midfielder/defender Blake Wagner is out four to six more weeks with a foot problem, striker Dever Orgill is listed as day-to-day with a calf injury and keeper Dan Pelc is day-to-day with a gluteus muscle problem.
Thordarson said the injuries are frustrating but the team did well when it faced similar issues last year.
The Whitecaps now have two wins and a draw in their first three USSF D-2 league games this year. Thordarson said he's happy with the three clean sheets so far but feels the team has to improve its attacking game and he was not pleased with the Caps' play in the second half against St. Louis.
"We gave the initiative away in the second half," he said. "We lost the ball on every second or third pass and that's not good."
SIDE KICKS: The Caps travel to Portland to play the Timbers on Thursday before hosting the Montreal Impact in a Nutrilite Canadian Championship game on May 5 ... Striker Marlon James is expected to play against Portland. His spot in the St. Louis game was taken by 20-year-old Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who made his first career start for the Whitecaps senior side.
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