By Marc Weber
Slightly softening the blow of losing defender Mouloud Akloul for four months is the news that midfielder Jonny Steele will debut Thursday in Portland.
Steele, the 2008 USL-1 MVP and an all-star again last season with the Puerto Rico Islanders, has been sidelined with a knee injury since the first week of February.
A left-footed central midfielder who can also play as a withdrawn striker, Steele scored six goals and added 14 assists in his past two regular seasons for the Islanders. The 24-year-old is a strong candidate to make the jump to Major League Soccer with Vancouver in 2011. "His qualities are missed," said head coach Teitur Thordarson. "He is very mobile. His quality of passing and finishing and his runs in behind the opponent, those are things we need more of, so I'm very much looking forward to getting Jonny back."
Thordarson said he expects to use Steele for about 30 minutes on Thursday. Steele, who tore his left lateral collateral ligament, played 60 minutes over the weekend for a combined reserves/residency squad.
"I'm eager to get going," he said. "[Tuesday] was the best I've felt. It's just me getting my game sharpness; I'm pretty fit. I'd love to get 30 minutes, come in and have an impact on the game."
Forward Marlon James, who missed last game with a tight hamstring, is ready for action, and forward Dever Orgill (calf) could also return this week. Left side defenders/midfielders Takashi Hirano (knee) and Blake Wagner (foot) are still hurt. The Vancouver-Portland game kicks off at 7 p.m., video webcast at whitecapsfc.com/live.
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