By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com (with files from Bob Mackin/24 Hours Vancouver)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC claimed a goalless draw with Tanzania's national team in the final match of their historic preseason trip to the East African nation.
Looking to complete their three-match schedule in positive fashion on Saturday afternoon, Teitur Thordarson's side battled to a stalemate with the Taifa Stars at the Tanzania National Main Stadium in Dar es Salaam. It was Vancouver's first match against an international side since their 3-1 victory over India's national team in the opening match of the Whitecaps Nations Cup tournament on July 16, 2006.
Thordarson made several changes to his side for their encounter with Tanzania. Jay Nolly returned to the Whitecaps goal in place of Brazilian shot-stopper Diego, while Luca Bellisomo replaced Wes Knight in the Vancouver backline. Three new players joined captain Martin Nash in midfield, as Vicente Arze, Mason Trafford, and trialist Gordon Chin came in for Tyrell Burgess, Ansu Toure, and Kenold Versailles. For the third straight match, Charles Gbeke partnered Marlon James in the Whitecaps attack.
Though it was another warm afternoon in Dar es Salaam, the overcast conditions made for cooler temperatures to what the USL First Division champions encountered in Thursday's 2-1 victory over Tanzanian Premier League side Simba Sports Club. Vancouver lost the first match of their trip when they fell 3-0 to Young Africans FC on Monday.
A modest crowd of around 5,000 people saw the Canadian visitors create some decent chances in the first half, but Tanzania goalkeeper Shaaban Dihile was equal to strikes from Arze on 14 minutes and Gbeke on 39 minutes.
Though there was little to get excited about during the opening 45 minutes, fans were treated to a spectacular halftime show, as a traditional Tanzanian drum and dance group performed a snake charming ritual with a 10-foot long python on the stadium running track.
The second half remained an even contest from both sides, with the Taifa Stars playing their first match since last month's group-stage elimination from the 2009 African Championship of Nations in the Ivory Coast. Marcio Maximo's side were without several Young Africans players because of the Tanzanian club's upcoming match in the African Champions League versus holders Al-Ahly of Egypt.
Thordarson made several substitutions after the restart, with the Whitecaps Residency pair of Gagandeep Dosanjh and Alex Semenets performing well when they entered the match up front for Gbeke and James. New men's team signing Marco Reda made his first appearance on the trip, having missed Vancouver's first two matches in Tanzania with a hamstring problem.
Though neither side were able to find a winner in the end, the match ended with the club making a special presentation of Whitecaps jerseys to the Tanzanian Minister of Sports George Mkuchika and the Tanzania Football Federation president Leodegar Tenga.
Though Saturday's game could have been more eventful on the pitch, Thordarson was pleased with the effort of his side. "It was definitely not a spectacular match," the Icelandic tactician told whitecapsfc.com. "However, it was our third game in these very hot conditions and it was tough for our players to deal with, but I thought we approached today very well. Tanzania had some good players and were a good team, so like Young Africans and Simba, they were more than a handful for us. When you include today's match, we have played three very good games here in Tanzania."
The Brazilian-born Maximo was also impressed by the performance of the Blue and White. "They adapted (to the conditions) day by day, today they came here completely adapted," the Tanzania head coach told 24 Hours Vancouver. "It was a good test for us. A very experienced team, physical team. I hope that the Whitecaps do well (this season)."
The Whitecaps will return home from Tanzania on Thursday and continue with their preparations for the 2009 season. They will play four training matches versus the University of British Columbia (March 24), Seattle University (March 29), USL Premier Development League side Seattle Wolves FC (April 1), and USL-1 rivals Portland Timbers (April 3). Thordarson's side begin the defence of their USL-1 title when they host Charleston Battery at Swangard Stadium on Saturday, April 11.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Jay Nolly; Takashi Hirano, Justin Thompson (Ansu Toure), Wesley Charles, Luca Bellisomo (Wes Knight); Vicente Arze (Tyrell Burgess), Martin Nash (Kenold Versailles), Mason Trafford (Marco Reda), Gordon Chin; Charles Gbeke (Gagandeep Dosanjh), Marlon James (Alex Semenets)
Subs not used: Diego