By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC made a winning return to preseason action on North American soil when they defeated University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 5-2 on Tuesday evening.
Two goals from Marlon James helped the Blue and White to their fourth win in preseason, while Vicente Arze, Tyrell Burgess, and Gordon Chin supplied the other goals for the 'Caps on cold and wet night at UBC's Thunderbird Park. Mike Mosher's UBC squad, meanwhile, proved a competitive outfit for the USL First Division champions, with the Canada West side also finding the scoresheet through Tyson Keam and Scott Barling.
Though there were heavy rain showers just before kick-off, a small but enthusiastic crowd was able to enjoy the midweek friendly in dry and windy conditions, with temperatures dropping significantly come the second half. A small band of Vancouver Southsiders were also to be heard throughout the match, as they cheered on the visiting Whitecaps for the first time since the team's arrival back from their historic preseason trip to the United Republic of Tanzania.
Assistant coach Todd Wawrousek - who was deputizing for the absent Teitur Thordarson - played the Canadian duo of Marco Reda and Justin Thompson in the centre of his backline. Mason Trafford partnered captain Martin Nash in the centre of midfield, while the imposing pair of Charles Gbeke and Marlon James led the Whitecaps attack. The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, started two former Whitecaps players in centre back Graham Smith and ex-Residency midfielder Devin Gunenc.
It was UBC that made the brighter start to the friendly, with Gunenc forcing Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly to save his fine shot after just three minutes of action. A minute later, the Thunderbirds took the lead through a superb strike from Keam after the 'Caps failed to properly clear a UBC corner.
The goal sparked Vancouver into life, and it was Thunderbirds goalkeeper Elliot Usher that needed to make good saves from both Nash and James inside the first 13 minutes. On the quarter-hour mark, Gbeke went even closer to equalizing when he struck the post after Arze's initial shot fell into his path in the UBC box.
As the pressure mounted on Mosher's young side, the 'Caps finally broke through on 20 minutes when Arze scored off the rebound to make it 1-1 after Usher did well to block Nash's fierce goal-bound strike.
The USL-1 side remained in control of the contest for the rest of the first half, with James and Gbeke having further opportunities to score, while Ansu Toure flashed two similar low strikes across the face of the Thunderbirds goal from the left-hand side. Just before the halftime whistle, Gbeke saw his close-range header cleared off the UBC goalline - much to the striker's frustration. It meant that both sides went to the break deadlocked at 1-1.
The start of the second half saw Wawrousek replace Nolly with Brazilian import Diego in the Whitecaps goal. However, the first chance after the restart came at the other end, as Nash struck the top of the UBC crossbar with a long-range effort on 52 minutes.
Seven minutes later, James scored the first of his two goals when he made the most of a byline cross from Toure to roof the ball into the top of the UBC net for 2-1. On 64 minutes, the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines captain earned his second goal when a fortuitous deflection from Trafford's initial shot fell into the path of the big striker, who easily made it 3-1.
Though two goals down at this stage, the Thunderbirds worked hard to remain in the match, with substitute Sebastian Crema and Smith having chances for UBC on 71 minutes. They would score their second goal two minutes later, as Barling blasted a low drive past a diving Diego to make it 3-2.
That scoreline lasted a minute, however, as substitute Burgess took advantage of a UBC giveaway to slot the ball past Usher for a 4-2 lead. The Whitecaps sealed victory through trialist Chin on 81 minutes. The late second-half substitute took Nash's forward pass before making a neat move in the UBC box and driving his shot under a helpless Usher for the 5-2 win.
Nash was pleased to have another solid run-out, as the new season draws nearer. "I felt UBC gave us a good test," said the Whitecaps captain after the match. "They created two good chances and put them away. Though we created a lot of chances ourselves, I think a lot of what we need to work on right now is on the defensive side of the ball."
Wawrousek also feels their needs to be improvement on the defensive side of the ball. "We were a bit suspect in terms of defending crosses tonight and not strong enough with the match-ups in our box," he told whitecapsfc.com. "That's an area that I feel we need to address in our team at the moment. Going forward, however, we created an abundant amount of quality goalscoring opportunities tonight, so that was encouraging. I saw improvement in our strike pairing of Gbeke and James, and saw some very good play down the flanks."
The Whitecaps continue their preseason schedule of friendly matches on Sunday afternoon, as they meet Seattle University at Winskill Park in Tsawwassen. They complete their preseason with a friendly versus USL-1 rivals Portland Timbers at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on Friday, April 3.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Jay Nolly (Diego 45'); Takashi Hirano, Justin Thompson (Gordon Chin 69'), Marco Reda (Luca Bellisomo 66'), Wes Knight; Ansu Toure, Martin Nash, Mason Trafford, Vicente Arze (Tyrell Burgess 53'); Charles Gbeke, Marlon James