By Marc Weber
Marcus Haber was half a foot away from a dream debut, but it was an ``almost'' kind of night for the Vancouver Whitecaps at Swangard Stadium on Saturday.
Vancouver opened defence of its United Soccer Leagues First Division title with a 0-0 draw against the Charleston Battery in front of 5,037 fans.
The Whitecaps held a 7-0 edge in corners and forced a few late scrambles in the Battery box, but Haber's rolling shot off the left post in the 14th minute stood up as the best chance for either team.
Haber, who grew up in Vancouver, stepped into a starting striker role this week after big off-season signing Marlon James went down with an ankle injury in training.
"I had a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy,'' said Haber, a tall, powerfully built 20-year-old. "It felt good to play here and as I settled in things just started to get better.
"It was a great ball by Vicente (Arze), I timed my run, was lucky to be onside, and six inches the other way and I think it would have gone in."
Haber is likely to get a few more cracks at goal early in the season. James's injury is apparently bad enough that he'll miss their upcoming road trip to Puerto Rico (April 18) and Austin (April 21).
Head coach Teitur Thordarson was pleased with what he saw from the Canada U20 forward, who came to the Caps after failing to catch on with FC Groningen's reserves team in the Netherlands.
Even more impressive than Haber's chance off the woodwork were a pair of forceful runs he made in the attacking third, bullying his way through defenders and showing off his unique combination of size and speed.
"He is a very promising striker and we saw just some of it today," said Thordarson, who will also bring residency forward Dever Orgill into the fold when the Jamaican returns from the Dallas Cup next week. "When he gets some more minutes on this level . . . when he tactically gets a little better, timing his runs, we will see much more of him."
Despite the lack of quality chances at goal, the Whitecaps were tight defensively, showing off their depth at centre back with Marco Reda and North Vancouver addition Justin Thompson pairing up in the middle.
MLS veteran pickup Jeff Parke is suspended for the first four games, and their other starting centre back, Wesley Charles, was ruled out before the game with a hamstring injury.
"We were organized. We didn't give a lot away defensively,'' said captain Martin Nash, one of just three players who also started last year's season opener.
"I think offensively we could have been sharper, I don't think we created enough clear chances, but that will come. It's still a new bunch of guys. The energy, the intensity was great."