By Marc Weber
Lyle Martin felt elated. Then exhausted.
The Vancouver Whitecaps right-side defender/midfielder returned to the lineup in Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact in Nutrilite Canadian Championship action.
Martin subbed on for winger Justin Moose in the 63rd minute, almost three months to the day he broke his right foot in a preseason game at UVic.
"Man, it felt beyond great," said Martin, the fleet-footed 24-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif. "Just being out there having been out three months, it was some kind of weird. I was like, 'What am I supposed to be doing?'"
He had a good look at goal just seconds after running onto the Swangard pitch, then spent the rest of the game working the thick layer of grime off his game. Afterwards, he just wanted a nap.
"I played, what, 27 minutes? And I was dead after the first 15. You've got your heart rate going, everybody screaming at you. It was a big game. I didn't expect myself to be that rusty but I can't expect to just come back the way I left. I'm where I should be."
Martin admitted it will take four or five games to get back to his top level. Having returned from a beneficial trial in China, he was the team's best player in the preseason, and last year he was third in the league with five assists.
Still, his availability is great news for a Whitecaps team that will be without suspended captain Martin Nash in central midfield for Tuesday's Nutrilite tilt against Toronto FC.
With Moose likely the best option to replace Nash inside with Ethan Gage, and with Vicente Arze still nursing a hamstring, there's a need for experience on the wing.
Vancouver is in Portland on Saturday night for a USL-1 tilt. Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson hopes to get 45 minutes out of Martin there and more against TFC in a must-win match for Vancouver to advance as Canada's team in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Thordarson said his team is focused on Portland and that after the Montreal win they talked about not looking ahead to Toronto -- one of the biggest games in modern club history.
Yet the coach admitted also to plotting his strategy for Toronto almost immediately following Wednesday's game. Rightly so. The Caps haven't played without Nash since 2007 -- 69 games ago -- and beating Toronto without him could well take a change in tactics.
"But we have a game in between and it is important for us to win this game," Thordarson said. "We have to chase now [in the USL-1 standings] and we are concentrating on Portland."
The coach called referee Dave Gantar's decision to show Nash yellow -- his second of the Nutrilite competition -- "a strange thing."
Nash reacted to Adam Braz's first-half tackle at the top of the Impact box with a relatively-tame push.
His other yellow came in the 90th minute of their 2-0 win at Montreal
Coming into Wednesday's game, Nash had only 24 cautions and in 225 career games with Vancouver.
"He played all the games last year and I felt that was quite miraculous," said Thordarson. "I didn't think that was going to happen again, but it's unfortunate he'll miss such a vital game against Toronto. For me, he's trying to avoid falling and then gets a yellow card for a push that nobody saw." email@example.com
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VANCOUVER WHITECAPS AT PORTLAND TIMBERS
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday
Venue: PGE Park
V ancouver handed Portland its only loss of the season in what was the first game for the Timbers and fourth for the Whitecaps back on April 25 at Swangard Stadium.
Martin Nash scored a beauty in the 63rd minute of a 1-0 Whitecaps win.
Portland has been hot since then, including a draw and win at Puerto Rico last week.
Vancouver, tops in the league two weeks ago, have slipped to fifth having not played a USL-1 game since dominating -- but somehow losing to -- Rochester by a 2-1 scoreline on May 16.
Timbers forward Mandjou Keita was named USL First Division player of the week after scoring two goals in a pair of matches against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Portland and Vancouver are both moving up to Major League Soccer in 2011.
(USL-1 record: 3-1-3)
The Timbers have rediscovered their 2007 identity as a stingy team, having allowed just four goals in seven games.
Top league scorers: Farber and Pore (2)
(USL-1 record: 3-2-2)
Predicted starting XI: J. Nolly; T. Hirano, W. Charles, J. Parke, W. Knight; A. Toure, M. Nash, E. Gage, J. Moose; C. Gbeke, M. Haber.
Top league scorer: James (3)
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