BY MARC WEBER
The pre-game was all about the jog. The main event was all about the sprint.
Before the Vancouver Whitecaps even kicked off their much-needed 4-0 win over the lowly Minnesota Thunder on Thursday night, the Swangard Stadium crowd of 5,568 was treated to slow apology lap from Charles Gbeke and Wesley Charles.
The teammates were back from a two-game suspension that followed an embarrassing on-field confrontation on June 12, and fans appreciated the gesture that was complete with flag waving and a schmaltzy hug.
If only peace in the Middle East was so simple.
“It was sincere and we wanted to do that,” said Gbeke. “Butu [Wesley Charles] and I after that incident, we started to talk, we didn’t wait, and everything is fine.”
Even more eye-pleasing was watching the Whitecaps run the Thunder into the ground early in the first half and for the entire second half.
It started with blazing wingers Tyrell Burgess — the Bermudan Bolt making his first career start — and Lyle Martin. The latter opened the scoring seven minutes in by blowing past his defender to latch onto a perfect Martin Nash looping pass.
It ended with fleet-footed forward Marcus Haber, who set up and scored second-half goals. Burgess’s speed also led to Nash’s second-half penalty kick goal.
“I noticed early on they didn’t have a whole lot of pace on the back line, especially on the flanks, so Tyrell and myself and Taka [Hirano, defender] and everybody ... we’ve got a lot of speed and we were able to get behind them today and utilize it,” said Haber.
“That’s the way we know we can play, especially at home. It’s good to bounce back after a rough month.”
Minnesota (1-8-5) proved the perfect tonic for Vancouver (5-5-3), who had just one win in their last six USL-1 games despite outplaying teams.
Add to their league woes the pain of watching their CONCACAF Champions League berth slip away and the Gbeke/Charles dance card and it was a trying June.
“[The win] was important after all that happened before the break,” said head coach Teitur Thordarson.
The Whitecaps last played two weeks ago and the break looks to have benefited the club, though a one-game sample against the basement-dwelling Thunder is hardly proof.
Now they head out for road games in Miami and Carolina with potential problems in central defence. Jeff Parke (turf toe) only lasted the first half — though Thordarson could well have been playing it smart — and Charles left with a leg injury in the second half. Marco Reda (thigh) didn’t dress.
Young Mason Trafford filled in, along with outside fullback Geordie Lyall, who’s played just 42 minutes this season because of his hamstring.
Martin 7’, Nash 71’, Gbeke 79’, Haber 81’
VAN: Hirano 58’, Haber 82’
MIN: Arango 30’
Jay Nolly looked sharp in the second half on a handful of zippy balls into the box and preserved the shutout on Melvin Tarley’s mid-hit in time added on. Would have been tested more if Brian Cvilikas could have hit the net.
Another impressive effort going forward from Takashi Hirano, who, somehow at age 34, looks decidedly younger than he did last season. He even looked good defensively.
Wingers Tyrell Burgess and Lyle Martin tormented the Thunder defence from the opening kickoff with their speed and Martin Nash was good for his usual allotment of sweet set-ups. Gordon Chin earned himself another start along side Nash.
Charles Gbeke and Marcus Haber left a couple of goals on the field in the opening half but made up for it in the final 45 minutes. Haber, 20, continues to improve each week.
Residency midfielder Philippe Davies of Longueuil, Que., made his debut in the 18-man roster, subbed on with 10 minutes to play and almost scored. ... The Whitecaps are at Miami on Sunday and Carolina on Friday.