Second-half replacement James scores twice in triumph over Puerto Rico
BY BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
Marlon James has played in just eight of the Vancouver Whitecaps 16 regular-season games this year but he leads the team in scoring with six goals.
The 32-year-old St. Vincent and the Grenadines striker returned to the lineup Saturday and his spectacular two-goal, second-half performance as a substitute proved the difference in a 4-2 Caps win over Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium.
"We just need to keep him on the field," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said after the weather-delayed game that took more than four hours to finish. "Obviously the guy can score goals."
Various calf and hamstring injuries have created what James agrees is one of the toughest seasons he's ever had as a professional. He was signed this year after scoring 48 goals in 48 games with Kedah FA of the Malaysia Super League.
"I worked very hard the last week, keeping fit and seeing specialists," he said after the game. "I think I did well tonight by playing 50 minutes or so."
His two highlight-reel strikes rewarded fans who stayed at the game despite a two-hour-plus delay forced by a dangerous thunderstorm just before the end of the first half. James replaced striker Charles Gbeke for the 47 minutes played after the weather delay and his goals upstaged the thunder and lightning show.
James took a pass from midfielder Gordon Chin and turned a Puerto Rico defender inside out before unleashing a 19-yard howitzer that gave Islander keeper Mike Behonick no chance.
His second goal came when he buried a header off a great cross from midfielder Tyrell Burgess. James just missed a hat trick when a shot he made after a quick turn skimmed the post.
The James tallies came after striker Marcus Haber opened the scoring in the fourth minute after he pounced on an errant header from Puerto Rico defender John Krause, followed by an own goal by Islander defender Kyle Veris off a Burgess corner kick.
Former Whitecap Josh Hansen scored two second-half goals for Puerto Rico -- off a penalty kick and a 90th-minute defensive error by the Caps.
Caps head coach Teitur Thordarson said the game was very tight in the first half but his team deserved the victory with a superior second-half performance.
"We totally took the game and dominated and scored some great goals," he said. "It's very nice to have Marlon back."
Thordarson hopes injured players like midfielders Ansu Toure and Lyle Martin will soon rejoin the club to help its second-half push for a playoff spot.
The defending USL-1 champion Caps are still one game below .500 and in eighth place in the 11-team USL First Division, one point behind Montreal Impact for the last playoff position.
Saturday's game marked the start of the second half of regular-season play for the Caps, who are looking to improve on their record of six wins, seven losses and three draws. Five of those wins have come at home.
Puerto Rico rested several key players during the match, notably regular starting keeper Bill Gaudette, as they prepare to play a crucial CONCACAF Champions League match this week against Toronto FC.
The Whitecaps embark on a challenging three-game road trip this week, playing in Rochester, Cleveland and Portland before returning home to face Charleston on Aug. 7.
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