Finally healthy, sniper aims to make an impact
BY MARC WEBER
An extremely amateur game of touch football occupied Greg Kerfoot's $3-million gift of a turf field at Simon Fraser University on Tuesday morning.
The Vancouver Whitecaps took a pass on their owner-funded pitch for the more body-friendly grass 100 metres away -- a switch they'll likely make twice a week.
If the move does nothing but keep forward Marlon James healthy, it might still be worth it.
Vancouver is 1-5-2 without James in the lineup and 5-2-1 with him.
In Saturday's 4-2 home win over the Puerto Rico Islanders, James -- the St. Vincent and the Grenadines captain and the Caps' big off-season signing -- showed his pedigree as a second-half substitute.
He struck a confident 18-yard shot into the top corner, then cleanly and calmly headed in a second goal, his sixth in just 450 minutes (see box bottom right).
"It will make a huge, huge difference," head coach Teitur Thordarson said of potentially having James healthy for the entire second half of the season.
"Marlon is an incredible goal-scorer. He doesn't need to be alone in the box to finish. He takes chances every time he gets it, from 20, 25 yards, so he has weapons the others don't.
"And when he gets fit, he's going to show us another level." James, 32, has struggled with a calf injury since the preseason and also missed a month with a hamstring pull. He said he didn't want to make excuses, but after playing in his native St. Vincent and the Grenadines, then Malaysia for five years, the cold winter weather here was an adjustment. This is also the first time he's played on turf.
"It takes a lot out of you," he said of the turf, "but I've been paying more attention to my health -- what I do after training, stretching, what I put in my body.
"I've been working very hard for the last few weeks, seeing specialists and stuff, and I think I'm getting accustomed to it." The Whitecaps could certainly get accustomed to having James in the starting XI, something that's only happened four times this season.
Judging by practice on Tuesday, James will start up front alongside rookie Marcus Haber when the Caps visit the Rochester Rhinos (8-5-5) on Friday.
That would leave veteran Charles Gbeke to come off the bench for just the second time in the 15 games he's dressed for.
"I think the combination with Marlon and Marcus is very good because both have speed," said Thordarson, who requires his forwards to do a lot of chasing defensive work.
The Whitecaps (6-7-3) are averaging two goals per game with James in the lineup, compared to one goal per game without him.
But one thing they've yet to solve, regardless of his health, is preventing goals -- 23 against in 16 games.
If they can figure out how training on grass also makes you a better defensive team, they'll really be on to something.
USL-1 goal-scoring leaders
Player, team Gls GP Mins Gls/90min Shts Shts/90
Johnny Menyongar, Rochester 8 16 1252 0.575 30 2.16
Mandjou Keita, Portland 7 18 1368 0.461 38 2.50
Cristian Arrieta, Puerto Rico 7 21 1804 0.349 21 1.05
Marlon James, Vancouver 6 8 450 1.20 24 4.80
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