By Bruce Constantineau
Tonight vs. Carolina Railhawks
7 p.m. at Swangard Stadium
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The enigmatic Vancouver Whitecaps will fight for their playoff lives tonight when they host the surging Carolina RailHawks at Swangard Stadium.
The Caps (7-9-4) have had a week to rest since back-to-back losses against Portland and Charleston left the team in a desperate fight for a USL-1 playoff spot with just 10 games to play.
Vancouver, Montreal and Miami are battling for the league's last two playoff positions.
But Martin Rennie's Carolina squad (13-5-3) has won its last four games and finds itself in a three-way fight with Portland and Charleston for the USL-1 lead. The RailHawks beat the Caps 2-1 last month in their first regular-season meeting in North Carolina and the two sides meet again in Carolina on Tuesday.
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said his team needed the week off after playing four games in seven days; he feels his players are ready to push hard for the final 10-game stretch.
"Everybody is very aware of the situation we face," he said. "We have to do well for the rest of the season to get into the playoffs. But I think the group is very confident because we have been playing well, even if we haven't won games."
Thordarson said the RailHawks are a very good team with a lot of individual quality.
"It will be a tough task for us, but we will most probably play them as we do most other teams on our home pitch," he said. "We try to take the initiative in the game and decide what's going on out there."
Vancouver defenders will have to keep an eye on speedy 27-year-old Guyanan international Gregory Richardson, a left-flank forward with four goals and one assist in just five USL-1 games this season.
Expect a few changes to the Whitecaps' lineup that started against Charleston last week, with Vancouver native Marcus Haber possibly replacing Charles Gbeke as the up-front partner with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international Marlon James. Haber was an effective second-half substitute in the loss to Charleston, setting up Martin Nash for the only Whitecaps goal.
Nash suffered a slight ankle injury in training this week but is expected to start.
The newest Cap -- former Wales U-21 international Shaun Pejic -- is expected to see some playing time. The 26-year-old defender made 19 appearances for English Conference side York City FC last season. The Whitecaps can use his back-line experience, following the departures this season of Justin Thompson and Jeff Parke and the release of Wesley Charles.
"[Pejic] is technically good and has good quality on his passes," Thordarson said. "He's fast and good in the air and he has huge experience from a tough league. We have lost a lot of experience lately so I just hope we can gain something back with him."
- Before the match, the Whitecaps will honour longtime Vancouver Sun soccer writer Dan Stinson for his years of covering the club and the game. Stinson covered the Whitecaps/86ers from 1974 until 2008.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said Stinson's coverage of the team remained the "one constant" during the club's highlights and lowlights over the years.
"Although we didn't always see eye-to-eye on everything, I respected the professionalism and passion he brought to his profession," he said.
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