Vancouver edges last-place Cleveland in tougher-than-expected pitch battle
BY BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
Thursday vs. Carolina RailHawks
7:30 p.m. at Swangard Stadium
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The playoff-bound Vancouver Whitecaps finished regular season play Friday with a tough 2-1 win against the lowly Cleveland City Stars at Swangard Stadium.
The result pushed the Caps record to 11 wins, 10 losses and nine draws in USL-1 play, good enough for seventh place - the last playoff spot.
The defending-league-champion Whitecaps knew their playoff fate before kickoff Friday, with a Rochester-Charleston tie earlier in the evening ensuring Vancouver was locked in seventh place.
Vancouver will host Carolina RailHawks at Swangard on Thursday in the first of a two-game, total-goals series. The two teams return to Carolina to play the second game on Sunday.
The Caps dominated the early play against last-place Cleveland and were rewarded in the 11th minute when forward Charles Gbeke headed home a sharp Marcus Haber cross for his league-leading 12th goal of the season.
The two nearly hooked up for a similar goal just three minutes later, forcing Stars keeper Evan Bush to make a diving save off a low Gbeke strike.
Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly was tested midway through the first half when he pushed aside a long curling free kick from Cleveland midfielder Ryan Stewart.
But Cleveland broke through late in the first half when forward Teteh Bangura slipped in behind the Vancouver defence and fired a high shot over Nolly. The Whitecaps goalie made key saves early in the second half to keep Vancouver in the game, including a terrific stop off a low strike from Stars midfielder Jason Hotchkin.
Vancouver grabbed the lead back for good when forward Marlon James scored his ninth goal of the year from a penalty kick awarded in the 73rd minute because of a Cleveland hand ball.
The Whitecaps enter the playoffs with four wins, one loss and five draws in their last 10 games. Vancouver had two ties and one loss in three games against the RailHawks this season.
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said the team has played well lately, noting it gave up leads in several of the ties that should have been wins.
"I just hope we can build on that and have a good run in the playoffs," he said. "(Carolina) is a good team but we've been growing quite well also."
The game attracted a sellout crowd of 5,642 fans, a franchise-record 12th sellout this season.
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