Mouloud Akloul NCC
Bob Frid

Akloul relishes shining moment

After Mouloud Akloul scored the winning goal to send Vancouver Whitecaps FC to the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final on Wednesday, he ran to the sideline and performed a bit of an odd celebration.

It appeared to be some kind of dance that was half running-man and half robot, but Akloul later explained that it was much more meaningful than that. The celebration was, in fact, an ode to an exercise that he did while rehabilitating from a broken ankle, and was dedicated to physiotherapist Randy Celebrini, who helped him overcome the debilitating injury.

“I worked for one year with Randy, every day,” Akloul said after the win over Montreal. “So, it’s a perfect day for me and all the staff who helped me with my recovery.”

Akloul’s story has been well documented. The French centre back made a smashing debut with Whitecaps FC in the USSF D-2 Pro League last year, both figuratively and literally. The 6-foot-2 defender scored a goal 19 minutes into his first match, but broke his ankle on the same play and was sidelined for an entire year.

This time around, however, Akloul lasted the entire duration of an exhausting 120-minute match with Montreal. He got his team going in the extra frame at Empire Field, waving his arms up and down to pump up the crowd, as the game went past 10 p.m. PT.

“Very crazy people here,” Akloul said of Vancouver’s rabid fans. “It’s good for the team. People come out to the game and stay so late, I thank them for coming because they have to work tomorrow.”

With Celebrini watching from home, Akloul was motivated to show his gratitude to everyone who stuck by him while he was out and took it upon himself to get aggressive in the box and score the winning goal.

Now, with his injury behind him, his teammates feel that they’re finally getting the player that they’ve been hoping to see for so long.

“It’s huge for him,” said goalkeeper Jay Nolly. “For him to break through and get a goal, I think he’ll start loosening up more. He’s a very vocal guy and we need players like that on the field. I think he’s going to relish it.”

Akloul is a vocal guy on and off the field and loves to have fun in the locker room, so his teammates are braced for him to bask in his shining moment.

"We'll never hear the end of it," joked midfielder Terry Dunfield.

After watching how hard he's worked to recover, I don't think they'll mind.

Whitecaps FC return to the pitch on Saturday to play Eastern Conference team Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. The match kicks off at 5:30 p.m. PT and is live on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the May 7 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and, starting with the pre-game show at 3:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 7:30 p.m. PT.