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Whitecaps and Islanders Draw; RailHawks Win Friendly Sunday

 Before a crowd of over 5,200 fans at Swangard Stadium Sunday evening, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Puerto Rico Islanders played to a scoreless draw.  The point gained by each team means that the Whitecaps have extended their NASL Conference first-place lead over the Carolina RailHawks to four points, while Puerto Rico gained a point on fifth place NSC Minnesota in the USL Conference and solidified their hold on a playoff spot.  Across the continent,at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday, the RailHawks defeated Pumas Morelas of the Mexcian Liga Ascenso 3-0 in a friendly match that featured renowned Mexican defender Claudio Suarez, 41, playing the entire match in central defense for Carolina.

The Whitecaps played their seventh scoreless draw of the regular USSF D2 season, and extended their league-leading number of drawn games to fourteen.  Teitur Thordarson’s side outshot La Tropa Naranja 12-4, but were unable to finish.  The Whitecaps continue to lead the league in corner kicks taken, but are only seventh in shots taken, with their total of 256 almost 100 less than the league leader in shots taken, the Portland Timbers. 

Both coaches changed their lineups for this contest, although in the case of the Whitecaps, who are evaluating players for 2011 MLS readiness, change seems the norm.  Nineteen year-old Ghanian midfielder Gershon Koffie made his debut for the ‘Caps, and fellow newcomer Cody Arnoux got a start on the front line, while French/Cameroonian midfielder Alexandre Morfaw came in as a second half sub in his first USSF D2 appearance.  Islanders’ Coach Colin Clarke rested forward Nicholas Addlery and regulars David Foley and Marco Velez sat out most of the contest, with Velez just making a brief cameo. 

The contest did have some scoring chances.  The Islanders worked some plays into the Whitecaps box featuring Richard Martinez and Josh Hansen around the half hour mark, and young Koffie made a bid for a first half score late but his header from a Philippe Davies free kick went over the crossbar.  Arnoux had a chance at the end of the half, but his shot was easily handled by Islanders’ goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. 

Vancouver opened the second half by putting pressure on the Islanders, but chances by Arnoux and Koffie were squandered, as both attempts lacked accuracy.  Vancouver native Alex Elliott and Costa Rican Jonathan McDonald came into the game for the Whitecaps near the hour mark, and McDonald had a chance blocked shortly after entering the game.  The Islanders responded with an attampt by forward Kendall Jagdeosingh, but the 24 year-old who’s earned two caps with the Trinidad and Tobago national team, headed high. Vancouver substitute Randy Edwini-Bonsu had a chance at the 85 minute mark, but his header was off-target also.

The Whitecaps next match is on Saturday September 11.  They travel across the continent to play Crystal Palace Baltimore.  The Islanders, now 8-8-9 on the year, are at home for a Wednesday matchup with the Montreal Impact.  Salvaging a point out of their two-game road trip wasn’t probably what Colin Clarke had in mind, but the Islanders are too far behind to challenge Austin and Rochester for the USL Conference title anyway, and gaining a point while resting some key players should bolster the club in the USSF D2 playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League play.

Meanwhile in Carolina, the RailHawks treated their fans to a tidy 3-0 win over Pumas Morelas.  Josh Gardner, Cory Elenio and defender Ramak Safi scored for the RailHawks in the friendly, but the real story of the match was Claudio Suarez.  The legendary 41 year-old defender has played for Pumas, Chivas, Tigres and Chivas USA in his illustrious club career while gaining 178 caps representing EL Tri in international competition, and although he’s reitred from the game, has been training with the RailHawks lately.  Suarez played the entire 90 minutes.   He commented after the game.  ” It was a great game,” said Suarez. “I had a little trouble at the beginning because it’s been a while since I’ve played in such a competitive match, but when I got into a rhythm with my teammates I think we played very well. I even came close to scoring at the end, and it would have been great if I did.”  According to an article on NASL.com, when queried about his future,Suarez responded that “I really like it here, the front office and players made me feel at home. I also like the area, the fields and the stadium so who knows, maybe next year we’ll be able to work something out.”  That would be interesting.  I’d love to see Suarez in a player or player-coach role next season in Carolina — his expertise and presence would bring a lot to D2 soccer in North America.

Martin Rennie’s RailHawks are 10-8-7 in league play, and host the Portland Timbers next Saturday. 

Notes:  Vancouver’s Jay Nolly has played every minute this season for the Whitecaps, and earned his 13th clean sheet in 2010 league play.  For another take on the Whitecaps-Islanders contest, check out the whitecapsfanblog http://whitecapsfan.wordpress.com/  The Puerto Rico Islanders continue their CONCACAF Champions League play in Group D on September 15 when they meet Group D co-leaders Toluca in Mexico.  The Islanders have done a great job of representing D2 soccer both in the Caribbean Football Union tournament and in the CCL. 

 Vancouver Starting Lineup:  Nolly, Tsiskaridze, Knight, Janicki, Bellisomo, Wagner, Nash, Koffie, Davies, Mobulu, Arnoux  Subs Used:  Elliott, McDonald, Morfaw,Edwini-Bonsu

Puerto Rico Starting Lineup:  Gaudette, Villaroel, Martinez, Horst, Emory, Salem, Gbandi, Daniel, Jagdeosingh, Hansen, Fana  Subs Used:  Allison, Foley, Velez

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