Gbeke leads Vancouver to second USL-1 title
The final day of June may have been the most important day of the season in contributing to the second championship in three years for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the final day of the USL First Division season Sunday as Charles Gbeke, who was acquired in a trade that day, scored both goals in the club's 2-1 victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Both clubs had chances as they probed for an opening tally in the first half, but the game would go to the break scoreless. Eleven minutes into the second frame, however, Gbeke would rise above the crowd for his first.
Alfredo Valente drove a low corner into the box in the 56th minute that forced Jeff Clarke to lower his head on the near side, popping the ball up into the air to the far post, where Gbeke rose above his marker Cristian Arrieta to head the winner into the far side netting.
A matchup of the league's top two defensive squads made minimized the number of quality scoring chances, but the Islanders would find the equalizer just moments after Vancouver had a great chance to go up two.
The Vancouver chance to double the lead came in the 68th when Martin Nash sent a ball across the field and deep to Valente on left flank. He drove further up the field before giving it to Steve Kindel, who crossed it into the box, where 17-year-old Ethan Gage tried to one-time it on frame from 14 yards only to see it fly wide.
A minute later at the other end the Islanders leveled the game courtesy of Sandy Gbandi. Well up the field on the left flank, defender Scott Jones sent it inward five yards to captain Noah Delgado, who sent a cross into the box where several Puerto Rico players awaited the chance. Gbandi headed in the equalizer to the side netting from eight yards out in the center of the box.
The tie would only last four minutes for Puerto Rico though.
Gbeke again put the Whitecaps on top with another header. Nash sent a throw-in from deep on the right side to the top corner of the penalty area, where Justin Moose took and drove along the edge of the box toward the end line before sending a cross into the six. Gbeke rose out of the crowd for the 73rd minute tally that held on as the winner and earned the Ivory Coast native the USL-1 Championship MVP honor.
Having previously been on the wrong side of Vancouver's first championship as a member of the Rochester Rhinos, who fell 3-0 at home two years ago in the final, Gbeke was the Montreal Impact's leading scorer in 2007 with 10 strikes. But with only one goal through 12 games in 2008, the Impact sent him to Vancouver for his fourth stint with the club in his career in exchange for Tony Donatelli, who had scored in the championship for Vancouver two years ago.