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Whitecaps DP Jarju shines in midfield role for reserves

Vancouver Whitecaps' Mustapha Jarju

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A 3-2 loss in a reserve match isn’t generally something to get excited about, but the first major glimpses of how effective Mustapha Jarju can be will come as a welcome development for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Jarju lined up in a central midfield role for the ‘Caps against the Portland Timbers in Reserve League action on Sunday, and scored a well-taken free kick to bring his side level at 1-1 in the 41st minute. While he has played as a midfielder for Gambia at the international level, the man they call “Toubabo” (which means “white boy”) has exclusively been used as a striker since joining the Whitecaps in July.

“I thought his attitude and approach was terrific,” assistant coach Colin Miller told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday. “He led by example. The young players around him were encouraged by his work rate. There’s no questioning his ability on the ball — he’s a very intelligent player, so playing in central midfield isn’t a problem.

“The one area I did concentrate on with Mustapha was what his role was when we lost the ball, to emphasize that he needed to get back and defend as quickly as possible. For the time he played, he did everything that we asked of him.”

Omar Salgado also made his presence known in the match. The first pick in the 2011 SuperDraft scored his third goal of the Reserve League campaign to put his side in front in the 75th minute after a nice setup from Whitecaps Residency product Caleb Clarke.

“I thought Omar worked very, very well,” Miller said. “He worked hard and did his job defensively that I asked him to do, and he’s always a threat going forward. Every game he pops up and gets scoring opportunities. His goal, he stumbled it over the line, but that’s the opportunity the kid gets [and he finished it].”

The ‘Caps second string almost made the most of the match by going into stoppage time with a 2-1 lead, but two last-gasp goals from the Timbers turned the match on its head.

“It was a solid 90 minutes,” Miller said. “I was very, very pleased. I asked for a lot of hard work from the players. I wanted good defending, good shape. The players were fantastic, but it’s so frustrating that we’ve come in with a 3-2 defeat.”

The match also proved a useful learning exercise for young players trying to learn their craft. With a crowd of 10,077 at JELD-WEN Field, it was as close to a top-level scenario you can get for a reserve game.

“Some leagues throughout Europe would love to have this sort of home support,” Miller said. “It’s a real credit to Portland Timbers and their fans. I want to thank our fans as well for traveling down. They were fantastic [on Saturday] in the first-team game, and they were equally good [for Sunday’s reserve match].”

Wassey doesn't travel

Massih Wassey did not travel with the team to participate in the reserve team match due to an illness. The twice-capped Canadian international midfielder practiced with the 'Caps last week and the team had hoped to get a look at him in a game situation as part of his trial.

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon