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Mariners Host Minnesota on Friday

May 17, 2005 - USL First Division (USL-1) - Virginia Beach Mariners News Release

Virginia Beach, Virginia - "We need to continue to get better all-around and improve offensively," were the words of Head Coach Shawn McDonald as his Virginia Beach Mariners (1-5-2, 5 pts), looking to snap a five-match winless streak. The Mariners welcome the Minnesota Thunder to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off Friday night before starting a three-match road trip on the West Coast next week.

Friday's match marks Mariners' Team Poster Night at the Sportsplex. The first 2,000 fans entering the gates will receive an official 2005 Virginia Beach Mariners Team Poster. The poster is in full-color and a perfect way to get a Mariners' player or coach autograph after the match. Fans will also receive a Mariners' pocket schedule and Mariners' 2005 Camp Schedule.

Virginia Beach will look to improve on a valiant performance last Friday at the Sportsplex in which the team fell 1-0 to the USL First Division-leading Richmond Kickers (6-1-1, 19 pts). The 82nd minute goal scored by Matthew Delicate off a corner kick, surrendered the 2005 James River Cup to the Kickers. The Mariners also dropped a 3-1 decision to Richmond on Wednesday, May 11 at U of R Stadium.

"On Wednesday we had moments when we played well but were up and down the whole game," McDonald noted regarding last week's home-and-home with the Kickers. "It was one of our worst performances of the year because you can't be up and down against a team like that."

[Friday's match] was a total team turnaround; from top to bottom, we played well. It was the type of performance in which I liked the effort, I liked the attitude."

While the Mariners aspire to look past the Richmond series and get back into the win column as soon and often as possible, the Thunder (0-0-2, 2 pts) also look to log a W after opening draws during a home-and-home against the Portland Timbers.

Minnesota leveled the first 90 minutes of the 2005 season 1-1 at PG&E Park in Portland on April 29, then followed the following week with a 2-2 result in their home-opener at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on May 7. Two of the Thunder's three goals scored against Portland came from forward Johnny Menyongar who enters his sixth season with the Minnesota franchise after scoring six goals and two assists in 2004.

Menyongar, a native of Liberia along with teammate Melvin Tarley, is part of an 11-member cast of Thunder players returning from last year's 13-9-6 side that qualified for the Western Conference Semifinals as well as the US Open Cup quarterfinal round. While Minnesota returns depth, they will not have the services of A-League First Team member Dustin Branan who signed with the Kansas City Wizards after last season. The teams met once in 2004. Minnesota came out on top 1-0.

McDonald remembered last season's contest as a back and forth battle between the sides, adding, "They're a similar team from last year... they've been a pretty successful, consistent team, but in most situations, it's us playing our game versus them playing their game. The one playing their game better is going to win."

This season, the Thunder will face a hungry Mariners' squad that is still looking to find its form and to find the net, logging five goals in eight matches. The team is led by Darren Caskey with three goals and one assist (seven points).

Caskey, Virginia Beach's free kick specialist from Nottingham, England, will have to sit out this week after booking two yellow cards against Richmond Friday. Caskey will join fellow midfielder Jeff Bilyk on the sidelines. Bilyk is nursing a sprained ankle sustained Wednesday during the Mariners' 3-1 loss at Richmond.

"[Caskey] is one guy who's holding up his end of the bar, so [his absence] is going to hurt us," McDonald said. "But Kevin Knott is back in the lineup and that should help us offensively."

In response to missing the feisty presence of Bilyk in the Mariners' midfield, McDonald is confident Virginia Beach will hold its own in the middle-third, stating, "Guys are going to have injuries, so I don't think it'll change things drastically but someone is going to have to step up."

With Virginia Beach's two most spirited players out of action Friday, the Mariners will have to rely on Knott, Carlos Garcia, Jakob Fenger, David Castellanos, Warren Ukah, Kevon Harris, and Hamisi Amani-Dove to pick up the slack to help get the team on a winning track. McDonald also noted that the Mariners should benefit tremendously from the offensive side of things with the future additions of players like Chris Dore and Kormac Valdebenito to the lineup, both of which are currently competing in the MISL. "With some good additions, we have a chance to totally turn things around," said McDonald.

For more on Virginia's first professional soccer team, call the Mariners' office at (757) 430-9800 or log on to

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