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Neil Davidson article on Rob Friend


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It's great the Canadian Press has sent Neil down to cover the Canadian camp. We're getting an excellent article a day from him.


It's good to have a Friend; big Canadian striker moves up in class

posted January 16 @ 14:40, EST

SUNRISE, Fla. (CP) - Rob Friend is hard to miss on a soccer field. At six foot four and 205 pounds, he cuts an impressive figure in front of goal.

The U.S. Virgin Islands certainly won't forget the big targetman from Kelowna, B.C., too quickly. Friend scored seven goals - six in one game - in the home-and-away Olympic qualifying series last September against the CONCACAF minnow.

Now Friend is looking to make an impression on Canadian World Cup coach Frank Yallop. He should get that chance Sunday when the Canadian senior side takes on Barbados in Bridgetown in an exhibition game.

The young forward with Moss FK in Norway was one of five Olympic players chosen to the 17-man World Cup team roster.

Friend already has three senior caps to his credit. He made his debut against the U.S. last January and also saw action in Estonia and Libya. Along with trips to the U.S. Virgin Islands and El Salvador, it's made for a whirlwind year.

"For 22 years old, getting to see what I've seen has been pretty neat," Friend said. "I couldn't imagine some of the countries I've visited . . . It's an education. I'm learning every trip. Every country I go to, I'm asking questions, I'm checking out the sights. Because not many people get to do this at this age."

Some stops have been more hospitable than others.

In El Salvador, a hostile crowd surrounded the Canadian team bus and threw things at the vehicle. That followed 90 minutes of insults during the game. The abuse didn't faze Friend.

"First of all, it's in Spanish so you don't really know what you're saying," he said.

But in Libya, the Canadians stayed by the ocean and were welcomed by a troop of musicians. "A very welcoming country," Friend said.

Friend led his Norwegian team in scoring as a rookie last season, with nine goals, despite missing five games through suspension for accumulating two red and four yellow cards. On the minus side, his team was relegated from the top flight.

Norwegian soccer is made for the big man.

"Every team has a big forward," Friend says.

Moss plays a direct game, running its offence through the physical Canadian - similar to the way basketball teams use their centre. Speedy wingers send the ball his way, hoping for a header or a touch back to a midfield corps that includes fellow Canadian Patrice Bernier.

And Friend knows what to do when the ball comes his way, especially if it's in the air. Headers are his bread and butter.

He likes life in Norway. Moss is a city of 50,000 to 60,000 about 40 minutes south of the capital of Oslo and most people speak English.

"Sometimes I forget I'm in a foreign country," said Friend. "It's a lot like Canada, the standard of living is very high."

He also savours the opportunity that soccer has provided him - scholarships to Western Michigan and University of California Santa Barbara, where he was an all-American, in addition to the trips with Canada.

He has one year left on his contract with Moss and hopes to stay in Europe. He is already planning ahead, however, buying a house in Norway as an investment and even looking into acquiring a Norwegian passport to ease his way in Europe.

A Manchester United fan, he enjoys watching Ruud Van Nistelrooy play. But his taste leans more towards strikers in his own mould like Jan Koller, the 6-71?2 behemoth who plays in Germany for Borussia Dortmund.

"I'm not a big fan of the small, little quick skilled forward because I'm not like them. I look at the targetmen in the German league and the English league."

Friend looks similar to former Irish striker Niall Quinn in size and style of play, although he has a long way to go to match Quinn's record.

Still he already has quite a soccer pedigree. He played in the world under-20 championships in Argentina and the Francophone Games in Ottawa-Hull in 2001 and was drafted by the Chicago Fire in the fourth round of the 2003 MLS draft.

But he says the best is yet to come.

"I don't think I'll be reaching my peak for at least a few years."

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