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DC United exes find greener pastures in Vancouver


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USL Focus Part I: DC United exes find greener pastures in Vancouver

24 Oct, 2008

By Charles Boehm, Potomac Soccer Wire Sr. Staff Writer

Justin Moose wasn’t eager to leave Washington.

D.C. United’s top SuperDraft pick in 2006, the diminutive midfielder had worked his way into more playing time with the senior team by the end of his second season. He’d earned the affection of United’s fans and enjoyed being close to family, friends and the Blue Ridge Mountains of his North Carolina homeland.

But his developmental salary was forcing him to scrap mightily to make ends meet, and the D.C. coaching staff’s valuation of him was uncertain at best. So when the Vancouver Whitecaps of USL’s First Division came calling with a respectable salary offer and an opportunity for meaningful playing time, Moose made the 2,800-mile move to the Pacific Northwest – and the decision has paid dividends.

“I really enjoyed my time in D.C., and when I made the switch over to Vancouver it was a drastic change in many aspects,” said Moose this week, speaking over the phone from his home in Statesville, North Carolina. “But I love Vancouver as a city and the team is a great bunch of guys. The level of soccer is pretty comparable and I’ve had a good time.”

Two of his former United teammates took on the same adventure. Backup goalkeeper Jay Nolly and Nicholas Addlery, the well-traveled Jamaican striker who notched a goal and two assists in 11 appearances for the Black-and-Red last year, were also lured north of the border and all three played key roles to help the Whitecaps win the USL-1 championship earlier this month, their second such title in three years.

Nolly built a glittering college career at the University of Indiana and logged five starts in his rookie season with Real Salt Lake. But his playing time declined over the next two years and with his confidence at a low ebb after the 2007 campaign, he was open to a new opportunity when Whitecaps officials called.

“At the end of the year, the [united] coaches were like, ‘we want you back, we want you to come back and fight for your spot,’ and then Vancouver just kind of came out of nowhere,” explained the Littleton, Co. product. “They came to me, Moose and Nick and they were like, ‘look, we’ll give you guys this and an opportunity to play right away.’ It was tough for me and my fiancée to leave, because we really liked living in D.C., but as a player I think it’s just something you’ve got to do.”

Consistently ranked among the world’s most livable cities, Vancouver has proven to be a happy home for the trio and their club has worked hard to make it so. The Whitecaps have a committed fan base which consistently packs cozy Swangard Stadium and the club is seeking to construct a bigger facility as part of its MLS expansion bid.

“I’ve been to plenty of cities around the world and Vancouver is probably my favorite. It’s a privilege to live there,” said Moose, who enjoys taking advantage of nearby outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking in his downtime. “Obviously USL teams are on a smaller budget than MLS teams, so there’s some penny-pinching involved. But I commend all the efforts of the front office and the coaching staff to try to keep the players happy. They do the best they can and I’ve run into very few troubles along the way.”

Even as their league reaches out to make increasingly high-profile international signings using the designated player rule, many young MLS players flirt with the poverty line and must work second or even third jobs to augment the developmental contracts which pay less than $20,000 a year.

“It’s just sad the way the MLS system works, with developmental contracts and players moving to the lower leagues for financial issues,” said Moose. “I mean, I was making more money coaching than I was playing in D.C.”

Whitecaps players who hail from out of town are provided with vehicles and their own apartments during the season, in addition to base wages that are often larger than those available in MLS. Most teams sign players to contracts laden with performance bonuses, often structured on a 10-month basis so there are opportunities to follow other pursuits in the offseason.

“With the MLS, the developmental system’s kind of tough for guys that come out of college in their early to mid 20s,” said Nolly. “They’re not making much money and they’re not playing, either. So it’s tough for them. Going to the USL is an opportunity to get more money and it’s an opportunity to get games, too. That’s a true developmental part, because they’re getting their confidence and it’s huge. I felt like this year I’ve gotten so much confidence back that I hadn’t seen since my first year in the MLS.”

The Whitecaps also debunk the common perception that USL offers a cruder, less skilled style of play. Icelandic head coach Teitur Thordarson’s resume is full of top-flight European experience under the likes of Arsene Wenger and Gerard Houllier and his team features a crisp, possession-based philosophy.

“I don’t think the style is that different,” said Moose. “There’s different kinds of players anywhere you go, and there are some crappy players [in the league]. But I don’t consider myself pumping long balls forward and relying on my athleticism as [much] a lot of people in MLS…We try to keep the ball a little bit.”

Nolly points out that while USL may be missing “those million-dollar players, those $700,000 players” which have become more accessible to MLS clubs, the organization’s top two tiers hold a diverse assortment of talent from all over North America and beyond, much of which is more useful to Major League Soccer coaches than the raw college products coming through the SuperDraft pipeline.

“I think players-wise, there should be more loaning back and forth,” he said. “At the end of the season MLS should be looking [at USL] – the USL players have a lot more experience than going and getting a guy out of college. I almost think the USL should be more of a feeder system than a lot of the college system. Everything’s still 12, 13 years deep, so I think it’ll keep going that way, though.”

Another common view is that USL players are typically just biding their time before an opportunity to move up to MLS presents itself. But Nolly and Moose offer a striking contrast to that idea as well: both men are happy with the Whitecaps and eager to help the club defend its championship in 2009.

“I was thinking about maybe trying to get in with an MLS team for preseason, but I really don’t have that much desire to. I just want to go back to Vancouver,” said Moose. “I’m getting treated really well and I feel like I’d be doing them an injustice by even venturing elsewhere.”


Editor's Note: Stay tuned for parts in our series - Thriving in the Shadows: The Survival, and Success, of the United Soccer Leagues

About the Author

Charles Boehm has covered D.C. United and the rest of the Washington-area soccer world for more than four years. A native of Dallas, Texas, Charlie made D.C. his home following a hard-working -- but hardly spectacular -- NCAA Division III college career and subsequent Peace Corps stint in the small, soccer-crazed, island nation of Grenada, where he also coached and played in the Grenadian Premier League (such as it is). He welcomes feedback at cboehm@potomacsoccerwire.com.

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Wow, I can't wait to read the upcoming parts of this series. This is brilliant, and something that needs to be made away to the North American soccer world. It's very interesting to see the way that the USL has settled itself into a position where it is almost a necessity for MLS. Also knowing that it is looked to more than the college draft is a major plus for the organization. Very interesting stuff.

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