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You saw that for this past Sunday's USL game when the 'Caps bizarrely marketed it in part as "The return of Long Tan". I'm not quite sure just who the target audience was with that one (apart from a certain 'Old Fan' on the Southsiders forum and he couldn't even make the game!). Having all that potential was all well and good, but the problem was that Tan didn't actually cut it on the pitch with the 'Caps in Major League Soccer. Now, some would argue that that was because he didn't get the opportunity. Tan decried that fact himself on Twitter. But, to us, the fact was that he just wasn't MLS quality. DC United thought otherwise, and Tan played briefly with them towards the end of the 2012 season. A Championship winning stint in Orlando followed, before Tan returned to China for a year before returning to the US. But after all the travelling, and what felt at the time as a not so amicable parting of the ways between the two parties, Tan was back in Vancouver on Sunday when his Arizona United side headed to Thunderbird Stadium in USL action. It wasn't a happy homecoming for Tan as his side was on the end of a 2-0 loss, but he was still delighted to return to familiar surroundings. "It felt good," Tan told AFTN after the match. "It's been a long time not coming back. I feel like this is my home, so I was very excited. "I feel happy, but we lost, so I feel sad, but I still feel good that I come back home here." Tan came to Vancouver in late 2010. Having moved to the US from China in 2008, the striker first cut his teeth in the North American game with PDL side Atlanta Blackhawks, scoring seven goals in 12 appearances. Staying in the USL ranks, he moved up to D2 level with FC Tampa Bay for the 2010 season, before being part of a bizarre trade at the time that saw Tan head to Vancouver and Jonny Steele (later of New York Red Bulls "fame") and Ricardo Sanchez. Tan stayed with Tampa till the end of the season. After officially signing a MLS contract with the Caps in March 2011 after being on trial for a couple of months. He made his MLS debut a couple of weeks later and went on to play 13 games, and 437 minutes, for the Whitecaps during their inaugural season. As to what his favourite memory is of his time in Vancouver, that's an easy one. "I think it's my first goal, my first MLS goal," Tan was quick to reply. "I'm happy because I scored my first MLS goal with the Whitecaps here." Tan got that sole MLS goal against DC United on October 12th 2011. It was the match winner in a 2-1 victory and he became the first Chinese born player to score a goal in Major League Soccer. Tan made just four starts that inaugural MLS season, contributing two assists as well as his lone goal. He made more starts for the Caps PDL side, banging in five goals in six games. And therein lay one of the problems. Tan was too good for PDL level, but not quite at the MLS grade. A USL club back four years ago could have been the different breaker for him. It's something he's thought about and he's delighted to see MLS clubs in USL this season and the chance it gives the fringe guys to show their talent. "It's good for the USL and the league," Tan said. "It's good for pushing players to make the first team. It's very good for the young players." Despite shining at PDL level, grabbing that first MLS goal and with a managerial change for the 'Caps, it wasn't enough to convince new boss Martin Rennie that he was MLS calibre for his rebuilt side, and he only played 28 minutes and made four appearances in the first few months of the 2012 season. Tan was upset at the lack of opportunities, and after scoring three goals in two PDL matches, he sent out this tweet: When a player isn't getting playing time, he's going to get frustrated. That's what you want. You want that desire to get back into the team and the reckoning. It's how you express that of course that dictates how you're then viewed. The tweet earned Tan a suspension and at that point it was probably time for both parties to have a fresh start. And they did. DC United came in for Tan in return for a third round draft pick and the striker was traded 20 days after his tweet. Tan featured in six of DC's next nine games, making three starts and grabbing a goal in the 4-2 win at Chicago. But then the minutes dried up, he was loaned out to USL side Richmond Kickers and didn't feature in DC's last eight matches. He was released at the end of the season but went back to USL to join Orlando City, making 25 appearances and scoring 5 goals in their Championship winning season. "It was good, we won the Championship!" Tan told us. "They have good fans and we had a good coach and a good team. I really enjoyed there. "After they moved to MLS I had to go back to China because of my family. But now I come back to play in America again. I tried to come back to play in MLS." Tan spent the first part of 2014 with Chinese Super League side Harbin Yiteng before heading back to the US and joining Arizona United, which brings us bang up to date. He made 12 appearances for Arizona last season, banging in five goals and earning a multi-year contract with the club. After all his trials and tribulations, he's very happy in Scottsdale. Well, fairly happy! "I enjoy it there, but the weather is too hot," Tan laughed. "It's nice weather, it's better than over here! [in Vancouver]" Tan has continued his fine form with Arizona this season. He may have been blanked by the Whitecaps on Sunday, but he leads the team with four goals and an assist from their 10 games so far and he still harbours hopes of impressing at USL level with an eye to a step back up to Major League Soccer. "I hope to play MLS," Tan told us. "I hope I come back by doing good here [in Arizona]. I want to play in MLS [again]." Tan has shown he can score at the lower levels of the North American game. Can he do it at MLS level on a regular basis and earn another shot? Stranger things have happened and we wish him nothing but the best to try and get there.
"If you look at the schedule, we've got so many USL games that we've got going on and so many MLS games and we've got a few injuries too, we actually had to ask for an exemption and the CSA approved it," WFC2 coach Alan Koch told AFTN after the game. "I don't think it's something we'll be using very often. You can see in our roster that we've been playing a lot of Canadians. We only started four today but we did get it approved by the CSA before the game." It wasn't the most exciting first half. Vancouver tried to take the game to Arizona but as with the first team, putting away those chances was proving difficult. The Whitecaps turned up the pressure at the start of the second and Caleb Clarke showed quick reaction four minutes in to tuck away a rebound after Arizona keeper Carl Woszcynski had done well to keep out a Kianze Froese shot from the edge of the box. The goal was Clarke's fourth of the season and his second straight game with a goal. Vancouver had several chances to add a second and were in control of the match. They finally got their second killer goal with 12 minutes of the game remaining. It came from Brett Levis and was the Saskatoon native's first professional goal. And what a beauty it was too as the midfielder won possession at the half way line and skipped past two Arizona players before burying it in the bottom right corner of the net. There was no way back for Arizona and the young Caps go marching on. Next up are two away matches in four days. Colorado Springs are first up on Wednesday followed by a trip to OKC Energy on Saturday. AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was there to capture all the action before, during and after the game and here's his "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. The teams come out at Thunderbird Stadium, ready for battle WFC2 starting XI A small but loud supporters' section for this one The closest WFC2 came in the first half was a Caleb Clarke header But Clarke wasn't to be denied and put the Caps ahead in the 49th minute Victor Blasco comes close to making it two And so does Caleb Clarke as he tried to round Arizona keeper Carl Wozscynski But the Caps do make it 2-0 in the 78th minute when Brett Levis picks up the ball at halfway line and runs in on goal Getting past two Arizona players on the way and slotting home his first professional goal Much to his joy And relief! The young Caps applaud the fans after back to back home wins While it's a meeting of mutual respect at the goalkeepers' union Paolo Tornaghi is in demand after his clean sheet Former Whitecap, and Arizona striker, catches up with an old friend, AFTN contributor and Curva Collective's Zachary Meisenheimer, after the game You can see a Flickr slideshow of all of Tom's photos from the game below: