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  1. It's been another stellar season for the UBC Thunderbirds, one they hope will end on Sunday in Toronto with their raising of their 14th CIS National Championship. The Thunderbirds finished the regular season with 10 wins and 2 draws from their 12 divisional matches. They only conceded a staggering five goals, banging in 31 at the other end in the process. They added another two in their Canada West quarter-final and semi-final match-ups before being made to work hard last weekend in a 2-1 extra time win over UVic Vikes that saw UBC crowned Canada West Champions for a record 16th time. Heading into this week's nationals to compete against the best college sides in Canada, head coach Mike Mosher believes having such a stern test in the Canada West playoffs has been the best preparation his team could get. "Dave Hendrie [assistant coach] and I were having a chat and we were saying we've had some tough tests," Mosher told AFTN after Saturday's Canada West Championship success. "Yesterday [in the semi final against Fraser Valley], last week against Saskatchewan. So we've had regular difficult games. The scorelines may not indicate it. Yesterday was not easy, nor was the Saskatchewan game. "So yeah, the more competitive games you can get the better. The challenge is when you're into this, you played last night, you have to play again tonight, you have to fly across the country on Monday and then you're playing hopefully three games in four days next week. Both teams are conserving players a little bit but you still want to lift a trophy at the end of the day, so we're very happy with that." Mosher was named Canada West Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons. It's the third time that Mosher has won the accolade in his 19 seasons leading the Thunderbirds. With six Canada West titles already under his belt, he's now looking for his fifth CIS Championship to cap off what has been another excellent season for UBC. What makes it even more impressive is that once again, Mosher had to rebuild a lot of his squad after losing a number of veterans at the end of last season. Those numbers included all three goalkeepers, defensive leader Paul Clerc, the prolific Niall Cousens and last year's Canada West MVP, former Whitecap player, Navid Mashinchi. It's all just part of the difficult process of being a college coach, but one which UBC always seem to handle really well. "We knew we were losing guys," Mosher told us. "Shoot, we've lost top players probably four or five years in a row. We've turned over, on average, three first team Conference All-Stars every year. We've been fortunate. We've recruited well. We've developed well within the system. We've had players waiting in the wings to come in right away. "This coming year, there was a few questions, but I think we always knew that we were going to be in every game. One, with a goalkeeper like Chad [bush] coming in, a top quality goalkeeper. We definitely put a goal at the start of the season to be the lowest conceding team in our Conference, because at the end of the day, clean sheets win games." Former Ottawa Fury goalkeeper Chad Bush has perhaps been the biggest addition to this season's Thunderbirds squad. A 19-year-old Bush was named the USL PDL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 and he's been dominant in the UBC defence this year, recording eight clean sheets during the regular season, including six straight to start off October, and adding a further two in the playoffs. With only six goals conceded all year, that defensive strength will serve the Thunderbirds well in the nationals. But they'll have a tough job on their hands if they are to lift their 14th title. Despite their unbeaten season and number one ranking for much of the year, UBC find themselves seeded fourth heading into nationals. That will likely set up a huge semi-final clash with the number one seeds, OUA champions and defending CIS champions, the hosting York Lions, on Saturday. Before they get there, the Thunderbirds kick off their tournament on Thursday with a semi-final match-up against the fifth seeds, and OUA bronze medallists, Toronto Varsity Blues. Whoever the Thunderbirds end up facing, Mosher knows his side have a tough road ahead and coming off their second undefeated season in four years, it's likely UBC will have a target on their backs from the eastern teams. "I think everybody's going to be good out there," Mosher mused. "I've seen the teams that are all in. It's all one and two seeds from their Conference. Hey, everybody's got a target because it's win or go home. It's the nature of the tournament. "Certainly there's always maybe a little bit of motivation to go and beat a team like us, but maybe there's also a little bit of 'shoot, we don't want to play UBC in the first game' as well." UNB Varsity Reds (AUS champs and number two seeds), UQAM Citadins (RSEQ champs and number three seeds), McMaster Marauders (sixth seeds), Victoria Vikes (seventh seeds) and Cape Breton Capers (eight seeds) make up the rest of the field. With four different Conferences and teams spread out all over the country, scouting opponents can be made somewhat more difficult, but Mosher is confident his team will be more than prepared for whoever they come up against. "I think film covers enough," Mosher said. "I've seen most of the teams now in the last couple of days that's going to be there. Sometimes as coaches you maybe watch too much film and you worry maybe more about the opponent. "I say to these boys a lot, 'it's about us'. It's about us getting it right what we do. We'll prepare you for what you're up against and what you need to know but I think we've seen enough." UBC kick off their 2015 campaign at 1pm PST on Thursday and you'll be able to watch the game HERE. The Thunderbirds are going to have the toughest route if they are to claim their record breaking 14th CIS title. But their history at the nationals should convince anyone that they're more than capable of doing it. Everyone at the Thunderbirds is certainly convinced. "Our record's been pretty good at the tournament, when we've gotten there on a regular basis. We've gotten to the final every time, out of probably 17 plus times. So I think we're well prepared for it. We're going to get out of here early on Monday and get the travel behind us and get the training sessions in there. "We're looking forward to it. These guys are a confident group. They're not a cocky group but they're a confident group, and they want to lift trophies."
  2. "I feel good after the last two weeks with my injury," Morales told AFTN at training on Thursday. "I feel good in my legs. I've been training hard the last two days with [Jon] Poli and I'm feeling nothing in my hamstring now." Just what to do with Morales heading into a crucial game with San Jose is certainly a dilemma for Robinson. The 'Caps coach had to use both Morales and Octavio Rivero off the bench in last Saturday's 2-1 defeat to New York City after both failed late fitness tests. He was told he could use both for 15 to 20 minutes. He got 23 minutes out of Morales and the Chilean looked excellent when he came on, hitting home the equalising penalty and looking back to his old ball spraying self at times. It's the difference maker the Whitecaps need at this crunch time of the season and one they've been missing from their Designated Players in their three losses over the last few weeks. "Since June, we haven't had our three DPs [on the field at the same time]," Robinson told reporters this week. "It makes a big difference. The three DPs of NYC won them the game really. We haven't had that, but it shows the depth of our squad that we're still in with a shout towards the end of the season with a number of injuries." That depth may be great but it's been tested and stretched in the losses to Houston, Seattle and New York. They Whitecaps need Morales back but they don't want to rush him and cause further aggravation to his injury. They got away with it last week but it was close. Morales stretched for a ball late on and the bandage covering his hamstring came flying off. It looked like he may have overstretched and tweaked it again, and he hardly ran after that. Robinson confirmed to us that that was the case, but it was a minor tweak that was fine after a couple of days rest and some light training. It was alarming never-the-less. The one thing the Whitecaps don't want to do is to push him back early again and risk losing him for the playoffs. "We've just got to get him fit and healthy in the run-in," Robinson told us last week ahead of the NYC game. "We just won't take any risks. I won't take any risks on any of my players, which is why we've made a number of changes [recently]. I'll continue to do that because I won't put any players health at risk." The original plan was to ease him back gently. "That's what we'll probably do," Robinson added. "I done that after his original injury and then it reoccurred. We've just got be very careful. We've got enough good players in those areas that we don't need to rush anyone." That view hasn't changed but needs may cause some reconsideration. Mauro Rosales has come into the number ten role and hasn't been able to stamp his authority on games the way we know he can. Nicolas Mezquida now has an injury that will see him miss another game this weekend. And that takes us back to Robinson's dilemma for the Quakes game. Morales will play, but whether he will start and play the first hour, or come on as a sub for the last half hour, will be down to a gameday decision and the health of Rivero may also dictate what option Robinson goes with. "I'd rather have 90 minutes from Pedro," Robinson admitted. "That would be nice. We'll try and get to it as close as we can." Morales is eager to play his part, but is also unsure what would be the best way to use him right now. Whatever Robinson decides, he's ready to go. "The decision is Robbo's now," Morales told us. "I don't know if he'll play me for the start of the game [against San Jose] or in the second half. I don't know what is the best. "The thing is to help the team, either from the first minute or in the second half. But I feel good and I've been working hard these two weeks since getting back to training and I'm ready now for these last games." The Whitecaps know they are in for a battle during the last month of the regular MLS season and Morales will be a crucial part of it. A win over San Jose on Saturday and they clinch their second straight postseason berth with three games to spare. Then it all comes down to positioning, with a home and away series with Dallas set to determine whether they get a first round bye or not. A defeat in San Jose and the Quakes are suddenly just two points behind them and even the 'Caps place in the playoffs is thrown into doubt, never mind all the talk of the Supporters' Shield and a home playoff game from just a couple of weeks ago. Pressure, but the Whitecaps are ready for it, and they've had some previous experience last season when they had to pretty much win every game of the final month to make the playoffs. Different scenarios, but Morales feels that experience will serve the 'Caps well. "It's different from last year because the team have a very big chance to win the Cup this year," Morales told us. "We're now in the second position but the team is just concentrating on the last four games. "It's like a final on Saturday. Every one of these four games is like a final. The team is prepared for these last four games. We just need to play with confidence and start to win again." And the key to winning is for Vancouver to actually take their chances. Not something they've found easy to do of late. The amount of missed chances in the final stages of the loss to New York was staggering. The general feeling in the 'Caps camp this week was that it's just a matter of time before those chances turn to goals again and Morales is at least pleased with the creative aspect of the side but knows it needs to be better. "If you don't create the chances then it's a danger for the team," Morales said. "If you create the chances in the first half, in the second half, against a good team, you need to score. Sometimes you're not lucky. Sometimes you're not concentrating enough in the final pass." There were so many breaks with at least a man advantage last weekend, with a failure to punish their visitors every time. It eventually cost the 'Caps dear, as we all know, with NYC's controversial late penalty winner. Three vital points lost and the chance to grab some breathing space at the top of standings gone. Again. Morales knows it's not acceptable to squander so many of those opportunities and it's been the prime focus at training in the aftermath of the defeat. "This week we've worked on the situation," Morales added. "The counter attack. Four against two, four against three. We lost too many chances last week against New York. If we score, then maybe we win and we're in first position. Sometimes this stuff happens but we need to create and score more goals." Let's hope that begins again on Saturday night in San Jose.
  3. It's the quarter-final match-up many people were predicting, including ourselves in Podcast 113. We also tipped England for the win though, so let's hope that doesn't come true as well! Both teams will also have expected to be facing each other at this stage and they know each other's game inside and out. The two sides have played each other a number of times recently, most recently in a pre-tournament friendly in Hamilton, where Canada narrowly won thanks to a wonder strike from Sophie Schmidt. You can't read too much into friendlies of course, and the more worrying match for Canada to be concerned with is England's 3-0 win over them in this year's Cyprus Cup Final in March. That's a win that certainly has the English girls believing they can book a semi-final place come Saturday night. "We've played them quite a bit actually," Taylor told us. "Obviously beating them in Cyprus was a boost. We played them not too long pre World Cup in Hamilton and lost 1-0. Every time we play them it's a physical battle, it's a scrap. There's not many opportunities in it. It is kind of a close game and that's what we expect as well. So it is going to be a hard game, an even game, but we have every belief that we can beat them and win." Taylor didn't play in that friendly against Canada at the end of May. After suffering a non-contact knee injury while training with her NWSL club side, Portland Thorns, in April, the 29-year-old striker wasn't even sure if she'd be recovered in time to play a part in her first ever World Cup. "Obviously it was an unfortunate time with the injury," Taylor mused. "All the time throughout rehab it was a race against the clock. At times it was going well and looking really good and at other times it looked like I might miss out here. Fortunately there was just enough time to make it back, so step foot on the field again was good news." After some intense rehab work back in England, Taylor recovered just in time, and made her World Cup debut in England's final group game against Colombia, coming on as an 81st minute sub. She almost scored too. A second substitute's appearance came in the Round of 16 win against Norway, with Taylor coming on in the 63rd minute with the scores tied at 1-1 and playing an important part in England's win. The appearances have been the pinnacle of Taylor's initial goals in the tournament. She didn't just want to be part of the squad, she wanted to play a part in it and play a part in making history for the English girls. So after all those weeks of rehab and being touch and go to even make it, how did it feel to step out on that pitch in Montreal against Colombia? "It felt pretty special," Taylor enthused. "It was just amazing, but at one point I thought I might have just missed it. Then coming on against Norway and playing a part in helping us make history was amazing. "I've got goosebumps even talking about it! Obviously that's something that we want to continue on and we have every chance of doing it this weekend." The signs are there that England are starting to hit their stride in this World Cup, highlighted by the fighting back quality they showed to beat Norway. After losing their first game in this year's tournament 1-0 to France, England have regrouped and ground out three straight 2-1 victories to set up this quarter-final clash. Scoring two goals in a game seems to be something of a pipe dream for Canada these days. The next target for Taylor is a World Cup goal. She already has four for England in her 10 appearances to date, including a hat-trick against Australia at this year's Cyprus Cup. Taylor could even get the start against Canada, if England coach Mark Sampson wants to mix things up a little. He's certainly not afraid to do that, having already used every outfield player during the tournament. She will most certainly feature at some point and will be a danger to the Canadian defence. Taylor has scored goals wherever she's been, after starting her career with Tranmere Rovers as a 15-year-old. After attending Oregon State University on a scholarship, playing spells in five countries followed, before she headed back to the US in 2014 to play in the NWSL with Washington Spirit. Despite her successes an England call-up was missing. The reason didn't appear to be because of her travels or where she was playing, but more to do with the fact that she turned down an invitation to a training camp under previous England coach Hope Powell in order to concentrate on her schooling. Did Powell hold a grudge? Well, no further call was forthcoming until Sampson took over and brought her into a camp in Spain as a 27-year-old. In these times of young female international footballers, had Taylor given up ever playing for England or did she always hold out hope that her time would come if there was a coaching change? "I thought, yeah, if there was a coaching change," Taylor readily admits. "But I waited a number of years for that and towards the end I kind of accepted that it potentially might not happen. So rather than just have my focus on England and everything like that, I kind of just had to shift my focus a bit on what's best for my football. How can I just be the best footballer and enjoy what I'm doing? That mentally for me really helped. "I tried coming to America and playing in NWSL. It's a great standard, a very good league, professional environment and I love the lifestyle, so for me, they were the right decisions. And as much as I was still training hard and committing and sacrificing as any international footballer would, it was just nice when the coaching change did happen and I did get the chance." Taylor is now back in her second home of Oregon, playing with Portland Thorns and loving every minute of it. As much as she liked her time in Maryland with Washington Spirit last year, it wasn't her spiritual home. After playing four years with the OSU Beavers, that is Oregon and she jumped at the opportunity to head back. "Yeah, that's exactly what it was," Taylor happily admits. "I enjoyed my football at the Spirit the year before but it never felt like home. The last few years, everywhere I've played is to become a better player and that's the sacrifice I've had to make the last three or four years. "It just got to a point where I want to actually be somewhere where I feel settled and want to be. With the option to come to Portland, it's a great organisation. They've got a good vision as a club. The fans are phenomenal. It's an awesome place to live. I've still got friends there. It just felt like the right move for that stage of my career." Taylor says the Thorns have been great with her since she joined them in March, even to the point that depending how much further that England go in the tournament, there's been no pressure or discussions from them on when they need her to head back Portland. "It's not even something I've spoken to with the club," Taylor told us. "They're very respectful of national team commitments. That's one thing I really do like with playing in the US in general and the club. "Especially once I did my knee, eight weeks ago or whenever it was, they were like 'whatever you need'. If you need to fly straight home to England and get surgery, if you want it here, what can we do for you. So there's a lot of respect there. "It depends on what I need. Depending on what the staff here say, they'll probably go with. If I need a break or if it's good to straight back into training. I'm happy to do anything. I'll just do as I'm told really! The league obviously doesn't really break for this, so I imagine the majority of players will be returning quite swiftly to Portland for the second half of the season." Amongst those Portland players heading back to the Thorns after the tournament are three Canadians - Kaylyn Kyle, Christine Sinclair and Rhian Wilkinson. Taylor hasn't really had the chance to get to know the Canadian girls yet, with them only playing a couple of games each due to their residency with the Canadian national team. It's meant there's not even been the chance to have some inter-nation banter between Taylor and them. "No, not really" Taylor laughs. "I had a couple of Canadian teammates at Spirit, so probably more so than with those guys. Again, it's just more so with the timing of being there. They kind of just flew in for a couple of games. It's all friendly and everything. It's at the level where it's not talking shit to each other! Maybe change though, depends how the game goes! But they're all lovely girls but I just don't think it's quite at that level. I'm not a huge shit talker anyway!" There's no doubting that Portland is a "soccer city". To me, it the number one such city in America. Any team that can draw five figure crowds to PDL U23 games is a hotbed of football fervour. But it's not just the male Timbers sides that draw exceptionally well, the Thorns also pack in the numbers and it warms Taylor to her English cockles to see how the city treat the club and the players. "Growing up in England, it's a big football place but not yet for women's football," Taylor says. "In Portland, I feel they equally respect the men and the women. You can tell by the crowds that they do. It's just nice. It's nice to be respected for what you do." Football is a world's game and Taylor has actively explored that, playing in five countries and three continents, with spells in America, Canada, Sweden, Australia and obviously England. It also hasn't affected her international chances. She spoke about that with English coach Sampson who told her to play where made her happy. It was only her form that mattered, and that form saw her on the England Player of the Year shortlist in 2014. With all that's she's seen on her travels, how does she feel the women's game is growing around the world? The gap between the top four or five nations and the middle chasing pack certainly seems to be narrowing if this World Cup is a gauge. "It is now, definitely," Taylor feels. "When I look back to when I left England when I was 18 to now, you would just never have imagined the strides that it's made. The US has stayed quite consistent I would say. It's probably harder to tell. "It was a huge jump going over to college when I was 18, just in terms of professionalism and training every day. The high professional standards. That, for me, is where I've developed in that area because I've been around it so much. "But now, if I compare the English league to the college, then yeah, I think the standard in the English league playing full time. So that just shows how much it's grown. I've just had a great experience going abroad and you can see the different styles, different philosophies, what other countries implement. It's helped me become a more well-rounded player." Amongst those travels were three summers spent with Ottawa Fury in the W-League from 2007. "I loved my experience in Ottawa," she continued. "It was during Oregon State, so with the nature of having the summer off and the W-League, they sort of go hand in hand. I played most summers in college. It's better than taking the summer off and doing my own running, so I just decided to play W-League. "My first time doing it was with the Boston Renegades and it was just from there. The next summer Ottawa had contacted me. I think we had played them the year before and I'd heard that it was a good set up, so I gave it a go and it was a really, really good organisation. "I can say it was one of the better organisations I've been involved in, in terms of the clubs I've played for in the past. I loved it. It was really good. I've played, I think, three summers total there. It was just a great way to stay fit during the summer. Obviously it's amateur status, but professional standards. That's what I loved about it." She's used to Canadian crowds cheering for her, but on Saturday she's going to have over 53,000 cheering against her in Vancouver. On such a big occasion, for both countries the crowd could be a big factor. Both sets of players are used to playing in front of big crowds, but Taylor feels that the massively pro-Canadian crowd could actually be an advantage to the English in terms of the pressure they will provide to the home nation. "We've kind of discussed it," Taylor admits. "Obviously we know it's going to be a huge factor, the crowd. When you compare it to being from England, and it's a real football culture and you've got a real football crowd. Even experiencing men's football, I don't think the Canadians, and no disrespect to Canadians, but as a nature, as the game goes on, they don't really cheer and support at the right time. Now, before Canadians are up in arms. She has a point. You see it at MLS games and you've seen it in this tournament. Even last Sunday, the BC Place was loud, at times. On other occasions they fell quiet and the whole tension of the occasion seemed to set the mood for a large patch in the middle of the match. "They cheer and do different things that probably we would expect to see," Taylor continued. "I think it will be a little erratic to be honest, but we're expecting that. The crowd may cheer at something which maybe a normal crowd wouldn't cheer at or go silent when a normal, experienced crowd would probably help. "I think it's one of those, we've just got to take it as it comes. We do have experience playing front of a big crowd. We played at Wembley in November, which was a huge occasion for us. "But on the plus side, knowing the pressure on us in that game at Wembley, you can flip that around and say well the pressure's massively going to be on Canada and it has been. You can see it throughout the tournament. The pressure's been on them the whole time and it's only going to get more for them, so we can kind of take that as an advantage to us."
  4. Wirth graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program last summer, having joined the program in 2011. With many USSDA and PDL games now behind him, he headed to Oregon State University. Initially sharing starts in his rookie year with Junior keeper Matt Bersano, Wirth played five games, four of them starts. Despite winning three games, allowing just three goals and keeping two clean sheets, the Beavers coach decided to stick with the more experienced Bersano for the remainder of the season. It's hard to knock that decision as the Beavers made it to the postseason for the first time since 2003 but with Wirth used to splitting time with the Residency teams these past few years, and seeing regular gametime, being completely kept on the bench for the remainder of the season must have been a bit of an adjustment. Still, that's the life of college soccer, so onwards and upwards. Bersano has now moved on from Oregon, turning down a pro contract with RSL's USL side Real Monarchs to go to grad school at Penn State. His departure will hopefully open more doors and opportunities for Wirth with the Beavers in his sophomore season. He has a great chance to establish himself now as Oregon's number one keeper and the signs during OSU's spring schedule seemed to indicate he would be. "I'm looking very positive for that looking ahead," Wirth told AFTN recently. "Hopefully I'm going to be the guy and we can make it to the tournament again." With just 405 minutes of action logged last year at Oregon, Wirth made the decision to keep himself busy, fit and sharp during the college offseason by heading back to play some PDL this summer. With the Caps U23's team no more, Wirth has headed east to join Calgary Foothills in their inaugural PDL season, where he's splitting the goalkeeping duties with fellow Whitecaps Residency alumni, Sean Melvin. There's a couple of other Caps connections too, with Residency graduate Tim Hickson and Sam Adekugbe's brother Elijah also on the Foothills roster. When we spoke with Nolan a couple of months ago, the original plan was to play with Vancouver Victory in Washington's Evergreen League, but he's made one appearance for Calgary so far, in last Sunday's 2-2 draw with Washington Crossfire. "It's just to get some more game time," Wirth told us back in March. "But in the summer I will be training with the Whitecaps again and then going whenever I'm able to get some time in, just for game time." Wirth was recently back in Vancouver, playing in goal for the Beavers in March's friendly between OSU and WFC2. Oregon were on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat that day but for Wirth, it was just nice to be back and catch up with some old friends. "It felt good," he told us. "It felt good to come back to where I started. I obviously know a handful of the guys on the WFC2 team, so that always just gets me riled up to play because you want to play against your friends that you grew up with." And a lot of those friends have also been his teammates on the Canadian national team these past few years. Wirth was one of nine Whitecaps Residency products on Canada's 20-man roster for the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica in January. Canada may not have had much success in what were the qualifiers for the recent U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, crashing out in the group stages after a strong start, but on a personal level, the tournament was a success for Wirth, who got the nod over his fellow Residency alumni Marco Carducci in three of the five group games. As disappointing as the tournament was, Wirth feels that the Canadian team can still take positives from it. "I felt that there were lots of lessons that we all took from the whole tournament. I feel it was just a building point and everybody needs to look forward from that." It certainly feels like too talented a group not to go on and do well for the national team at the next level these coming years. As for Wirth's plans for his own footballing future, with the Whitecaps maintaining his MLS right and with the new pro pathway of WFC2 in USL, is that enough to see him come out of college early? That's a decision still yet to be made. "I'm kind of just taking it year by year," he told us. "I'm going to keep that bridge with the Whitecaps and keep all my options open."
  5. 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.
  6. The Uruguayan has had a tough start to his MLS career. Rodriguez joined Vancouver on a one-year loan with a transfer option from Primera Division side Club Atlético Juventud de Las Piedras in January. Beaten out of a starting spot in the preseason by veteran Pa Modou Kah, the centre back made his MLS debut with a start against Orlando City in the third week of the season. Rodriguez played well in the 1-0 win and many, ourselves included, felt that he immediately formed a formidable centre back pairing with Kendall Waston. It looked like they could be the partnership to move the club forward but unfortunately he was to pick up a two game ban for his now infamous grabbing of Aurelien Collin's balls during the second half of the match. After sitting out the wins against Portland and LA, Rodriguez immediately came back into the starting line-up to face Columbus on April 8th. His MLS woes were to continue, however, limping off in the 15th minute with a right quad strain. It was a tough setback for a 22-year-old starting off life in a new country and league. He worked hard to get back fit, but just when he was close to a return he suffered a heartbreaking relapse in training and was carted off in tears. You really had to feel for him and what it meant to him to get fit enough to play for his new club. The whole time that Rodriguez has been rehabbing, the Whitecaps defence has had mixed results. On the whole, pretty solid but with some lapses and the play of Kah can be something of an adventure at times. The good news for Rodriguez and the Whitecaps is that he is now back healthy and raring to go. He scored a wonderful long range goal at training last week that beat David Ousted all ends up, leaving the Dane waxing lyrical about the strike. "It was tough for me because I was in a good moment," Rodriguez admitted to AFTN. "Then I had the injury and came back and then had a step back, but now I feel very good. The turf sometimes means adapting but now I'm very healthy, I'm very good and ready to play." Which is what everyone connected with the Whitecaps wanted to hear. 'Caps coach Carl Robinson indicated that Rodriguez would get a run out for the USL side on Sunday to test his readiness and we're pleased to confirm that he came through it with flying colours. Rodriguez played 64 minutes for WFC2, looked comfortable and was rarely troubled at the back, while coming close with a header and looking a danger at set pieces in the opponent's box. The Uruguayan was delighted to come through the outing unscathed in what is the final step to his recovery and being back in the MSL reckoning. "I feel very good," Rodriguez told us after the match. "It was a good game, it's a good group and we wanted to win. I felt very comfortable on the field and felt very happy. "First up was this moment, that I passed, but now I feel very good. and looking forward to playing." Rodriguez captained the young 'Caps on Sunday and the experience and professionalism he brought to the squad over the weekend delighted head coach Alan Koch, who was delighted to see the Uruguayan back to full fitness. "It's huge [having Rodriguez in the WFC2 team]," Koch told us after the match. "Diego's a class act. He's a true professional. He came and trained with us yesterday for the first time. He jumped in right away. He embraced everybody and he got to know [the squad]. He didn't know some of the guy's names yesterday when he got there. But he was asking guy's names, he got to know them. "You could see today that he wanted to play the full 90 odd minutes but we were told to play him the 60 odd. He put in a quality performance." Rodriguez knows it's not simply a case of waltzing straight back into the 'Caps starting line up in MLS. Competition is fierce in the centre back position right now, with Kah having ups and downs, Waston close to suspension and Tim Parker and Christian Dean both pushing hard to get minutes. It's that competition that's driving Rodriguez on, however. "It's like an internal competition that we have," Rodriguez added. "We have great players, but it's good for us because we're pushing up the levels. When the coach needs me, I'll be ready. I'm very comfortable here, very happy and it's a great group." So just how ready is he? He certainly looked comfortable against Real Monarchs and felt no adverse effects or pain during the match. A great sign and great news. Robinson may feel that he needs another USL match next weekend against Arizona United to get back to full match fitness, but he may find himself on the bench to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday first, with an eye to getting minutes in the horrific five games on the road that the 'Caps have coming up. Whatever plans Robinson has for him, he'll be good to go. "I work every day," Rodriguez said. "I have to thank all the medical staff that have worked with me and all the guys for the support and my family. They're all together for me. When the coach needs me. I will be ready." Despite the trials and tribulations he's had during the start of his MLS career, Rodriguez is loving his time in the city and with the Whitecaps. He loves Vancouver and despite it being hard watching games from the sidelines these past few weeks, he's been very impressed with what he's seen of Major League Soccer so far. "I've enjoyed the games," Rodriguez told us. "MLS is a great league. There's great stadiums, great players. I feel very comfortable here. The club here is great and all the fans. It's different but on the field it's all the same. Eleven versus eleven and we do the best to win." The Whitecaps certainly need to get back to winning ways with a tough five game road stretch coming up. Having Diego Rodriguez back in the mix should definitely help.
  7. "He's the best," Robinson said bluntly when asked by reporters this week what makes Arena so successful. "You can talk about young coaches coming through and all that but he wins things. He gets the best out of his group of players. He's got some fantastic players to choose from by the way. "If you win and you've got good players and you're able to manage them and consistently do it, not just one year, but consistently do it, arguably you're the best. And he is the best. The way he conducts himself, the way he manages himself, the way he manages his players. To all of us young, aspiring coaches, he's the model that you want in North America. So as I said, I just think he's the godfather." This may read a little strange to some. Why is Robinson bigging up his opponent ahead of the game? Is he maybe too much in awe of him and sees him as invincible you may wonder? Far from it. Robbo's made it very clear on numerous occasions that he wants both himself and his team tested against the best. It's simply respect of his experience and his achievements in the game. "Bruce and Sigi [schmid] are arguably the two best managers in the league without a doubt," Robinson told AFTN when we spoke to him about this just before the season started. "I enjoy pitting my wits against those two guys when we come up against each other. I'm sure people will tell you that I still haven't beaten Bruce Arena yet, which is great because hopefully we'll get a couple of cracks at him this year. But he also wants to learn. And games like this weekend's one against LA are part of where he does that. As is sitting down and chatting with the likes of Arena on occasion to pick his brains. "I've sat down with him a couple of times," Robinson told reporters this week. "Is he going to give me all of his secrets? No, he's not. But the way he puts his teams out is very organised, but he's got good players and consistently got good players. "When the end of a season comes and you win a championship, and hopefully one day we will get there, it's important that you build again. And what he's managed to find the art of is strengthening his group when he loses players, but not having a detrimental effect on the group because they're always in the MLS Cup final." That's exactly where Robinson wants to be with the Whitecaps. Every manager does obviously, but the 'Caps coach sees the work he is putting in now and the building process that he has underway as stepping stones to that ultimate goal. And he has a firm belief that that day will come for Vancouver. "Do I think I can win MLS? I'm sure you've got 20 odd managers that think they can win MLS Cup," Robinson told us preseason. "The reality is, the same guy's won it three years out of four and he's probably the best one, but you never say never." LA and Seattle have been dominant forces in MLS, particularly in the Western Conference, these past few years. It's no surprise as they are led by the two coaches with the most wins in MLS history in Arena and Sigi Schmid. The pair of sexagenarians are the MLS old guard. How many more years they have in them is impossible to say. Bobby Robson was 71-years-old when he was sacked as Newcastle boss in 2004. Arena is 63 right now and Schmid has just turned 62. Orlando City manager Adrian Heath is the next oldest coach in the league at 54, with Frank Yallop the only other coach to be 50+ and he just squeaks in. The future of MLS is going to be as a young coaches league and that future is pretty much already here. Of the 20 head coaches in MLS, 11 of them are aged 42 or under, with five of them still in their 30s [Also interestingly, only four of the 20 have no experience of playing in MLS]. Robinson falls into that last category. At age 38 he is the third youngest coach in Major League soccer right now. Only Philadelphia's Jim Curtin (35) and DC's Ben Olsen (37) are younger. As far as Robinson is concerned, it's easy to see why this is the case. He feels that Major League Soccer is the perfect breeding ground for young coaches to cut their managerial teeth and applauds the league for going in that direction. "What MLS does, is it gives opportunities for young coaches, their first proper job," Robinson told AFTN. "A common fact in England is that around 80% of first time managers never get employed again in Europe and in England especially because they're not right and they're not ready and they don't succeed in their first job. "MLS is fantastic at giving young coaches opportunities and you've got to be ready for it. You've got to take your chance because it's easy to blame someone else if you don't take the opportunity and grab it with both hands. But you're only going to do it with hard work. You can't get lucky. Sometimes people get lucky, but in the end you get found out, so I'm grateful to MLS for giving me this opportunity." Coaching was always in Robinson's plans for when his playing days came to an end. He's envisaged a bit of a slower route, with a longer spell as an assistant before taking on his own managerial reigns, but now that he's there, he's most certainly done what he says above and grabbed that opportunity by the throat. And he's enjoying every minute of it so far. "I always planned on doing it when I moved over in 2007," he told us. "To coach here, to be an assistant for a number of years but also to be a manger. Other questions get asked of me. Am I happy? I love MLS. It's brilliant. "The league's growing, the players are growing. The standard of coaches has to get better because the quality of players are getting better, the league attendances are rising, the TV attendances are going through the roof. More people are watching it, so we have to get better and that's generally across the board. Anyone who doesn't think they do are in the wrong job." So is there a little bit of correlation in the fact that the young manager is building a squad of young talent? And after being given an opportunity himself, he's keen to give his own young players their shot and their chance to prove themselves? "Football's about proving people wrong, as I say to my group of players," Robinson told us. "The thing about this game is that no-one's right and no-one's wrong and everyone has an opinion, but the one thing you get to do is you have the opportunity to prove to people how good a player you are. Not reading about how good you are. Actually showing people how good you are. "I did get the job last year. Whatever people's thoughts were on it, it was irrelevant to me. I knew what I wanted to do and I know what I needed to do, and I took the opportunity with both hands. "Now, a year down the line, I've still got a lot of progression with my development. I still analyze myself. I still work hard. In fact, I work even harder this year than I did last year because I know now how to prioritize what needs to be done in the short and medium term. There's a plan in place."
  8. Washington Huskies goalkeeper Richey was widely tipped to be taken pretty early on in the draft, but as things played out, the Whitecaps were able to get him with the penultimate pick of the third round, 61st overall. "I spent five years down at the University of Washington," Richey told AFTN. "It was an awesome experience. I'm super thankful for the staff and what that program did for me and for my soccer abilities especially. "Going in to the draft I didn't have a ton of idea where I was going to end up, which was kind of part of the fun of it." The fact that it ended up being the Whitecaps that selected him came a something of a surprise to Richey. The 'Caps hadn't been one of the clubs that had shown interest in him going in to the draft, although they had previously brought him up to Vancouver for some training time. "I came up here a few years back, right when Marius [Rovde] got here, but the rest of the staff wasn't here yet. So that was the only history or kind of communication. That was the last time I spoke to them, so it was a bit of a surprise in a totally positive, good way. "Just getting to know the technical staff and the guys and even going down to getting to know the equipment guys and the medical staff. They've all been super helpful and all seem like good guys, so I'm really enjoying it so far." After a string of strong showings with an increasingly successful Washington side in NCAA, which saw them ranked number one in the nation for a time last year, a pro career was always looking on the cards for Richey. He'd represented the US at both U17 and U20 level and had played at the 2009 U17 World Cup. Things were looking rosy, but it wasn't to prove to be a smooth journey for the young keeper, as a leg break four games into his senior season with the Huskies derailed plans. Richey was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2013 NCAA season, as the Huskies made it to the Elite 8 stage of the College Cup, only to be knocked out by Ben McKendry's New Mexico Lobos, in a game that saw the Residency alumni, and now teammate of Richey, score the only goal of the game on a bitterly cold December night in Seattle. Richey watched from the sidelines as he continued to recover from his injury, and he was soon faced with a tough decision. Did he head into the 2014 MLS SuperDraft as planned or go for a redshirt season and repeat his senior year? The lure of the pros and still entering the draft crossed his mind, but in the end he decided that wouldn't be the best move for his future career. "I thought about it," Richey admits. "Jamie Clark, our head coach down there, is big on evaluating all your options. We sat down and chatted about it. I actually got invited to the combine, even though I was nowhere near healthy enough to participate in it. So it was something we thought about. "But, especially as a goalkeeper, you're not in a big hurry to get to the next level. You're not in a race against your prime so to speak. With a goalkeeper you've got a little bit of a longer career, barring injuries and things like that. We thought it was the right choice to come back and rehab properly and play my 5th year down there and I'm glad I did." All that's in the past and Richey's professional career is now underway in Vancouver and it was evident from the early days of preseason camp that not only had the Whitecaps acquired a talent, they liked what they saw. Richey was officially added to the WFC2 roster last week and will now battle it out with Carducci for starting minutes in USL this season. The Whitecaps are keen for both keepers to fight it out, and constantly push and test each other throughout the season. It's likely that they'll each share significant playing time between themselves. Heading into his first pro environment, it's a challenge Richey is looking forward to and one which he feels will be beneficial to both keepers and the 'Caps in the long run. "It's something we've talked about and from the sounds of it, Marco and I will be down there quite a bit together," Richey revealed. "From everything I've understood, they think the best goalkeeper will play, which is awesome to hear. Coming in as a new guy, all you want is a shot to compete and a shot at playing time. "Marco's a really quality goalkeeper, especially for how young he is, so I've been pretty impressed by him. It'll be fun competing for minutes and I'm sure it will make us both better." Richey's journey to the Whitecaps is an interesting one, especially as landing in Vancouver now puts him in the unique situation of playing for all three Cascadian clubs. A Seattle native, Richey turned out for the Sounders in PDL action in 2010 and 2011, before heading south to play for the Portland Timbers U23 side in 2012, where he played alongside Erik Hurtado, in front of some large crowds. He's now completed the Cascadia trifecta. "It's kind of funny," Richey told us. "At my school we had four guys that went pro this past year. Two to Seattle, one to Portland and one to Vancouver, so that was kind of a crazy coincidence. I've had a fun ride these past five, six years. Kind of bouncing around. I'm trying to get different experiences. "Down in Portland, it was an awesome summer. Probably my best PDL experience. They take it really seriously and it's a good program down there. It's pretty wild [with the crowds they draw]. You wouldn't know it was a PDL game unless someone told you. Like I said, trying to get as many different experiences, in as many different environments as possible, can only help in the long run." Different, but similar environments, for after being born and raised in Seattle, Richey has found himself not having to travel too far in his playing career so far. Now, after bouncing around the PDL scene in the Pacific Northwest, where he also had a season with Washington Crossfire, Richey begins his footballing journey in the pros still in Cascadia. With all the uncertainty of draft day and where he might end up, it must have been a nice feeling for him to know that he was about to begin the new chapter in his life not too far from family, friends and familiar surroundings, instead of having to up sticks and move to the other side of the country. "It's one of those things that whichever team takes you, you're stoked about it because that's the team that's giving you your shot before anybody else is," Richey told us. "But obviously being close to home, it's fun to be able to, on an off day, sometimes make a trip down and back. It's fun to see the family and what not. "But it's also fun to go to a new city and kind of get out of my own back yard. It's a good balance of both, where I can visit now and then, but it's fun to be in a new adventure, a new area." Richey's enjoying his new life in Canada, but he's also enjoying continuing to hone his craft in a professional footballing environment. He may have only been here for a few weeks so far, but he feels that what he's learned in that time from David Ousted and Whitecaps goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde has been invaluable and already improved his game. "It's one thing that's fun about sports overall, but goalkeeping especially, everyone does it a little bit different," Richey said. "So it's fun training with different goalies and different nationalities from other parts of the world. Everyone plays a little different. "David's been super helpful to me and Marius as well. I've kind of taken bits and pieces, a page from their book, a page from his book, and not totally changing what you do but little things that can help you along the line. Both of them have already given me quite a few pointers that have helped me out. It's a different game up here, so there's definitely parts of my game that I need to adjust to make sure I can play at this level." And has Ousted been teaching him to scream at his defenders?! "He is!" Richey laughed. "But that's honestly probably one area that I need to get better at. I'm kind of a, not necessarily a quieter guy at heart, but I'm not much of a yeller. At times, it's absolutely necessary to be a yeller, to wake some guys up if their off to a slow start. That's one of the things, one of many, that I can take from David and those older guys." With the preseason now over for WFC2, the challenge of their inaugural USL season begins down in Richey's hometown of Seattle on Sunday. It'll be a long and tough season ahead, but it's one Richey feels the Whitecaps are heading in to in good shape for success. "The one thing we know is that we've got tons of talent, tons of good players," Richey said. "The chemistry will come. It's tough cos one of the benefits of having a USL team is that it's right in your back yard, so the MLS players, it's easy for them to swing back and forth. But the downside of that is that the full roster isn't there all the time, so it's coming and going. I think that will be the biggest challenge for us. "Regardless of what roster is out there on a given weekend, and I'm sure it will be changing all the time, the more training and the more we can get out of the games that we do play together, from a comfort standpoint, will be the biggest challenge. The players are there and the talent is there, so we've got high hopes and we'll be competitive."
  9. Serban's rise within the Whitecaps has been swift. The defender came to the 'Caps Residency program in February last year, becoming an immediate starter and going on to make 15 appearances for the U18s in USSDA action. After an early playoff exit, Serban made the step up to the Whitecaps PDL side, making a further 11 appearances for the Caps. An obvious talent, the next stage of his development was always going to be key and Serban chose to head down the college route with UBC Thunderbirds, before returning to the 'Caps fold as one of the first signings on the new WFC2 roster. "It's very exciting, for sure," Serban told AFTN when we caught up with him at WFC2 training recently. "I know the Whitecaps are an excellent organisation and with this USL team it provides me with an extra opportunity to develop and improve my game and hopefully raise my game to try and get to the MLS level. So I'm definitely excited to sign for USL and I'm looking forward to this season." Serban is certainly an exciting prospect and one to keep an eye on this coming season and he could be one of the breakout guys. Moving up from the youth ranks is always a defining time for young players as they face an older and often more physical environment. You can never be 100% certain just who will make it, but Serban has already acquitted himself well at PDL (U23) and college level. The full back impressed during his freshman year at UBC, making 16 appearances in a very stingy Thunderbirds defence. It earned him CIS "Rookie of the Year" honours and put him firmly on the radar for the Canadian national team. UBC coach Mike Mosher told AFTN last year that Serban had been "absolutely terrific" since coming in to the team and the program and he hopes to work with him for many years to come, which we'll come to later. But despite earning all the plaudits, Serban admits it was an adjustment moving up to that next level. "It was challenging," Serban told us. "It's definitely more aggressive and I had to step up my physicality. That's been pretty much the biggest difference I've seen, plus attention to detail. Always being switched on. The speed of play is really quick." Part of that challenge was adjusting to a new role, for while Serban had been playing right back for the Whitecaps Residency, he slotted into the left back position at UBC. Different, but he feels comfortable playing in either of the full back positions. "I don't mind. If it's on my left, I don't care, I'll hit it with my left. It doesn't really make a difference to me." And it certainly didn't look like it made any difference out on the pitch. Having that versatility is a useful string to have to his bow, as the likes of Russell Teibert has shown with the Whitecaps first team these past couple of seasons. The more positions you can play, the more it bodes well for your involvement with the team. "It definitely does," Serban agreed. "Because you never know with injuries and what we'll have during the game with substitutions. If the coach needs me to go to the left side or the right side, I don't mind. I'll play anywhere that I need to be. I'm just happy to be on the field." The Whitecaps had been monitoring Serban's progress closely at UBC during his rookie season, with the young defender emailing reports after every game around how he did, and where and how much he'd played. The 'Caps clearly liked what they saw and with their new USL team finally sorted, Serban became one of the first six players added to the inaugural WFC2 roster. Leaving college early to head to the pro ranks is always a tough decision for a young player, especially when you look at the numbers that then go on to make it in the game. In Serban's case, however, it was a decision made a lot easier not only by the fact that he has history with the club, but because he's not actually leaving UBC or the Thunderbirds to join WFC2. "It wasn't a hard decision because I'd been with the Residency Whitecaps," Serban told us. "Now to move on to the next stage of the Whitecaps is definitely a great opportunity for me. At the same time, I can still continue playing for UBC once the USL season is done because CIS eligibility is not like NCAA." It's the perfect arrangement and one which could see a number of top young Canadian players in the future shunning the American collegiate system to stay within the CIS one in Canada. They then have the best of both worlds as they try and make a go of it in the pro ranks, while getting an education at the same time. That's not to say that it will be easy to juggle school with travelling all over North America. Serban is still in his first year at UBC, studying business. He'll treat the rest of this year as a gauge as to how he'll progress with that balance going forward. "I'm currently still enrolled and doing courses and coming to training every day and working hard here," Serban said. "Next year I'll probably lighten the course load if I'm going to continue here because it'll get difficult. "It's good because I can continue slowly with my degree and continue working hard with my soccer and hopefully making it one day to MLS." That work ethic and desire to continue to learn and develop has impressed the Whitecaps, but it also was part of the reason that Rob Gale decided to bring Serban into the Canadian U20 set-up. Serban was called into the Canada camp for three friendlies in November, coming on as a sub against England before starting against Russia and the US in the right back position. Gale liked what he saw and Serban was not only named in Canada's squad for the FIFA U20 World Cup qualifiers in Jamaica in January, he started and played the full 90 minutes in all five games. "He's done very very well with us," Gale said of Serban on a recent conference call with media. "He's had the experience in Europe. He's a talented lad, he's a good one v one defender and he's proved himself that he can handle the international matches. "As a full back, first and foremost, you have to be a good one v one defender and I think he's got that. He's a good game player. He raises himself to the occasion. He can also use the ball very well. He seems level headed. Nothing seems to phase him on or off of the field, which I like. He's composed on the ball. He's good quality." While Canada may like to go with players from Unattached FC and the odd NCAA player like Cyle Larin, you don't often see CIS players getting a look, and Serban admits that the initial call and inclusion in the Canadian squad came as something of a surprise. "It definitely did a little," Serban admitted. "I got an email asking me to sign some Canadian Association form. I wasn't too sure what this all meant but when they called me for my first camp I knew I had to work hard and take the opportunity given, because it was short and not too long before the World Cup qualifying. I was definitely surprised but I tried to take the opportunity as best as I could." As great an opportunity as it was, the qualifying campaign ended poorly as we all sadly know. "The experience was great," Serban told us. "Getting to work with all those great coaches. Rob Gale, Ante Jazic and Paul Stalteri. They had a whole staff that prepared us really well for every game and they put a lot of detail in to it. The teams we played against were all fantastic teams, so it was definitely a challenge. We knew we had to step our game up. Obviously it didn't work out too well but it was a great experience. It's just too bad that we couldn't qualify." As disappointing as it was, and still it, Serban and the rest of the players will learn from it and hopefully he's starting off on a road to successes with the Whitecaps. Serban's had an interesting footballing journey. He moved to Calgary with his family from Romania at the age of two and by the age of 12 was already shining at provincial youth level in Alberta. The European connection helped him secure several training stints in Spain, Germany and Romania and a lot of what he learned there has helped shape his game and work ethic today. "It definitely helped improve my game," Serban told us about what those European experiences taught and meant to him. "What I noticed there compared to when I was training here when I was younger, was that over there, every session they go 100% working hard. When I was younger here, the training sessions were taking it a little easier and then in games going flat out. "So it definitely helped seeing how the players went 100% every practice and that definitely helped improve me and my game, going every practice full on and then that transfers into the game." But after all his travels, Vancouver is now Serban's new home, albeit one with several familiar faces. Playing his youth soccer in Calgary with the Chinooks, Serban was a teammate with Marco Carducci and regularly played against Jackson Farmer, Mitch Piraux and Sam Adekugbe. Having those guys around him again in WFC2 (and previously with the Residency) and the Canadian team has helped him settle in and it's a like a home from home for all the guys. All of which will help the team in the long run. "It feels great," Serban said. "When I was younger I played with Carducci on the same team and against Mitch, Jackson, Sam as well. It's just great to come in here and know all these players. They definitely helped me feel welcome right away. It just felt that I meshed in with the group quicker." It's the kind of chemistry that will give WFC2 a little edge over some of the more experienced and older teams at times this season. It's quite the Calgary connection and you wouldn't bet against seeing all of them again on the Whitecaps MLS squad in the future either.
  10. Rosenlund has spent the past five years in the league with Rochester Rhinos, scoring 11 goals in 124 matches for the USL side. He knows the league. He knows the teams and style of play required to do well in it. It's an important pieceto have in the inexperienced WFC2 locker room and a key reason as to why Koch has brought him home to the Whitecaps. "I don't know the exact reasons, but I'm pretty sure that that was one of the reasons that Alan brought me in," Rosenlund told AFTN. "I was on a young team last year with Rochester, I captained the side. I've been in the league five years, I've played professionally seven years now. I feel like I can help the young guys. "This league is obviously below MLS, but there's some good teams in this league with men. So hopefully I can give some leadership and expertise on how teams play and hopefully I'm able to help the younger guys out." Born and raised in Port Coquitlam, Rosenlund was named BC 'Soccer Athlete of the Year' in 2003 before making the move to the NCAA with Santa Barbara Gauchos. After leaving school early he plied his trade in Sweden, Toronto and Rochester, and apart from a brief recent stint with Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) side Surrey United Firefighters, this will be Rosenlund's first chance to play for a team in his home province. But he's finally home. "It's an awesome feeling," Rosenlund told us about the opportunity be back playing in BC. "I haven't played at home since I was basically 17, 18. I was in school in Santa Barbara for three years, then Sweden for a year, then Toronto for a year, then the last five in Rochester. It's definitely good to be in your back yard for family and friends." Rosenlund now returns home with a wealth of experience under his belt, including a season in MLS with Toronto FC in 2008 which saw him make eight appearances and play 347 minutes for the club, three of them starts, scoring in the 3-1 home loss to Chivas that September. So what was it that's brought him back to Vancouver now at this stage of his career? "I'm a little older now," Rosenlund said. "I was at Rochester the last five years and I kind of thought it was time to try and come home, especially with Vancouver Whitecaps having a USL team now. The opportunity came up so that I could play here and I wanted to be close to family and friends. "I know it's going to be a young team. I'm 28 now. I feel like I can give some experience to the younger guys and hopefully pass some wisdom on to them." You don't really want to call a 28-year-old a veteran, but he is certainly the old guy on the team! It's a role that Rosenlund is comfortable with, but just what kind of playing role can we expect to see from him this season? "I generally play central midfielder, holding, box to box, anything like that," Rosenlund told us. "It's only a week in, so I have no idea what my actual role will be but whatever it is, I'm up for it and just really excited for the season to get going to be honest." Although it hasn't been officially confirmed, one role Rosenlund will almost certainly have is that of being the WFC2 captain. He wore the armband when he came on for the second half in the team's first preseason friendly against UBC on Monday night. It's still very early days in the camp. The players are still getting to know each other and how everyone plays, but from what Rosenlund has seen so far, and from his experience in the league, Rosenlund has no doubts that this Whitecaps team has what it take to compete with the best teams in USL. "I think we'll do well. Technically, I think we'll be one of the better teams in the league. LA Galaxy II were the first MLS team to have a team last year. They're all very technically gifted and they were a very tough team to play. "This league generally is very athletic, very high paced, high pressure, so if we're able to pass the ball away if we can around this pressure then I think we'll do very well. With a young team, playing against men at set pieces will be a big thing that we'll have to work on, but the talent's definitely there." Talent and the opportunity now to display it at a top level. It's certainly a different footballing environment for young Canadian players to that faced by Rosenlund as a 17-year-old in 2004. Taking the college route as your next development step as a youth player brings mixed reactions from fans and pundits alike these days. But there weren't all that many other options floating about back then for talented young players in BC. For Rosenlund, heading to NCAA with Santa Barbara was the best thing he could have done, as not only did it help hone his skills, it also saw him get a good grounding for the professional game due to the crowds that the Californian university draws (see our GROUNDHOPPING feature on Santa Barbara for more details) and the atmosphere and pressure that comes with that. "The experience there was unbelievable," Rosenlund enthused. "Going in, I was lucky and fortunate that there were two other BC boys that went down with me, Myles Davis and Andrew Proctor. "I'd watched college games before and each team maybe got 1000 to 2000 fans. When I was recruited, they had no football team, the basketball team wasn't very good at that point when I was there, so soccer was really the main team and we got between 4000 and 7 to 8000 a game. It was kind of the thing to do at the school, to go and watch the games. "And playoff games, in 2004, my freshman year, we hosted an Elite 8 game and there was 15000 so that was a surreal experience. It definitely prepared me for the pro ranks." Rosenlund's rookie season with the Gauchos was something special as Santa Barbara defied the odds to make it to the 2004 NCAA College Cup Championship game against Indiana. With the teams tied at 1-1 after extra time, the game headed to a penalty shootout. The Gauchos lost it 3-2, to a Hoosier side with the soon-to-be Whitecaps legend Jay Nolly in goal, obviously wearing his magic hat even back then and coming up with two big saves. A tough loss to take but almost as unexpectedly, the Gauchos bounced back and two years later an unseeded Santa Barbara and Rosenlund got to lift College Cup silverware following a 2-1 win over UCLA in the Championship game. Rosenlund provided the assist on the first goal and also saw an effort crash off the post. It was an occasion that will always live with him and the whole experience down in Santa Barbara is one that he feels set up his pro career perfectly. "Losing in the final that year on penalty kicks was heartbreaking," Rosenlund told us. "I was kind of told that that's probably not going to happen again, making the final. Then two years later we kept a lot of the guys and we won it in 2006. "We hosted another Elite 8 game that year and there was 15000, so it definitely helped playing in front of people. It's one thing when you're playing in front of 10,20 people. You're not scared to make a mistake. When you're playing in front of 10 or 15000 people, it's a little more pressure when you get the ball in your end and you give the ball away. "It's a little different but it definitely prepared me a bit for the pro game. I had a surreal experience there. It was definitely a good experience." Whether Rosenlund would have had that experience had a MLS/USL style set-up existed in 2004, no-one can say. The college option would still have existed, but the lure of playing pro with your hometown team would always have been strong. All he knows is that he wished such a set up had been in place when he made the move to MLS with TFC in 2008. "This is great for the young guys," Rosenlund said of the current set-up. "When I was at Toronto, there was nothing like this. 30 guys on a squad, so unless there was an injury, you really had no chance to play. This is a great opportunity for them." Opportunities will certainly knock for all the young guys on the WFC2 squad this season and Rosenlund has seen what a springboard USL can be for the players that perform, especially those on the MLS roster who drop down to get gametime. His advice to all of his new young teammates is to go out there and make a name for themselves. "The best example is a couple of years ago Dom Dwyer was on loan from Kansas City with Orlando" he added. "He wasn't going to get a chance with the first team, he came in and scored 17 or 18 goals and now he's starting for Kansas City and might even be getting called into the US team soon. So it's definitely a very good chance for these young guys to show the Whitecaps and the league how they can play." And what of Rosenlund himself? Does he still harbour hopes of playing in Major League Soccer again one day? At his age, he feels it's unlikely, but never say never. "Any pro wants to play at the highest level that they can play at," he readily admits. "Obviously if I got asked to go up, I would definitely say yes. Any professional would. But I know at my age it probably won't happen but you never know, right. I'm just going to come out every day and do my best. "You never know what can happen. I think at this point, for soccer, 28 is considered old but I feel that I'm in the prime of my career. I feel like I'm smarter than I was a few year ago. I'm still fit. I feel that I can definitely play at this level so you never know. We'll see what happens."
  11. This article is now located in full at AFTN's standalone site, http://aftn.ca/canadian-u18-international-dario-zanatta-leaves-whitecaps-to-explore-opportunities-in-europe-i-didnt-want-to-miss-out-on-the-opportunities-i-have-now/
  12. "The group are very lively, they've very competitive," Robinson told reporters after training on Thursday. "They're disagreeing on certain things, which is good, but they're talking and when you have a young group of players it's important that they communicate with each other respectfully. "We're coming along slowly, but nicely. If we can add one or two more into the picture then that will help us as well." So just how close or how far away are the Whitecaps from where he wants them to be right now? "I'm probably never where I want to be, in relation to the group and how good we can be," Robinson told us. "I don't think any football manager, unless he wins the Champions League, will ever say he will be. "Are we in a much better place this year than we were last year? 100%. Without a doubt. We're more organised, we're more planned. Most of the group have come back this year as well. We've added key additions, which is always important, but we've kept the core group together. "So we're not far away. Will we be up to speed come the first game of the season? No, we won't be 100% fit but we weren't last year and we managed to get off to a good start, so we are working towards that. When we will reach peak fitness, I don't know. Will there be more additions, yes, there certainly will. When? I don't know, but we're always a work in progress." The Whitecaps featured four trialists down for their first preseason trip of the year down in Tucson a couple of weeks ago. Although there will be some new faces down in Oregon as well, it's not likely to be ones in the first team reckoning. "There's a couple of guys coming in, basically to have a look at them for the USL team, so we'll add a few numbers there," Robinson said. "There's no-one really on trial at the moment that I'm looking at for the first team because the guys I maybe have on our radar, you won't be able to get on trial." No-one apart from Robert Earnshaw that is. The Welshman is the only Tucson trialist to have stuck around. As he told us last week, he'd love to call Vancouver his new home and impart some of his knowledge onto a young Whitecaps' strikeforce, but as with many things in MLS when it comes to contracts, things are not just that easy. "There's been communication between me and Earnie every day," Robinson is happy to admit. "There's a number of factors that come in to that. There's what's our priority position and I think you know we've got another priority position first, which will depend on how much money we leave open for another spot, but also the CBA. "We don't know what's going to happen there with the cap and things like that, so we'll just keep it open-minded about that, but the communication happens every day. Until we need to make a decision, or he needs to make a decision, then we'll keep it moving forward." The priority position that Robinson talks about is that of the left wing. The Whitecaps have no real natural left winger. Sure they have a number of players than can play there, like Nicolas Mezquida, Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks, but that role is not a natural one, or a preferred one, for any of those guys. Although he won't come right out and say it, you can tell that Robinson would love to have the chance to keep an experienced player, and a proven goalscorer, like Earnshaw around if he can make it happen within the salary cap. To fill the left wing role with the calibre of player that Robinson wants will take money. To do that and keep Earnshaw around, will take some creative accounting and the likelihood of moving one, maybe even two, of the higher earners on. Standing in the way right now of any of that happening is of course the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks between the league and the players. Both parties still seem far apart, but until the new CBA is signed, sealed and delivered, the Whitecaps, and every other team in the league, simply don't know what they're dealing with financewise and rosterwise for the current season. How much can they spend? Will there be an additional DP spot? What other weird rules will come into play that we'll only hear about when Seattle, LA or Toronto add a new player? With all this in mind, how much does the CBA wrangling and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead mess with Robinson's plans for strengthening the current squad? "It doesn't upset me too much because I always prepare for the worst case scenario," Robinson told us. "What I won't do, is I won't put the club at risk for next year and the year after because there's no need to do that. "If you're building, which we are, it's important that you pre-prepare everything and I've got plans for six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months ahead. If I think it's right for the club to bring in a player then I certainly will do it. If it means me being over the salary cap but I think it's the right thing to do, then I'll certainly do it and I'll try and make adjustments other than that with it. "So it doesn't affect me really. It won't change my focus. I know it probably changes the player's focus, because they're trying to agree it now, but hopefully everything will get agreed and we'll move forward happy." The Whitecaps added some big names in Matias Laba and Pedro Morales to their MLS roster down in Portland last year. Unless the CBA talks get wrapped up pretty darn quick, then that's looking less likely this year. Vancouver won the Portland tournament last year and will be looking for more of the same this time around, but as fiercely contested as the three games will be, Robinson is most concerned with the performances of his players as the week goes on rather than the wins, although beating your Cascadian rivals is always nice. "I think even a Portland staff game might have some feeling in it, if I'm being honest!" he joked. "It's a pre-season game, it's a rivalry game, so results don't really matter but performances do. My players are fighting to get into the team, so I don't think there's ever a friendly game against Portland." As mentioned, there will also be an additional bonus game with the Whitecaps younger players taking on their Timbers counterparts on Saturday evening at 7pm in a closed doors match. The game will give them another chance to show Robinson that they are knocking on the door for MLS minutes. "I think it'll be good, but the only tricky thing of it is that the game is on Saturday, which is the day before the first team game. Ideally we would have liked it the day after, so that the guys that didn't play [could play]. So we're going to have to plan it properly. "But there will be guys who get extra minutes on Saturday that will be part of Sunday's game and there will be guys who play a lot on Saturday who aren't part of Sunday's game, and there will be guys who don't play on Saturday full stop. "So I will plan it so that we have four games in a week, which is important for all the squad, so they'll get plenty of minutes." Vancouver kick off this year's tournament against the hosts. Last year they wrapped up their against Portland. By that game Robinson had pretty much nailed down his starting eleven for the next week's MLS kick off against New York. Chicago are last up for the 'Caps this year, so will Robinson be hoping to have his first choice starters take the field in that game this time around as well? "Ideally, yeah," Robinson said before cautioning the players, fans and pundits alike. "As I keep stressing to the group, because people keep trying to find out who my starting right back's going to be, my starting left back, I can give you and idea but what happens if he gets to the day before the first game injured? "I want to keep the competition fair, and it is fair, but I also want to keep the group hungry. If you're in the starting team against Chicago, which is one week before the start of the season, then you can read into it all you want, but if you train poorly all week and you get injured on the last day then you certainly won't be starting. They're jockeying for places."
  13. If you've been sitting at home feeling it's simply been too long of an offseason, then you're in good company. Nicolas Mezquida felt the same and couldn't wait to get back to Vancouver, back in a Whitecaps shirt and playing football again. "It was a long vacation but I was missing the training," Mezquida was quick to admit. "I missed that, I missed the dressing room, I missed my teammates, so I'm happy for the start of preseason and this season, for me, I think will be the best." With the first week of training camp in the bag, Mezquida headed down to Arizona last week with the rest of the squad, playing 150 minutes over the three games in Tucson against New England, San Jose and Houston. How did it feel to be actually playing football again? "Nice!," Mezquida told AFTN with a smile when we spoke to him after training on Friday. "We want to play. We've been training hard and everybody wants to play again. Personally, I feel good. I feel good with the ball the first game, although after the second game, we feel tired!" Mezquida has come back into the Whitecaps camp hungry, determined and fit. During day one of the on-field training, the 23-year-old surprised many of those watching by outlasting all of the senior players in the dreaded yo-yo test. He finished a narrow second overall behind Residency alumni Mitch Piraux. Those fitness levels can sometimes be the difference to a player getting more minutes than their competition as the season goes on, but Mezquida has always stood out at training. He was consistently one of the most impressive performers at training last season, but then failed to grab and secure a starting spot when he was given the chance on the pitch during MLS games. But he's already been standing out in the preseason matches played so far and in particular, he has linked up very well with new DP striker, and fellow Uruguayan, Octavio Rivero. Mezquida grabbed the assist in Rivero's second goal against New England in the first match in Tucson. The pair have shown an impressive understanding so early in their time playing together, although it isn't the first time they've been teammates. Both men played on Uruguay's under 17 national team back in 2009 and they know each other, and each other's game, very well. "I feel a connection because I've played with him before," Mezquida told us of his link up play with Rivero. "Playing with him is easy because he has good moves, so any player that plays with him, it's easy. I know him and I know how he moves, so it's easy for me to play with him and I feel happy to play with him because he understands me and I understand him." Rivero is still something of an unknown quantity. We've all seen the video footage of his goals, but can he do it on a cold, rainy night in MLS?! Mezquida has no doubts about the qualities that his countryman will bring to the Whitecaps. "Octavio the last year is fantastic. He scored in Uruguay, he scored in Chile. he can help our team a lot." Part of how quick an impact Rivero might have for the 'Caps will be shaped off the pitch and how quickly he can settle into his new surroundings. The striker's English is near non-existent, but he's already working on that. He's coming into a dressing room where Spanish is the second language though and the atmosphere is first class, so that all helps. As does having a known face to take you under their wing. Mezquida has taken on that role with Rivero and the pair were almost inseparable down in Tucson, with a clear bond between the pair off the pitch as well as on it. "It's important," Mezquida tells us. "Anyone who comes to a new country and doesn't know the language, if someone knows him it helps for on the pitch and outside. It's just important for him to get comfortable with everyone and else and I'll help with that and everything on the field and off the field." Carl Robinson has liked what he's seen from the pair, and the understanding shown could very well be Mezquida's ticket to more first team minutes this season, and possibly starts. As frustrating as it must have been for Mezquida to sit out on so much of the MLS action last season, he is happy to be patient and bide his time, knowing that if he continues to put in the work, his time will come. "I need to keep the hard work," Mezquida mused when we asked him what he needs to do to get into the regular first team reckoning. "I am waiting for my opportunity. I keep calm. I know that Pedro won't play every game so when I have that opportunity I try to give everything for me to help the team." He's not going to dislodge Pedro Morales any time soon, but Robinson has experimented with playing the Chilean deeper in the middle and the left wing option is still up for grabs and Mezquida could be the guy to take it. Although he's been categorised into the playmaker role, the Uruguayan says he feels comfortable anywhere across the attacking part of the midfield. "Last season I showed I can play. I need more games. I can play number 10 and in the midfield on the left and the right. So I try to give in training every day. I show Robbo, I show the coach, I want to play. I hope I can keep giving my everything in the moment I can play." If the MLS minutes still aren't immediately forthcoming for Mezquida, it is widely expected that he will have a key role to play in the Whitecaps' upcoming debut CONCACAF Champions League campaign in the summer, and having a chance to play in that competition is an exciting prospect for him. "I am excited because it's an international group," Mezquida told us. "It's very important for me, for us. It's very important for every player to play there." Mezquida and his fellow South Americans seem made for such matches. So much has been made about the Latino influence on the Whitecaps dressing room, and even with the departure of some of the South Americans, and the player that they all adored, Andy O'Brien, Vancouver's new additions seem to have the locker room ticking over as business as usual. "The dressing room keeps the same, with the energy and everyone happy," Mezquida confirmed. "Andy and Johnny leave and other ones have come in but the dressing room's kept the same." The other big departure of course was the man Mezquida came to Vancouver with - Sebastian Fernandez. Mezquida describes his friendship with Fernandez as "special" and although it was hard for him to find out he wasn't coming back, he knows that's football. Does he get the chance to speak to him much? "Almost every day," he answers with a laugh. "He wanted to come back again but there was another thing. He's missed here. "I miss him because we had a good relationship. He was a good friend and a good person. We miss Sebastian. Right now, two more players from Uruguay have come in. But I'm used to here. I know everybody and I'm happy here." Mezquida will be even happier if he is playing more this season, and you have to feel he will be. The midfielder is one of the hardest workers on the team at training and seldom seen without a smile on his face. After a season of finding his feet in his new surroundings, 2015 might just be the break out season for the Uruguayan, which would be a fitting reward for his hard work and patience.
  14. Four trialists headed down to Arizona with the Whitecaps last week, but Earnshaw is the only one that is still sticking around. When Robinson brought him in he said the reason was twofold. The Welsh internationals go way back and Robinson wanted to help the prolific striker work on his fitness levels, while being in an environment that would allow the 'Caps coach to take a closer look at him in the process. Two weeks later, Robinson is still noncommittal, telling reporters on Friday that "We'll take a look at him and just see how it goes. There's no commitment from either end." From talking to both, you get the feeling that club and player would love things to work out. But with the new CBA still to be finalised, salary cap issues, and what to do with the current crop of strikers amongst other logistical aspects of signing a deal, you can understand both sides being cagey. There's a lot of work to do before we'll see Earnshaw running out at BC Place in a blue and white jersey. "It's too early to say, but really it comes down to when we sit down and where we are at that moment," Earnshaw told AFTN. "How long that's going to be, I'm not sure." As all investors know, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Earnshaw has got goals everywhere he has gone during a distinguished footballing career. He's played at the top level for both club and country. But he still has to convince Robinson that he not only deserves a spot on the Whitecaps MLS roster, but that he'll also be a key contributing cog. That all starts with getting himself into top footballing shape again and that's the prime reason that Earnshaw is training with the Whitecaps right now. "For me, coming here was mainly about getting fitness because I'm probably ten days, two weeks, behind everybody else," Earnshaw told us. "I started last week where everybody else started before that. "I'm kind of catching up. This week, today, it felt much better. So it's really just trying to creep up on everybody else's fitness. It's getting there. I'm pleased with how last week went. Earnshaw met up with Robinson and the Whitecaps down in Tucson last week, playing 89 minutes over the three games against New England, San Jose and Houston. He didn't find the back of the net but the games gave him his first match minutes since October 2nd, as he strives to get back to full match fitness. "Arizona I thought was brilliant," Earnshaw continued. "Very good for me, very good for the team. Just to be around the guys, get a feel of the ball again and really just to pick up my fitness slowly. I actually felt better every day this week right up to today, so it's just that progress." The Welsh striker fits the mould of the player that the Whitecaps badly need for the young group of forwards that the club currently have. An experienced head, with a proven track record and the right attitude a veteran should be bringing to a dressing room. He wants to impart the knowledge that he's picked up from the game over the years. Earnshaw is clearly cut out for a mentoring role to the 'Caps young strikers but he doesn't want to put the cart before the horse and start talking too much about that, or the group, whilst not officially part of the squad. "It's funny. I can't talk about being here because I've not signed a contract, so it wouldn't be right for me to say this is how it is or this is what it needs. That's for Robbo to decide. I've definitely found myself over the last two or three years in that role anyway. But if it were to come about, it wouldn't be an unfamiliar role for Earnshaw, who has relished and enjoyed the development of that part of his game these past couple of seasons. "I find myself talking more. I find myself giving more advice. I find myself giving what I've learnt and what I think with more inexperienced players. I find myself kind of going into their mind a little but and saying 'I know you were thinking this but think about this' and giving advice. "I've found myself just going into that role anyway, so I'm definitely at that stage and I'm more open where I want to give out that experience. There's no point in me playing for, I think this is going to be my 18th season, and I still have loads of energy and want to play, but in the secondary role where you get to a certain point where you've gathered so much information, you find yourself that it's natural for me to give that out. "I feel that the reason that I've played 18 years is because I was willing to learn. I was learning off, I could roll off so many players that were a big, big influence on me. I was picking their brains, asking questions and for me, if that wasn't the case, I probably wouldn't be playing here now because I wouldn't have learned. When Kenny Miller headed back to Scotland last May, the Whitecaps attack fell on the shoulders of early twenty-somethings like Darren Mattocks and Erik Hurtado. Veterans like Andy O'Brien, and then later Mauro Rosales, tried to impart their knowledge to help the likes of them and Kekuta Manneh develop their games at the higher level, but what was missing was Miller's experience and in particular the reading of the game from a top striker's perspective. What runs to make, what to watch the defence doing, how to turn various situations to your advantage. The Whitecaps still don't have that and it's something that Earnshaw could certainly add and already has been. "Again, it's not for me to say about this team yet," Earnshaw told us. "But even here, the last ten days, I've found myself just wanting to give out the experience that I have got and I think it's only right for me because I enjoy that. I enjoy if someone comes up to me and asks a question, what about this or what was it like playing in the Premier League or all these different questions that have popped up over the last ten days or so. "I enjoy if someone else can learn of me, if that's possible, and giving out that info to them so that they can get better. I really enjoy when I can see players really develop on the pitch and with the teammates around me, seeing the enthusiasm to learn but then actually get better on the field and then you actually see it. That's a great thing, especially when you're a teammate as well. I think one of the greatest things you can give out to a teammate is to give them confidence but you give them an experience or make them better and that's what I enjoy." It's an impressive attitude to have and one that not all players in the twilight of their career sometimes show. But that's the kind of character of players that Robinson wants in Vancouver and having known Earnshaw for some time, that undoubtedly one of the reasons why he feels it's been worth bringing him into camp for a look. So how has Earnshaw found his time with the Whitecaps so far, especially compared to his experiences in Toronto and Chicago? "Every team is different, definitely," he feels. "Just different philosophies, different ways of working. Little details are different. Generally the whole package is similar because MLS has great facilities. The teams really have a great platform to play in, to train in. So that's very good. That's what I enjoy. And it gives you a chance to get better on the field then because you're not worrying about certain details that are missing that are critical to once you go out on the field. "But things are good. I've enjoyed it here so far. I've been here just over a week and a half and I'm very pleased with how this group has worked. I think there's a good group here. I like the players that are here. Great ability, but very young. It's very early stages. It's very early for me to say this is how it is and this is how they are because they're very young. Not a lot of experience and needing that experience." Earnshaw has a rich goalscoring pedigree. He's scored goals wherever he's been and holds the distinction of being the only player to have scored a hat-trick in every division of English league football, along with the FA Cup, League Cup and internationally. All that's missing is a MLS hat-trick now and it would be good to see that happen in a Whitecaps strip. He's played in the Premier League and he's played on the international stage, earning 58 senior caps for Wales. With all that experience under his belt, he could have easily carved out the remainder of his career in England, especially helping out a multitude of Championship sides over the coming years. But instead, the Welshman wanted a change. New horizons and new challenges. And that's what brought him to MLS in 2013, joining Toronto FC. "At the time I felt that I needed the change," Earnshaw told us. "I needed to experience football elsewhere. For me, to develop as a player, and maybe to go into coaching one day, I don't know, but to develop as a footballer, I needed to experience it in different settings, different mentalities. "I went to Israel. I went to Maccabi Tel Aviv. That was great. In the three or four months that I was there, it was definitely a great thing for me. I actually learned probably more in the three or four months than I probably learned in four or five years playing in the UK. That's how rapid it was. "Also I wanted to come over to MLS because I enjoyed the league. I saw the league, I've seen it over the last few years developing. I've seen very good players playing in the league and it's a very good league to play in. I think people are taking notice of that now, but I took notice a few year ago, so that's why I came over. And despite now trying to lock down a contract with his third MLS club in three seasons, Earnshaw has no regrets about heading over to North America. "I've enjoyed it. Everything I've experienced over in the league is what I came to experience. For me, it's not about turning the switch off now. I want to get better, I want to score goals. I want to play for as long as possible and I want to enjoy it. "I still enjoy playing football. I still enjoy going out there. Today you see we're doing the running. It's tough, it's not nice. It's horrible! But it's what you're there for. It's what you enjoy. You know it's part of the game - getting fit, making yourself right, kicking the ball. All those things is everything I enjoy and that's why I'm here." Earnshaw continued his goalscoring exploits in MLS. His first season in the league was pretty successful considering who he was playing for, scoring 8 goals in 26 appearances for TFC. Toronto decided not to take up the Welshman's option for the following season, however, which must have come as something of a surprise for Earnshaw. "Not really," was his honest admission. "Traditionally Toronto always change the team, change the managers. It was half expected. It was just a case of whether we agreed or not and we didn't agree a contract, we didn't agree terms, so it wasn't right to stay. And also with the players that they brought in at the time, I didn't fit in to the salary cap. "The salary cap is what it came down to I think. Maybe if it wasn't for the salary cap, maybe I might have stayed, but sometimes that's what it comes down to and that's the difficulty sometimes in MLS - fitting your best players within your budget and that's the difficult part. "It's no surprise. That's how it is. I went to Chicago and I really enjoyed it there. The training was great. The club was brilliant I got a few goals as well, which is always nice, so I really enjoyed that. These things you just experience and go through. Sometimes you stay with a team for a long time and it's unexpected, sometimes you actually move when it's unexpected and that's just part of the game." After bumping around in 2014, Earnshaw ended up in a brief stint in Chicago, where he added another 3 goals in 5 appearances for the Fire, only one of which he started. Once again he's proved he can score wherever he goes, but how has he found playing in MLS and the level of the league? "I burst onto the scene really because I scored in my first game, I scored in my second game and I got a few goals. I've enjoyed actually playing in MLS. Physically, it's really demanding. I find myself really having to use the cleverness a lot more because I think that's one of the key things. "Sometimes I find myself not so much really getting up and down and running here, there and running a million miles all the way round. I find myself having to really think what's happening on the pitch and finding space and that's one of the key things that I've found my experience has helped me find goals in MLS. So that's been good. I've really enjoyed it and it would be great for me to carry that on and carry on scoring goals." Earnshaw is now hoping to get the chance to do just that with the Whitecaps. It's still early days and his training stint could really still go either way. A couple of goals in the remaining preseason friendlies and some friendly CBA terms would particularly help his cause. He still has that hunger and that desire to not only succeed, but also to keep improving his game. It's refreshing to see that in a 33-year-old and it's very similar to the work ethic and ethos we see week in and week out from Mauro Rosales. With his track record and experience, Earnshaw could easily head back to the UK and find a club but he's really keen to stay in MLS and the Whitecaps could be his next home. He's liked what he's seen so far and the opportunities that await him here are just what he's looking for at this stage of his career. "If I can first of all help my teammates, give people my experience of playing in Europe, then that's a great thing for whatever team I'm at. But also because I enjoy it. I enjoy the league. I enjoy being here. I've definitely enjoyed Canada, I've definitely enjoyed the US. "Like I said, for me, it's not a case of where I switch off and say I'm not going to learn anymore or I'm not going to get better or I'm not going to play any longer. For me, it's about playing longer, learning more. I want to be out, I want to be playing. I want to touch the ball and score goals and celebrate. All these things is what I enjoy, so that's why I'm here. That's why I play. The enjoyment of wanting to be out there and wanting to work hard and when that ball hits the net and the whole team gets around you. "Those are the things that I'm here for. It's really that simple. I want to be part of a successful team and be a piece within a group of players that achieves things. That's what you aim for." And let's hope he finds all that with the Whitecaps, for as Valentine's Day is upon us, Vancouver and the goals and experience that Robert Earnshaw could provide them with could indeed prove to be a marriage made in heaven.
  15. Clarke became the Whitecaps' sixth homegrown player to be signed to a MLS contract in April 2012, after an exemplary few years in the 'Caps Residency program. The 2011/12 USSDA season had seen Clarke play a key role in the Whitecaps' U18s run to the Championship game, scoring 24 goals in 27 games over the course of the campaign. Those of us who had watched him play the past couple of seasons knew what an exciting attacking talent he was and were excited to see what he could bring, and how he would develop, in the first team. Things didn't quite pan out as planned however. Clarke didn't get much of a chance to shine under Martin Rennie. He saw time in both Reserve League and PDL action but his career MLS stats sheet reads just two substitute appearances and 15 minutes of action. Both games came late in his rookie season. The striker seemed to fall out of favour with the 'Caps coach the next year. Clarke was understandably unhappy at the lack of opportunities, while Rennie seemed unhappy with his unhappiness. Things seemed to come to a head in June. Whether to get his fitness levels up or to send a message to the young player, Rennie played a then 20-year-old Clarke in a U18s warm up match as they prepared for the USSDA playoffs. Clarke sent his own message, scoring a very impressive first half hat-trick before being subbed off at half time. A loan deal was looking the best outcome for both parties, and that's just what happened. Clarke did well in Germany and looked to have settled. With all that had happened with the Whitecaps in the past couple of years, we thought that was likely to sadly be the last we saw of him in a 'Caps jersey. But with a new attitude, a new management team in place, a new direction and a different atmosphere at the club, Clarke made the decision to ink a new deal and fight for MLS minutes. "I was just really happy with how the club has changed over the past couple of years," Clarke told AFTN. "I think that the team spirit and stuff is a lot better than when I left, so I thought I'd just stick around and try and make my spot in the first team." FC Augsburg II play in the Regionalliga Bayern, the fourth tier of German football. Clarke played 26 matches for them last season, bagging 8 goals. So how did he find the whole German experience? "It was really good. I got to play a lot of games. It was really crazy. I got to the play the games that I couldn't play here. But after the injury, it's just great to be back and back on the field for sure." With Augsburg's season coming to an end, Clarke's footballing year was to come to an abrupt halt in May as he suffered a ruptured quadriceps muscle. "It was just the end of the season, actually the last training before the last game of the season," Clarke explained to us as to how the injury came about. "[i was] just doing some shooting at the end of training and I kind of felt a rip as I was doing a shot. "It started to feel better after a couple of days and I was thinking maybe I'll get into the last game. But I got the MRI back and the tendon that connects your quad muscle to your hip, it had completely ripped off. I had to get surgery right away. "I was going to have it there but I flew back. I was able to get it the day after I got back, so I got it here. Since then I've been trying to get back. It's a long process." Clarke enjoyed his time in Germany and having another Canadian, and former Whitecaps Residency teammate, Daniel Stanese on the team helped them both settle in. A few of the 'Caps younger players had training stints in the UK in December. Carl Robinson mentioned last week that they had come back with their eyes opened and a new appreciation as to what is needed to make it at the higher level of the game. Clarke was playing on Augsburg's Under-23 team, but was training with the full first team squad as well. Did he notice the level there considerably higher compared to what he was used to in MLS? "Yeah, especially at the start," Clarke told us. "This is a really physical, athletic league and there it's a lot more technical, tactical. It's quicker, so you have to get to that and obviously it took a little bit to get used to. And training with the first team in Augsburg is even quicker, so yeah, it took a while to get used to but when I did it was great and I liked it a lot." But now he's back in Vancouver and looking to stake a claim to a starting spot in the Whitecaps team for the upcoming MLS season. What's different now, of course, is that Clarke will be assured playing time and crucial competitive development minutes in some form most weekends. He might play MLS minutes. He might start USL PRO games. He will almost certainly see minutes in both over the season, and possibly both on the same weekend. If you thought that the new WFC2 team must have played a part in Clarke re-signing with the Whitecaps, it turns out that while it's a nice added benefit, that wasn't a persuading factor to his new deal. "To be honest, I didn't even know before I made my decision," Clarke told us. "Obviously that helps because it's more games and it was something that was lacking last year that the younger guys weren't able to have those games, so it's good to get it now. It'll be a good thing." As Clarke mentioned, his rehabbing from the injury has been a long process. Carl Robinson had hoped he might have had him available towards the end of last season to provide some much needed firepower to his stuttering attack, but it wasn't to be. The Residency alumni looked sharp in training towards the end of last year. Robinson liked what he saw and both he and Clarke know what the young striker is capable of bringing to the MLS squad and what he needs to work on to make his impact on the league. "I feel that one of my strengths is finishing," Clarke acknowledged. "I scored a lot of goals there and hopefully I can bring that here. To get into the first team, I've got to get fit and sharp again first. From there, just focus on demanding the ball and being strong, being a leader up front and scoring goals of course. That'll get me in there I'm sure!" It's great to see Caleb Clarke back in a Whitecaps shirt. We wish him well and we're looking forward to seeing how he's developed during his time in Germany and in the 18 months since he last played a MLS match. So what are his goals and aspirations for the season ahead? "Definitely to get into MLS games and to get into a regular starting spot, coming off the bench, that kind of thing. Really help the team score goals. That's what I do, so hopefully I can do that for the team."
  16. Koch's talents have been in demand before from professional clubs, so what was it about the coaching job with WFC2 that finally tempted him away from the Clan after seven years at the helm? "I've a lot of respect for the club. I've a lot of respect for the people that work for the club," Koch told AFTN. "I definitely have a very similar philosophy to Robbo. To move to the pro ranks when you don't have to leave home, or my adopted home, is obviously a lot easier. "I've had a lot of opportunities to go away and go live in another country and all that type of stuff, but those weren't the right fit. I feel very passionate and very loyal to the SFU program, but this was too good to pass by." Koch is a student of the game. Much like Carl Robinson, when he's not coaching football, he's watching it. I've often bumped into him at local soccer matches at all levels, and it's that passion for the game which immediately drew a bond with the 'Caps coach. That love of the game and the shared philosophy of how it should be played and how players should be developed. That would have played a huge role in his appointment. "I think so," Koch told us. "We're people who are very passionate about the game. We love the game. We can talk very easily about the game. And then obviously having done some work with him. "I was here last summer watching him train all the time. I guess he was picking my brain, I was picking his brain. And then going through the whole draft process in terms of scouting players, assessing players. Seeing what he values and what I value. I think we can say we're on a very, very similar page." Koch spent most of the summer working with the Whitecaps MLS squad and observing the coaches. With his strong scouting network and knowledge of the college game, the 'Caps hired Koch to be their college scout in preparation for this year's SuperDraft and the South African went to both the MLS combine and draft with the club earlier this month. That scouting role acted as a trial of sorts. The Whitecaps could see just what kind of player Koch would identify as being able to help the club and whether that fitted into the direction that Robinson was taking the club and what they saw as their needs. The two mindsets meshed seamlessly. They were clearly on the same page. "Players go on trial but coaches go on trial too sometimes," Koch acknowledged. "It's sometimes tough to bring a coach in on trial when we're sometimes scattered all over the globe. I was here. Came in and worked with them and as much as they were looking at me, I was looking to see what they were doing too and very, very impressed with how things are set and excited to be a part of it." As regular AFTN readers will already know from our college coverage, Koch comes to WFC2 with a stellar coaching record at the Simon Fraser University Clan in recent years. He's racked up 116 wins from 144 games, won four straight Great Northwest Athletics Conference (GNAC) championships from 2010 to 2013 and took the Clan to back to back NCAA Division II Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013. A graduate himself from SFU, before Koch went into coaching he had a playing career as a central midfielder, playing professionally in South Africa, Germany and Ireland in spells both before and after his time at college. SFU is part of him, so it must have been a huge wrench to move on. Did he have to seriously weigh up whether to take the WFC2 job or was it a no-brainer? "I had to weigh it up, definitely," Koch admitted. "This is a great opportunity and I'm excited by it, that's why I'm here, but we've done a lot at SFU. We've built something. I think we've put a fantastic infrastructure in place. Safe to say we're leaving it in a much better place than we got it. So it wasn't easy to just give up your baby essentially, but the timing was right. "We've done everything there apart from winning the national championship. I wish them nothing but going on and winning that national championship. We're leaving behind a very, very good team at SFU. The tools are in place. A good group of guys, they're willing to work hard. So hopefully they can achieve that goal. But the timing was right for me now." By Clan standards, 2014 was a disappointing year - they only made the first round of the postseason. With a large turnover of playing personnel and some key injuries, SFU took a little bit of time to find their stride this past season, but Koch pulled them together and they finished the regular season by winning eight of their last nine matches. After all of their previous headline grabbing heroics these past couple of years, it wasn't the way that Koch wanted to bow out from the Clan. He leaves with tinge of sadness but he knows that he's left them in a very strong and healthy state to go on and win that first NCAA crown. "I think for SFU fans there were some challenges we had, and I can tell you exactly what they were. Justus Hogback, that we brought in from Sweden, a fantastic striker, only played in two games. He got injured and he got a medical redshirt, so he'll be a freshman again this year. If we had him, that's another 10 to 15 goals in the season and that would have made a huge difference. "We also had Adam Jones from Metro-Ford and Pascal Schmidt who came over from the Stuttgart Kickers and both of them, under NCAA rules, had to spend a year of residency, so they weren't able to play. "If we had those three players, you're looking at a Final Four team that can challenge and win it all. Those guys now will all be eligible for next season. It's tough to leave a good group and that's a very, very good group. Having trained with them last week, the nucleus was there but this opportunity wasn't going to come up every year, so when it came up I had to take it." Koch's departure will be heavily felt by SFU and it will be interesting to see who they hire as his replacement to keep the success of program continuing. There will be other changes when SFU open their 2015 season in September too. Clan captain Jovan Blagojevic will no longer be a part of the side, drafted by the Whitecaps earlier this month. That selection was the biggest indication yet to us at AFTN that Koch was about to become the new WFC2 coach. Blagojevic credits Koch with his continuing improved development, affording him his chance in the pro ranks. Koch clearly had a huge input into Blagojevic's selection and he is excited to see what the local winger can now do at the next level. "He's a guy who has no ceiling on his game," Koch told us. "We didn't bring him in [to SFU] straight out of high school because he wasn't quite ready. We watched him and he showed signs that he could do it and literally every single year he's got better and this is why I really promoted him to the Whitecaps. "I think he'll come in here and step up and do better. The sky's the limit for him. It's great for him to start in USL PRO. Let's see how he does and that goes for every player. You come in, you get an opportunity, you take it, but he is certainly one of those guys who hasn't peaked or reached his ceiling by any means. So I'm looking forward to working with him. It'll be nice to have a familiar face at training. Blagojevic was the first SFU player to be selected in an MLS draft. The previous year Chris Bargholz garnered a lot of interest and his fellow German, central defender Alex Kleefeldt, went to train at Sporting KC last summer and there was even some talk they may have taken the senior in the draft. Koch didn't rule out further additions to the WFC2 training camp from the Clan but added that he "certainly won't just be zoning in on SFU players. We'll look everywhere to see if we can find the right guys." A number of the 'Caps USL PRO squad are already known, whilst others are easy to speculate on. So does the new WFC2 coach have an input in what players the 'Caps might look to bring into his squad, or will that be more dictated by what Robinson and the upper echelons of the Whitecaps management seek? "I think really by committee is how we'll do it," Koch told us. "Obviously Robbo is the manager of the club, so he has full say on all the players but we'll all work on it together, we'll identify players together, we'll discuss them and make sure that we all agree that these are the right players to bring in because there has to be a plan for the guys. There's no point me saying I'm going to bring a guy in if he doesn't fit into Robbo's plan. That makes no sense." Koch has a UEFA 'B' licence and is working towards UEFA 'A' licence, adding to the wealth of coaching qualifications at the Whitecaps right now. His SFU side were known for their very attacking style of play and Koch doesn't see that changing when he takes charge in USL PRO. "I think we're going to be a very attack minded team, which the first team are too. We'll play possession football but definitely focus on the outcome. Go forward and see if we can score some goals. Of course we'll play organised football at the same time. Measured. But there is a club philosophy. I fully support that philosophy. I buy into it and we'll go out and do exactly that." There will be many other similarities to what he has been used to up the mountain these past seven years. He will have a young squad to mould and develop, many of them recent college players. A lot of raw talent, and some egos, to hone. An interesting mix of backgrounds and nationalities. But amidst all of that, Koch knows that he is being tasked with perhaps the fundamentally most important aspect of the Whitecaps - that crucial missing link in player development between the Residency program and the MLS first team. Something which we have discussed with Koch on numerous previous occasions was also the missing link for BC players at college or in the local amateur leagues. Those outwith the 'Caps system right now. Blagojevic is there now to show that it can be done. You can reach the pro ranks from local soccer. Koch and the Whitecaps also hope that the WFC2 can now be that bridge. The Whitecaps 2 will start their preseason camp shortly, ahead of a 28 game season, but as the roster starts to take shape the 'Caps announced today that they will hold open trials for local, national and international players on February 21st and 22nd, with at least one guaranteed spot in the WFC2 preseason training camp. It's a chance for some of the unsung local talent in VMSL, FVSL and the college system to impress. I've seen the wealth of potential there and so has Koch. Some would thrive in a professional training environment. So if he had a message for these guys and those looking to take part, what would it be? "Probably one of the biggest complaints locally, in our local football community is people saying that there hasn't been the opportunities. Well here is the opportunity. The club are investing in it. There's essentially open try outs. They need to sign up obviously and come and show what they can do, but this is your chance. If you want to be part of it and you think you have the ability, show up. "Come show us what you've got. Opportunities like this don't present themselves all the time, so it's nice to have that opportunity here in Vancouver and it'll be great to see some of the local guys show up and people travel from across the country to see what they can do. I'm excited to assess them. We'll give honest feedback and hopefully we can make something out of somebody." So as Koch gets set to take the next step on his football management journey, how does he look back what the Clan achieved under his guidance? How does he see his legacy at SFU? "That's a tough question. I'm a proud alumni. I got my undergrad degree there, I played there, I had a great playing career, I was an assistant coach there, I was a head coach there. I have a bit of SFU in my blood. To be honest, it's quite tough to stand and see that [pointing at the UBC Thunderbirds logo]. Is it a Thunder Duck or what is it, standing over there! "No, I'm a proud SFU alumni and it's sad to leave to be honest. I had a moment before I pressed the send button with my resignation letter. But we've achieved a lot. I'm very proud of the work that we did and I wish them nothing but the best."
  17. McKendry's Junior NCAA season with New Mexico Lobos had caught the eye of several scouts. He was being rated highly and looking MLS ready. The midfielder loved his time in Albuquerque, but from a solely footballing perspective the time to make the move to the pro ranks with the Caps was now. "Obviously it's my home city, so I know the club pretty well, and that kind of made the decision a whole lot easier," McKendry told us. "If it was another club or another country it would be kind of a harder decision because I don't know exactly what I'm going in to. "The big part for me was coach Carl welcoming me back over the years and bringing me back to train and making me feel that I was part of this club, which was huge, so that made it easy." Robinson wanted to add some more midfield depth, with one eye on the 'Caps new USL PRO team, and after looking at what other options were around in the MLS draft, it became clear to him that McKendry was the man he wanted and he decided to pull the trigger now and offer McKendry a MLS contract. "I watched a lot of Benny last year and he done very well," Robinson said. "You hear all these reports coming out about him, that's he's a top ten player in the draft, and things like that. Well he was the previous year, I knew he was. I just think the timing was right [now]. "Ben had obviously made it known that he was ready to have a crack at the MLS level, which was always good because you wonder what players sometimes think. Once he made that known, we done our due diligence on the draft and we thought there were some talented midfield players in there, but they weren't better than Ben. I'm not going to produce another stopgap or block another pathway for my homegrown players. "We made a decision on draft day that we wanted to try and sign Ben to a homegrown contract and it's worked out great for us and great for him. I spoke to his dad and he's very happy. I do have to thank the New Mexico guys for part of his development as they've been crucial in that as well." The timing was perfect for the Residency alumni, who had been weighing up whether he should make the move to the pro ranks now or finish his degree. It didn't take too much deliberating. He would put his studies on hold and head back to Vancouver with a professional contract. "You obviously have to bring out the pros and cons of staying at school for another year," McKendry acknowledged. "Maybe entering the draft or coming back to Vancouver after my senior year. I feel comfortable here. Having the coaching staff, the city, my family here, made it a really easily decision. And obviously the USL. They have a USL team, that's huge. So I know I'm going to get minutes, matter level it is." Having that new USL PRO team, and the opportunities it will afford the Whitecaps burgeoning array of young talent, was a big persuader in McKendry making the decision to leave college early. "I think that was a huge part of it," McKendry admits. "A lot of college guys go into this environment and struggle because they don't get the minutes they want but are obviously extremely talented players. So the USL team is huge for me but obviously none of us young guys are shooting for USL, we want to keep moving up, but USL is fantastic for the young guys." With the likes of Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert ahead of him in the midfield depth charts on the MLS roster just now, McKendry knows that he will mostly see a lot of minutes with that USL PRO side this season. But situations can change quickly in football. So can form and injuries. McKendry also knows that he is coming to a club and playing under a manager that likes to give the younger players chances and opportunities in first team action. "Carl's big on playing young players. For a guy like me that's a bonus and that excites me cos I know I'm going to get the opportunities to play, which is huge. "There's going to be plenty of opportunities. It's just about taking it. Obviously I've got to train hard every day, at preseason and all those things. It's just going to be about continuing to work, learning from the older guys and you just got to continue to grow." With the Whitecaps facing over 40 games this season between league and cup action, Robinson knows that he will need to use every inch of his squad depth to keep the team competitive over what will feel like a very long year. Whilst he has brought McKendry in with more of an eye to the USL PRO roster, the fact that he has rewarded the midfielder with a full MLS contract is a statement in itself. "I think at the start it will be towards USL PRO, but that's not saying he won't get MLS minutes because he's on my MLS roster," Robinson told us. "I said to him that shows what I think of him, what we think of him and it'll be down to him if he takes that opportunity or not. We've got plenty of games next year. It'll be dictated by his performances in preseason and how he does during the season." McKendry will add some midfield versatility to the 'Caps. He mostly played a central midfield role during his time with the Residency, but featured all over, including the backline. At New Mexico, he played more as a defensive midfielder. A very attack minded one. Robinson doesn't want to pigeonhole McKendry and likes the options that he adds to his squad. "With young players I don't like sticking a certain position on them because I don't think they learn to develop the key characteristics of what is needed in other positions. He can play defensive midfield, and he's very good, but he's a box to box midfield player. We need goals from midfield at certain times of the season as well, so if he can add goals to his bow then I think he'll be a great addition for us." That role suits McKendry down to the ground and he feels at home wherever he plays in the midfield. "I'm pretty comfortable with both roles really," McKendry told us. "As defensive it depends who you play alongside with. I don't have any problem going forward and making that late run into the box, to pick up a goal here or there. But if you need me to stay back and defend, I embrace that side of the position as well. "I'm a confident player. I like to get on the ball and have fun." There's still a lot of debate in soccer circles about the merits of young players, especially Canadian ones, going through the American college system. Whilst some feel it gives players valuable experience and playing time, others feel the nature of the game in NCAA can stunt development instead of progressing it. McKendry is in no doubt about the benefit going to New Mexico has been to his playing career and would recommend that path to others currently weighing up their options. "I think a lot of young players have expectations that are a little but unrealistic in terms of wanting to go pro. When kids hear about the college environment and playing college soccer, especially in the States, there's probably some negative connotations towards it. "For me it was key in my development from that age of 18 to where I am now. It was huge and there's plenty of good programs in the States. You can enjoy yourself, you can get an education. I couldn't say enough good things about at least my experience. I'm sure I've got a lot of good friends as well that would say the same thing." McKendry becomes the 8th homegrown player on the Whitecaps' current MLS roster. He's also the only one born and raised in Vancouver. Does that put any added pressure on him to perform and succeed? "I wouldn't say pressure. I don't think there should never be any pressure when you're playing a game you love. But I definitely have a sense of pride playing for Vancouver and being the only guy from Vancouver here." Settling in won't be an issue. He has his family and friends around him and his previous training spells with the first team means that he's already a well-kent face at training to many of the current squad. And all of those familiar faces make for a smooth transition for McKendry. "I know a lot of the guys, which makes it more comfortable. Also, Carl and his coaching staff do a great job of making it a welcoming environment, which isn't always the case in a professional environment. I feel comfortable and the guys have welcomed me really well." That was clear to see at his first training session as a signed pro. It also helped that while the Whitecaps training camp was just getting underway, McKendry has been in full training mode for the past couple of weeks already. "I just came off two weeks of spring training with New Mexico. In the springtime most college teams do crazy fitness things. Running up sand dunes, crazy workouts and stuff. I felt pretty good out there. It was fun" We can't wrap up our chat with Ben without throwing out that well worn cliché of the hard work starts now. It's true, it does. And the only way to push yourself into the MLS mix in this competitive environment is to shine often and improve regularly. It's the key focus for McKendry in this preseason camp and he knows what elements of his game he needs to continue to work on to get himself to that next level. "You can never be satisfied with where you're at," he told us. "Seeing the older guys on this team who are kind of getting to the end of their career, you see the workrate that they continue to put in and how they take care of their bodies. "That's key to being a professional, always wanting to get better, continuing to learn, which is nice to be able to know that as a young player and have those guys as an example to see what you need to do to get better and have a long career."
  18. Having graduated in the fall after studying molecular biology biochemistry at SFU, Blagojevic's plan was always to attend medical school, as he told us when we spoke to him back in December 2013. But as he also told us in that interview, playing professional football was always his "childhood dream" and one he was prepared to put a guaranteed career on hold to chase. Blagojevic's move to MLS comes after another stellar personal season with the Clan last year in NCAA Division 2. He decided to head back to SFU for his senior year and although the Clan may have struggled overall as a team compared to their previous heroics, Blagojevic was the standout star, averaging a goal a game in his 18 appearances. Those numbers placed him seventh overall in goals in North America and he was unanimously voted the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's (GNAC) Player of the Year and also took home the West Region Player of the Year award. "All the goals that I set out for myself at the beginning of the season, I accomplished," Blagojevic told us. "I was very happy from a personal standpoint that I was able to achieve that. I feel that I'm continually growing as a player, so I'm excited to see how much I can now grow being in a professional atmosphere." Despite the numbers and the plaudits, a professional career in football was still something of a pipe dream for the 23-year-old. It was always at the back of his mind, but at the forefront was going out with the Clan with a bang. Blagojevic had no idea that the Whitecaps were following his progress and were likely to draft him until today. "I didn't know if they were keeping tabs on me or if they had interest in me. I was just enjoying my time with SFU and all I set out to do was to end on a good note in my senior season with SFU. That was it. I never really thought that this would be possible, that there would be a professional chance for me, an opportunity for me in the future." Today's news that the 'Caps had selected him with their first pick in the third round came as a stunning surprise to the striker. So where was he when he got the news. "I was at home, sitting in my living room. I watched the first and second round live, just because I was interested in what was going on. I knew the third and fourth round was occurring on the internet through the live draft tracker, so I was just looking at that screen. I didn't know anything about any team or anything that I was being chosen. I just wanted to see what happens." You can understand why Blagojevic thus describes the whole experience as surreal, but also as one of the best days of his life so far. Med school is still in his long-term plans, but having a chance to make it a pro footballer was just too much of an opportunity for Blagojevic to pass up. "Right now, my first priority is soccer. In the future I can always try and attempt medical school so I guess long, long term, it is medical school for sure but at the moment my main priority is doing whatever I can to succeed at this level." Blagojevic's family have always been big supporters of Jovan throughout his career and his dad is a familiar face at games up the mountain at SFU. They're also fully supportive of him putting his medical career on hold at the moment to try and make it as a professional footballer and were obviously delighted at Jovan being drafted today. "They were all very happy for me. My dad was at work, my mum was upstairs and we were all talking in a group message and they were just all so happy. My mum gave me a big hug and then the next time I saw my dad, he gave me a big hug, my mum was crying. Everybody's just super super happy and ecstatic about everything that's occurring. "The advice that they gave me about medical school and soccer is exactly as I said. That there's always time for this. Right now this is my goal and my dream and I have to take every opportunity as it comes, so that's essentially what I'm doing." The striker has clearly been drafted primarily to feature in the 'Caps new USL PRO team (which will have a 50% Canadian roster requirement), but the chance is now there for him to impress and get into the first team reckoning as well. With MLS roster spots already at a premium, Robinson has previously said that he was more looking at these third and fourth round draft picks for the USL team. But he's also said that every player will get a chance to show they deserve a crack at the MLS squad and to be in the first team mix. "I guess we'll see. I'm not really sure what the future has but if he sees me that I'm more of a USL player, then that's what I am. If he gives me the opportunity for the MLS first team, then you better believe I'm going to take it and give the best I can to show him that he was correct in choosing me for that position. Whatever it is, I'm excited either way." Robinson's message to all of his young players has been clear. He'll give them the tools and the pathway, it's then up to each player individually to take it. Some will and some won't. Blagojevic is determined to fall into the former category but he knows there are aspects of his game that he will need to work on and also what needs to do as a rookie to get him there. "I just have to try and listen to his tactics and what he likes in players and what he sees in players and I just have to try and mould myself as a player to what he wants from his players. I feel that if I can do that as much as I can, hopefully I will get that opportunity." The Whitecaps mantra under Robinson is to give youth a chance and that talent is what matters, not age. Knowing that opportunity and those chances exist is already a key motivational tool for Blagojevic. "That's exciting. It's for sure something that you want to hear. It's very encouraging to hear that from your coach that he has faith in his young players. Hopefully I can prove that faith correct." For those that haven't seen him play yet (we'll put his highlight reel video at the end of this article), how would Jovan describe his style of play and what qualities will he be adding to the Whitecaps? "I feel that I'm very forward with my type of play. [Depending on the situation] I have one mission in mind when I get the ball - either beat my player, going down the line and cross it or go to goal after I've beat my player. I like to score goals. I'm a goalscorer. If I can do that for the Whitecaps, that would be a dream come true." When Jovan first went to study at SFU he wasn't even part of the soccer team, choosing to focus on his education for his first two years at university, before being convinced that he could juggle both. "My first two years I decided not to play, then I finally talked to my parents about whether I should join or not and how it was going to affect my school, but deciding to choose to play on the team was by far a great experience for me as a player, as a person." Blagojevic told us when we chatted just over a year ago. "It's definitely the best thing I've done for my career as a soccer player. It was the best decision for me to do, join the team. It's the closest I've got to that professional environment, which is nice, and I've always wanted that in my life as a soccer player." Now Blagojevic has the opportunity to take it that one stage further and to be in an actual professional training and development environment, and he's excited as to what that will mean for his game. "It's going to obviously help me grow as a player, which I'm really excited about. I'm really excited to see what the future has for me. I want to continue to get better and I want to work as hard as I can to try to get the most that I can out of this opportunity. The fact that now I'm actually living in a pro environment and not what it was before, although SFU had a similar feeling, now it's actually happening for real. It's exciting and I just think it will help me grow as a player." We've been watching Blagojevic play for a few years now. We've seen him as a winger, as an out and out striker and even as a midfielder. The Whitecaps are certainly getting a versatile player, and Jovan is comfortable in any forward and attacking role that the Caps will see fit to give him. "I guess I prefer being a winger. I've grown to be most comfortable in that position. I can play other positions, but I don't feel I'm as strong at them as I am as a winger, but whatever position Carl Robinson has in mind for me, I'll do my best at making the most out of it and do the best that I can at it." The 'Caps have still to name their new coach for the USL PRO side, although an announcement is expected later this week. One name in the mix is current SFU Clan head coach Alan Koch. Blagojevic has spent the last four season under Koch's tutelage and credits the South African with fine tuning his skills and making him the player he is today. "His coaching has got me to become the goalscoring threat that I am. I'm very forward with the way I play and I've definitely built that attribute because of him. He's always focussed with going forward toward the goal and that's helped me become who I am." Koch has been working as a scout of the college ranks with the Whitecaps and acted as part of the 'Caps management team at training over the summer months. He knows Blagojevic's game inside and out and the qualities and attributes that he can bring to the squad. Koch will have had strong input in Vancouver's decision to draft the striker. He's delighted to see Blagojevic now get his chance in the pro game and is confident he has what it takes to succeed. "Jovan is a competitor and he is willing to work hard and absorb information," Koch told AFTN. "I think it is his willingness to address his limitations that has made him the player he is today. He has a winners mentality and is a natural goalscorer. He has not reached his peak yet and in the Whitecaps professional environment I think he will continue to get better and better." While drafting Blagojevic is great news for player and coach alike, it is also good for the soccer program itself at SFU and will only bring more added attention to what is already one of the best set ups in the country. "I am very happy for Jovan to be our first MLS draftee,". Koch continued. "SFU has had lots of players drafted [uSL and A-League], but not into Major League Soccer. Sporting KC had a lot of interest in Chris Bargholz and Alex Kleefeldt last year, but unfortunately nothing came out of that interest. Jovan's selection will only add to the exposure that our team continues to receive, and hopefully make it easier for the next player to get drafted in the near future.' That's a view also echoed by Blagojevic. "SFU's built me into the player that I am, so I'm very respectful of that program," Jovan told us. "It would be great for them to be able to bring in extra talent or to have them have extra spotlight now would be exciting for them and it would be exciting for me as an alumni now." Born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1991 and moving to Canada two years later, Blagojevic grew up in Burnaby and Coquitlam and played his youth football with Burnaby Selects before moving on to the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Wolves U18 side. BC boys on the Whitecaps roster are something of a rarity these days. Following a string of top players coming out of the province and the Whitecaps sides years ago, Richmond's Caleb Clarke is the only other BC homegrown on the Caps senior roster right now. So what does it mean to Jovan to have the chance to play for his hometown club? "It's amazing," Blagojevic admitted. "To even see my name pop up on that draft and then to see it pop up for Vancouver is crazy. To be able to stay at home with my family and to be with my girlfriend as well, it's quite something that I don't have to leave. It definitely helps. "Playing for Vancouver is awesome. It's something that you dream about. It's a fairytale coming true essentially." School, work and his footballing career with SFU and Metro-Ford have somewhat curtailed Jovan's opportunities to go and see the Whitecaps play live. He's only been able to get to a couple of 'Caps MLS games so far but regularly watches at home when he can. Having the chance to play for his local club, also brings with it, it's own little bit of pressure of course. Family and friends will be there and they will all want success. Not that Jovan feels under any extra or undue pressure as a result. "I'd feel the same way if I went anywhere. What I'm feeling, I'd feel anywhere I'd go. It's an amazing opportunity to have. The fact that it's local, yeah it's pretty cool. It's definitely nice, but it doesn't add much extra pressure on me that I'm one of the only local boys on the team." Blagojevic comes to the Caps in an unusual situation for a local lad. He didn't come through the Whitecaps' Residency program. As someone outwith the 'Caps system how does he view the experience of coming through the youth ranks locally but not with the Whitecaps and does he see himself as someone who can give hope to other players in that situation? "I don't know if exactly I feel that way but if it is that I'm giving other local kids that extra encouragement then that's great. I love to support local soccer. That's all I've had as a Coquitlam boy and a Burnaby boy. It was a nice experience playing my youth soccer and my men's soccer with local teams here." There is no doubt that there is still a very hard and tough road ahead if Blagojevic is to make it in the professional game, whether with the Whitecaps or someone else. As draft picks are always told, you've not made it, your journey actually starts now. Having watched him develop these past few years at SFU, there is no doubt in my mind that he has many of the skills needed to make it in the game but taking that next step up the ladder is always tricky. He'll be given all the tools and pathways to get there though and it's up to him now to keep developing and take them. The first step starts this weekend. Blagojevic will now join up with the 'Caps for the start of preseason training camp. The current players report back for their medicals on Saturday before the first on the field session on Monday, and Jovan is already pumped up and raring to go with his new team. "As for what's next training wise, I'm not sure yet. I was told that they'll give me a call to let me know what the gameplan is, so I'll be looking forward to that phone call." Here's is Jovan Blagojevic's highlight reel video:
  19. One month later and Banjo is in the pro ranks with the Whitecaps. It's quite the story and turnaround for the 22-year-old and one he didn't think he'd ever see coming. "It's a dream come true," Banjo told AFTN. "I've been working at this for years and it's a great feeling for it to finally come true. Banjo still remembers the shock and heartbreak of the meeting that broke the news that Towson were axing their soccer program. Staying on and finishing his degree was the only option he seriously considered, even if it meant no soccer. A meeting with UMBC head coach Pete Carinji Jr convinced him that taking a year out and then trying to go pro was not the right option or timing for the young striker and he made the move to the Retrievers for one final college year. It proved to be the right decision, with UMBC, led by Banjo, going further than any side from the school had previously managed, and coming to within one game of playing for the NCAA National Championship. After everything that had happened, it was an amazing experience for Banjo and one he'll never forget. "Because of where I came from, being in the tournament the next year, it wasn't anything that I thought was going to happen. God always has his plans and it worked out for the best. It was a great feeling and I'd never change that for anything." Banjo certainly seems to be an exciting prospect and a striker that has been able to find the back of the net on a regular basis in the college ranks. He shone with the Towson Tigers, scoring 15 goals and contributing 11 assists in 43 games during his three years there. As mentioned, he continued to find the back of the net when he switched to UMBC, and was unanimously named the America East Conference 'Striker of the Year' for 2014. Banjo went through a bit of a dry spell to end the season though, going six games without a goal or an assist. Consistency is definitely going to be a key for the talented striker moving forward and something which Carl Robinson has already identified. "I've seen exactly the same as you," Robinson told us in a conference call yesterday. "I've seen exceptional talent in him but I haven't seen enough consistency. Part of my job as a coach is to try and get him more consistent and with the opportunity we'll have with a lot of Major League Soccer games and USL games, there will be chance for him to do that. "Because if we can get him consistent, there's no doubt that he's got talent. You can't just have talent and no consistency, so it's a little project of ours and mine and it's one that I'm excited for. I do see a lot of raw potential in him." When you ask Banjo what aspect of his game he feels he needs to improve in most, he feels what every young player should feel when starting off in the pros - every aspect of it. And consistency is part of that. "It's the coach that's sees it more," Banjo told us. "Every player really has to think about everything but that's the coach's job to see it and if that's how he feels I just have to put my head down and figure it out and work on improving." Robinson is big on character and speaking to Banjo for ten minutes, you soon see that he is another player that fits right into the mould of player that the Whitecaps are looking to bring in to the squad. He's grounded, he's confident without being cocky, he seems a nice, humble, quiet guy, who has the skills on the pitch to back it all up and some hard life lessons to learn from after what played out at Towson. Described by Robinson as a "raw" talent, but one with real potential if he thrives in the professional environment now afforded to him. It's now up to him to see if he can take it and move on to that next level. As with all draft picks, you have no idea what way this will really all go, but he'll get his chances. Fellow draftee Tim Parker felt that there was a real connection between himself and Robinson when they had their pre-draft chat at the combine, and it's a feeling echoed by Banjo. So just how did that chat go? "He pretty much pointed out all my strengths at the combine. It just seemed like everything I said was already what he was thinking and pretty much that's what drew us together. We really did click in the conversation. "We talked mainly about mainly about myself, not soccer as much. But the times we talked about soccer it was much the same thing we were thinking and that showed we connected." Robinson is always keen to know what makes a player tick off the pitch. What motivates them, what interests them away from soccer. For Banjo, it's simple. "Just being close to the family and being surrounded by good people. Nothing really big. I'm just a people person. I just try to surround myself with positivized people." And he'll find a lot of those around the Whitecaps right now, although he doesn't know and hasn't come across any existing 'Caps in his soccer career so far and is another who has never been to Canada before. "I don't know one player from Vancouver [personally]. I mean they're really far up there!" he joked with us. "I don't really know anybody there but I'm excited to find out and meet new people." Coming to a Whitecaps MLS squad, already almost bursting at the seems, Banjo knows he needs to hit the ground running and impress once the preseason training camp gets up and running next weekend. So for those who haven't seen him play before, how would he describe his game and the skills and qualities he'll bring to Vancouver? "I'm quick on the ball, I'm quick thinking. Great team player and I'm versatile. I can play on the wing or forward, wherever is needed. A lot of long range shots. I have vision. Strong, powerful, quick. The lot." He can certainly shoot and registered 180 of them in his four years and 65 games at college. That's an average of just under three a game, with almost a 3.5 average during his time with UMBC last year. He's primarily played forward at college level but when the Whitecaps drafted him, it was hard to see him getting too much initial opportunity to that right now. Kekuta Manneh has struggled to find those minutes and you may see Banjo get minutes in that position in USL PRO, whilst being turned into a winger in the process. He certainly has the speed and skill to make that adjustment but what does he see as his preferred position? "I'd rather play the forward role," Banjo told us. "If it's needed I'll play on the wing too but I feel comfortable in both spots." Talking of USL PRO, it's also hard not to see that being where Robinson sees the 22-year-old striker fitting in right now. If that is where he ends up for most of this year, it's an opportunity Banjo is already approaching with the right attitude. "Playing that it gives you development for the first team I feel like. If that's what the coach feels that that's what I have to do to prove myself, then I will." Wherever Banjo ends up getting minutes in 2015, the big benefit for him is that he's coming to a club that doesn't just talk about playing younger players but actually does it and that's something that himself, Parker and others are all very aware and excited by. "That's what got me interested in everything he was saying," Banjo said of his initial chats with Robinson. "He's more about the younger players and development. That's what he saw in me and I'm excited to join."
  20. Have a listen! You can listen to this week's podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  21. "Yeah, everything that's been happening just feels dreamy," Froese said at training on Monday. "Honestly, the night after the game, and right after the game, I just kept replaying it. The crowd, the people, the support. It's just unbelievable. "I wasn't sure I was going to [play] when I went. I just went on the field and tried to enjoy every moment of it, watching everybody and everything. It was great." A whirlwind for sure, but how much of those 45 minutes on the pitch (52 I guess with all the stoppage time!) did Kianz get to enjoy and savour, or did it all just fly by? "No, it flew by, like a lot of the stuff that happened in it. I remember some of it and some I don't. It's tough. It feels blurry now. I don't remember much." He might not recall much of the action, but all he needs to know is that he didn't look one inch out of place out there. He was involved, he showed some nice footwork out wide and caused Seattle's defence some problems. Carl Robinson described him after the game as having "no fear" and Froese wasn't afraid to put himself about a bit, with a couple of crunching tackles soon settling him down, including a nice one that sent Jalil Anibaba flying through the air. "I felt comfortable," Froese admitted. "I'm happy that Robbo believed in me to put me in, in such a big game that we needed to win. The guys were great. They talked to me and they were on me all the time, 'hey come, tuck here, tuck there' so I had extra help to go for it." Another aspect that helped was that this wasn't Froese's pro debut as such. The 18-year-old played 77 minutes for the Caps in their 2-1 loss in Toronto in their Canadian Championship semi-final first leg match-up. That experience, along with playing for Canada at last year's U17 World Cup in the UAE, certainly gave Froese a good grounding and appetite for more. "It gave me a taste of where I wanted to be," Froese told us. "Now that I see it, I know where I want to be playing week in, week out. But I need to continue to work hard on tons of stuff so that I can progress into playing more often." There's been talk that the Caps might send Froese, Marco Bustos and some of their other young talent over to Europe at the start of the offseason to have training stints at some top clubs and get more experience. Bryce Alderson spent time at QPR last year and it's believed that the Whitecaps have a number of options available to them. For now though, Froese still has some Residency matches coming up. The U18s have six remaining matches in the USSDA this year and Kianz will have an important part to play. The Whitecaps will also want to see how he reacts with going back to the Residency environment after first team action. It's all part of the development plan and seeing the right attitude is very important to them. It's certainly not something they have to worry about with Froese, who knows the benefit of still growing within his own age group as well as against pros. It also gives him the chance to share his experience with the rest of the Residency squad, all of whom will be eager to follow in his and Bustos' footsteps, and have already been in touch. "I've spoken to my teammates and a lot of the guys. A lot of conversations," Froese said. "It's going to be the same [going back to Residency]. Obviously that's where it all started and that's where you go to continue to get game fit and game sharpness." The Residency games also give Froese the chance to develop different aspects of his game and the U18s have seen him play as an out and out striker, a 'false nine', on the wing and as both an attacking and defensive midfielder. For Kianz, the more experience he can get in different positions, the better a player it will make him. "I think it helps me understand the game better because you have to understand everyone else's roles too," Froese told us. "It gives me more positions that I can play in too. I think it's helped me. Everything the Residency has done has just helped me in general." Which of course bodes well for all the other players coming through from the Residency in the next couple of years. It's certainly exciting times in Whitecapsland.
  22. "I had no doubts about throwing him in at all," Robinson told us about Dean's start at the weekend. "People sort of said it was a big risk for me to throw him in away at Dallas but every decision you make is a risk and it was one that I had always planned. I had planned to do it earlier on in the season when we went away to Chicago, to play him. Unfortunately something had happened so I couldn't and this was the chance for him and I think he did very well and coped very well and he should be proud of his performance." Dean's first MLS start came in his home state. His family live in Houston but they couldn't make it out for this one, but his birth mum's best friends were at the game which was made the whole experience even nicer for him. Saturday may have been Dean's first MLS start as a Whitecap but he had previously started both of Vancouver’s Canadian Championship semi-final matches against Toronto in May, and made three substitute appearances in MLS prior to the Dallas game, for a combined total of 33 minutes. Despite the lack of top level experience, Robinson felt that Dean coped admirably and liked the aerial presence and the aggressive nature of the partnership he formed with new signing Kendall Waston, telling TSN 1410 radio after the game, "by the looks of them, they could be a fantastic partnership.". Having watched the game tape once again, Robinson was still full of praise for his rookie centreback at training yesterday. "He did very well," Robinson told reporters. "I thought he started the game, not a little bit nervously but a little bit cautious. I think he grew into the game. He tried to play offside once or twice on his own and I said to him we don't do that, there's no need to do that with your pace. Little bits of details that he will get during games and from playing regular. I was very pleased with him." Dean and Waston certainly looked to be a promising partnership for the Whitecaps for the future. A little raw and both have aspects of their defensive game that they need to work on, but the double aerial threat they provide in the opposition's penalty box would give many a defence some sleepless nights. For Dean's part, he enjoyed playing alongside Waston and is already a big fan of the Costa Rican's play. "Unbelievable. The guys a monster!" Dean told us. "But also he's solid on the ball, in possession and defensively. I'm learning from him as well because he's big and athletic like I am and watching him play these past couple of games, I've learned things from him. Just playing with him showed me that I'm capable of playing with him and it's also really fun. He's a great player." Waiting for his first MLS start, never mind some serious minutes, has been understandably frustrating for Dean. As a college player, he was used to starting and did so in all 55 of his appearances for the California Golden Bears in his three years in NCAA. To go from being one of the first names down of the teamsheet, to seldom even getting on the bench has taken some getting used to for the player. "It's been a little difficult, honestly," Dean admitted. "It's the first time really in my life actually that I've never started a game, so this has been a little difficult time but it's a learning process. Even if I mature here and make it over to Europe one day, I'm probably not going to start there some games so I have to be ready for that, so I think doing that here has kind of matured me in a way that has made me ready for what comes in the future." Frustration, disappointment and impatience is natural for every rookie wanting to start establishing himself in the pro ranks, but those feelings won't have been helped by watching his former Golden Bears teammate, and fellow centreback, Steven Birnbaum play 15 games and 1350 minutes for DC United in MLS this year. But rather than sit back and complain about his lot, Dean has knuckled down in training, using the experience of his good friend to spur him on to his own success and impress the Whitecaps coaching staff, and he is delighted to see what Birnbaum has achieved with DC this season. "Steve is one of my best friends in the world," Dean said. "He taught me how to play centreback. It's unbelievable to see what he's done. He's come in and he's kept his spot. For me, I'm just trying to learn and I still have a lot to learn. It's something that'll come eventually. I'm just happy for the guys that have gotten all the starts." This is certainly a learning year for Dean in many aspects, but he's come to a club with a lot of experience in the centreback position in the form of veterans O'Brien and DeMerit, two players who have played at the top level of the game. Both have taught him a lot, as have all the centrebacks in Vancouver at the moment, so what does Dean feel have been the biggest aspects of his learning curve after his move from NCAA to MLS? "I've learned a whole lot positionally-wise. Mentally, a lot," Dean told us about his transition from college to pro football. "The mental jump is huge coming here, especially watching [O'Brien and DeMerit] and watching them play. Even from Johnny and Carlyle who both have international experience. I think mentally it's just been a huge jump for me." With so many ahead of him in the competitive centreback pecking order in Vancouver right now, Dean knows that he has to show well in training to continue to be in and around the gameday squad. Athleticism and skill aside, another aspect that he has going for him is his versatility and ability to play in the left back role if required. It's something Dean is aware of, but his goal is to be marshaling that centre of the defence. "I have full back in my repertoire," Dean acknowledged. "It's what I played Freshman and Sophomore year, and high school. It's something I can do but I'm trying to transition to centreback and learn the position as much as possible. If need be I'll play left back. If they need me to play, I'll player wherever, if they want me to play goalie! It's just something that most likely I'd like to play centreback." Despite Dean doing well against Dallas, O'Brien should be back in the starting eleven to partner Waston for Vancouver against Portland on Saturday in the big Cascadian derby. With playoff points on the line, it's a match that Dean would love to play in, whether this one or sometime soon. "If I get the opportunity to play in Portland, I'm going to take full advantage of it," Dean said. "It's something that would be very exciting, it's a rivalry game. Cascadia Cup means a lot to our fans and a lot to us. It would be insane to play in that stadium with all their fans yelling at you and screaming at you. It would be fun."
  23. "They're fantastic signings for the club," Robinson told reporters. "I'm absolutely delighted to get those two on board, especially now with a couple of months to go till the end of the season because it's important. It's important for them to get to grips with what it's like being a MLS professional, getting used to the environment for January when they come because it's the progression I want as the manager of the club as well as what the club want. "I think it's important for the growth of this club that we see players coming through regularly. Not just one year, every three or four years, but every year. They're added to our already talented young pool of players that we've got. I'm delighted to have them both on board." It's a delight matched by both players, as they grinned from ear to ear throughout their first media scrums as pros. So now that they've had a small amount of time for it to all sunk in, how does it feel to have signed their first pro contracts? "[Monday] was an amazing day really," Froese told us. "It's surreal to say the least. It's a dream come true but the work starts now." That was a view echoed by Bustos, although it's their hard work already in the Residency program that has seen them earn their pro deals at 18-years-old. But now that the pair have that MLS contract, neither is going to be resting on his laurels. "It's a good feeling because I've pretty much put the weight off my shoulders for how hard I've worked for the past 10, 12 months," Bustos told us. "To know that I've got myself in the team for next season is a good step for me because that then pushes me to fight for a spot on the squad. That realistically, at the end of the day, I want to be in the 18 man squad and sooner, rather than later, be in the 11 man squad." Both players have impressed at training this year and they got an initial reward back in May when they started the first leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final in Toronto. Although a spot in the second leg was deprived of them due to a Canadian national team training camp, the experience that both got in that game against TFC gave them a taste of playing for the Whitecaps first team and left them knowing they could perform at that level and wanting more. "The experience leaves me with the thought that I can be here and I could play with the squad," Bustos said. "It makes me believe that I can get in the 11 man squad and it shows me that the coaches believe in me. Whenever the coaches give me the chance to get out on the field again, then I'll hopefully take that chance and give them everything." Froese agrees and the match helped them realise that they've arrived in football and are playing with and against world class players now. "When I saw [Michael] Bradley playing in the World Cup, I was like, 'yeah, I've played against him'!," Froese joked. "Obviously it just shows that we can do it and we can hopefully play, so it just gives us confidence to go and do it when the chance comes." And Froese may be getting that chance in the very near future. With six games remaining, Robinson has no qualms about pitching the young star into the mix, whether the Whitecaps are in the heat of a playoff battle or not, and the 'Caps coach has no doubts that he's already capable of playing at MLS level. "Kianz is very much in contention," Robinson replied when asked if Froese would only play if the Caps were out of the playoffs. "We don't need to be eliminated or out of it for him to get the opportunity. I think you see today in training what he brings. "We know there's areas of his game that need a little bit more focus. I just spoke to him at length about what we're going to do in the offseason, but he's very much in the picture between now and the end of the season. And rightly so, because his performances and his training have fully deserved that. So don't be surprised if you see him soon." Signing a MLS contract is already a dream come to true for Froese, but to then play right away and have the chance to shape the club's playoff hopes is taking it to another level altogether, but one he's excited at the prospect of and ready for. "That would be unreal," Froese said. "That's my goal for right now. To hopefully get to go on a trip with the team and just be a part of the team and help in any way I can. Obviously that's earned on the field, so right now I'm just focussing on staying consistent and hopefully I get a chance." Unfortunately, Marco Bustos won't get his chance to shine this season, having only signed a pre-contract for MLS that won't kick in until January next year. It's disappointing, especially with the top form that he is in right now with the Residency, but taking the long term view, this may see him signing a Generation Adidas deal with Russell Teibert moving off his. And in light of Major League Soccer's weird roster rules at the best of times, the Whitecaps didn't want to take any chances. "As you know, with the expansion draft coming up, it's a tricky time for all MLS clubs," Robinson told us. "With the protection rule of only ten players, maybe bumping two of them up at a certain time will give the possibility of me maybe losing one or two players and I don't want to do that at this time because I'm building here. "I can get one of them on the roster, which is why I think Kianz is slightly more ready than Marco, even though Marco scored five goals on the weekend and beat six men to get his goal of the season contender." And what a goal that was. If anyone needed convincing of the talent Bustos has and what he offers the Whitecaps, they should have seen his second goal against San Juan on Sunday. It may have been at youth level but he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and weaved his way past six players before coolly putting it away past the keeper. Has he scored a better goal than that? "I can't remember all the goals I've scored, but I think that's probably one of the best ones I've scored for the Whitecaps Residency," Bustos said. "Going through those bunch of guys and finishing was pretty cool." Bustos hit a hat-trick in Saturday's 3-2 win for the Whitecaps U18s over Seattle and followed that up with a brace against San Juan. With the minutes ticking down he had the chance to hit back to back hat-tricks, but could only look on as his shot cannoned off the left hand post. "It would have been nice to get the two hat-tricks but at the end of the day we won the game, so that's all that matters to me," Bustos told us when we ask him if he was disappointed at missing out on an impressive feat. Bustos has been given the captain's armband for the U18s this season and the attitude and knowledge sharing he has shown since training with the first team, played an important part in the decision to reward him with a MLS contract. The Whitecaps are always keen to see how the young players react when they go back into the Residency environment and Bustos' attitude has been exemplary. So how did the captaincy come about? "The two Residency coaches, Steve Meadley and Niall Thompson, had pulled me aside at the end of last season and asked me if I would take the honour of being the skipper," Bustos told us. "They talked to me a little bit about trying to build my leadership to make myself a better pro and I wanted to take the challenge. "Just to have that extra leadership skill in me and to lead by example and lead vocally, I think will make me a better player, so I wanted to take that opportunity to make myself better." He has already been leading by example, and not just with his five goals on the opening weekend, but Bustos hopes that he and his good friend, and fellow Manitoba boy, Froese can be good role models for other Canadian kids looking to make it in the pro ranks. "Knowing that me and Kianz have made it here will hopefully inspire other young kids to follow their dreams and to go forward and hopefully one day they could follow our footsteps," Bustos added. With more Residency homegrown talent on the horizon and pushing hard, I don't think he'll have to wait too long for that.
  24. From the moment the first rumours of Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo's transfer from Vancouver Whitecaps to Mexican side Queretaro FC surfaced, one name was mentioned as being the main man responsible for the controversial transfer - Camilo's agent, Lucas Teixeira. Teixeira is Director of International Relations with the FootballBrazil company and agency, and he manages the careers of professional soccer players, including former Whitecaps striker, and 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner, Camilo Sanvezzo. Talking exclusively to AFTN's Aaron Campbell, Lucas spoke directly from his office in Praia Grande on the São Paulo coastline to shed some light on how the controversial transfer played out and to address the rumours of Camilo's possible return to Vancouver and to MLS. AFTN: When the picture of Camilo giving a thumbs up in a Querétaro FC jersey surfaced online this offseason, it infuriated Vancouver Whitecaps supporters. Knowing how the whole situation played out now, would you and Camilo do anything different if you could do it again? Lucas Teixeira: It is important to note that in this moment (of the photo) that Camilo is not already under contract. His contract with the Whitecaps had ended on 31/12/2013. His picture doing the medical examination was an "accident" because I would make an official statement stating that Camilo did not play any more for the Vancouver Whitecaps and explaining the reasons. The picture was taken by one ESPN reporter and published, but nothing was "official". It was told that it was my strategy to pressure the Whitecaps to negotiate the contract for Camilo. This is not true. But no, I would not do anything differently because nothing was done wrong. At that time, under the law of FIFA and the TAS, Camilo was free to sign with any club. AFTN: What did you see in Camilo's MLS contract that led you to believe it wasn't a valid contract? LT: The contract Camilo had, had a start date and end date, and Camilo worked with great honour in that period, always doing his best for the Whitecaps. His contract had an OPTION of renewal UNILATERAL. What must be clear is that option is not an obligation, and moreover, it is obvious that such a clause was an expectation and not a condition, nor an obligation. That itself, FIFA and the TAS recognized that in numerous cases that the unilateral option is inconsistent with the principles of contractual freedom and equality (equilíbrio) protected by FIFA. If for any reason Camilo had a bad season in the league the Caps simply could dispense of him with a simple notification. But we notified the Caps several times, seeking a dialogue, even personally in the team office. But not at any time did the club have the same desire for a dialogue. Only after our arrival in Queretaro and the publication of the photo of Camilo with the shirt of Queretaro was there an attempt at dialogue, but in this moment we already had the endorsement of our lawyer (Gislaine Nunes, who among others represent the Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Rogério Ceni, Paulo Henrique Ganso etc...) that Camilo was free to sign a contract at any club, and we had already given the word to Queretaro, so it was late. AFTN: What salary amount was Camilo asking for from the Whitecaps? LT: I do not talk about values, but what I can say is that we did not request a value outside of the normal. I remember that I saw a photomontage of Camilo with the shirt of Queretaro and a mountain of money with him, clearly accusing the athlete of being a mercenary. Well what few people know is that when we were in Mexico with the contract signed verbally with Queretaro FC, we received a greater proposal financially to return to the Whitecaps, but Camilo thanked him and kept his word with Queretaro and signed the contract the next day. As much as many people think otherwise, Camilo has a very strong word, yes is yes, no is no and end of history. He is like his father who is a very honourable character. The whole Sanvezzo family are amazing people. The problem for Camilo in Vancouver was not so much financial, but with the treatment given to him as a professional. AFTN: What is your opinion on how the Whitecaps organization handled the whole contract situation? LT: I'll go back to say, the whole problem was not the contract (because I cannot criticize a contract with a private company, that would be unethical) but the lack of dialogue of the Whitecaps with a professional who gave three years on the team always doing his best. Camilo arrived in 2011 for a trial period, and proved his value and when he tried to get a dialogue going in countless ways, he didn't have success. Even personally where he waited many hours to be received in the club's office, not being received and the club did not get a line of dialogue going with the president, or other person of directorship. AFTN: Peter Schaad reported in a TSN blog that Camilo is desperate to return to the Whitecaps. Is there any truth to this report? LT: I don't know Mr. Peter Schaad, and I have nothing against him, even though he made a post on his Twitter account questioning my ability to work, when he wrote on 18th May: "A "Good" agent would leave open all possibilities, instead of defending his job." I have nothing against him but it was an extremely unfortunate statement to say that Camilo is desperate to return to the Whitecaps. There does not exist despair in any way. Even with Queretaro having gone through financial difficulties this season, there does not exist despair. The Queretaro team has a very competent and honest directive, which through its president Adolfo Rios, everything is being solved. Camilo played the Clausura tournament, giving his maximum. He suffered an injury when he arrived in Mexico, but once he recovered took the field and as always, did his best. No hypothesis exists where there is despair by Camilo, his family or his staff to return to the Caps. Camilo has a deep affection for the Vancouver Whitecaps and their fans, but now he plays for Querétaro FC and is focused on doing his best on and off the field, securing his place in the team and in the hearts of fans de los Gallos Blancos! On the day that Mr Peter Schaad published this bullshit, Camilo (who is on vacation) was fishing in his hometown, so I do not think he's desperate as was said. AFTN: Carl Robinson came out and stated that Camilo is one of five players on a short list of players they are looking to bring in this summer. Have yourself or Querétaro FC been contacted by anyone in the Whitecaps organization? LT: One thing about Coach Carl Robinson, he and Mr. Lino Di Cuollo [MLS vice president of player personnel] were the only ones who attempted a dialogue since Camilo's contract finished with the Whitecaps. This showed that both have extreme professional sense. I do not know the list of possible signings of Vancouver, nor if Camilo is on that list, but if there is interest in Camilo the only way is negotiating with Queretaro, and so far there has not been any contact between the clubs. AFTN: The statement you released said that Camilo will not be returning to the Whitecaps because he has a 3 year contract with Querétaro. How are people supposed to believe that when according to MLS, he had a current valid contract with the Whitecaps? LT: I return to the answer of the first question, the contract with the Whitecaps would have ended in 31/12/2013. Ask any club that our company works with in the world if at any point any player represented by FootballBrazil did not respect and comply with a contract... Then yes, the contract of Camilo had been fully honoured. Camilo and myself signed the contract with Queretaro FC. We tried to negotiate in a number of ways, but as we did not succeed, we moved to the club that made the best offer. An interesting detail is that the Queretaro F.C. did not make the best financial offer! We had a great club in South Korea, which had a better financial offer, but by the project and the work of the president of Queretaro, Camilo chose to stay in Mexico. AFTN: There are rumours circulating that the only way Camilo could be accepted back by the Whitecaps organization is by not having you as his agent. What are your thoughts on this? LT: I do not worry about this. I have been working with Camilo many years, and I'm sure he knows the potential of my work (Malta, South Korea, Vancouver, Mexico) and if at any time he is not satisfied with my work, and does not want me any more as its agent, ok no problem. Business is business, but friendship follows... AFTN: When Camilo tweeted out a thank you to all the Vancouver supporters after signing in Querétaro, were you guys surprised with all the angry replies by Whitecaps supporters? LT: Football is passion, I'm even a fan of a Brazilian team that has one of the world's most fanatical fans (S.C. Corinthians Paulista), so I understand that a few fans have it exceeded, but I believe that the vast majority of Caps fans, have a great affection for Camilo Sanvezzo. In my case, it reached the absurd. I received messages with people saying that I and my family would be killed (I remember that my wife was very scared at the time). I also received messages with words discriminatory and even of a racist nature, but I just erased, because I know that was limited to at most a few fans. I know of many people in Canada (Vancouver) and I know people who are kind, extremely polite, and peaceful. AFTN: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to all the Whitecaps supporters that feel betrayed by this whole situation? LT: A person sent me a tweet wondering how he was going to tell his young little daughter that her main idol had left the team. This question struck me and I tried to contact this father, with the thought of sending a signed shirt of Camilo from Brazil, but just not getting contact. Like this father and his daughter, many fans were saddened by the departure of Camilo because football is passion, but it is also the job of Camilo, and that is what the fans have to understand. Camilo has great affection by fans of Vancouver, but he also has a family, has a newborn daughter, wife, bills to pay, and you must seek what is best professionally for him and your family. And after numerous attempts at dialogue with the Whitecaps, Querétaro made a good offer, not only financially but with a respect to the principle of equality and with all the support of the board, and today I can say that Camilo is passionate for Queretaro and the fans of the club. I ask you Aaron as an example for the Caps fans, and I ask your answer honestly. You love your job, but suddenly the Washington Post (for example) makes you a job offer that will be best for you and your family, and your former employer does not want to at least talk to you and try to get an agreement that is good for both, what would you do? What anyone would do? We will be honest! For the fans of Vancouver, I have to say that the institution of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, is greater than all. Is greater than Camilo, than Lucas Teixeira, higher than Bob Lenarduzzi or Peter Schaad, Camilo wrote your story on the team well, as others will write, and I'm sure that the team will have a great season reaching the playoffs and even fighting for the title! GO CAPS!!! ********** [ED - So there you have it. We would like to thank Lucas for taking the time to chat with us after we reached out to him and give some background into why and how the whole Camilo transfer debacle played out. And never say never, Camilo could still be back in Caps colours one day. Whether that is a good or bad thing will long be debated. We also want to thank Stefan Eriksson (@the_pnguin on Twitter) for the big role he played in helping this interview happen.] ******************** [** Please consider supporting AFTN's fundraising campaign. All the details are here - http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/content.php?5455-AFTN-Fundraising-Drive **]
  25. Vancouver Whitecaps' Residency players are currently on a six year Canadian U17 player of the year winning streak. Russell Teibert did the double in 2008 and 2009. Bryce Alderson in 2010 and 2011 and Marco Carducci for the last two years, 2012 and 2013. All have been rewarded with MLS contracts by the Whitecaps. The next group of young players are now competing to be the next one named and one player who has catapulted his way into the conversation is Victoria, BC native Dario Zanatta. This season Zanatta, who turns 17 later this month, has scored 19 goals in 21 games for the Whitecaps, and has seen time, and the scoresheet, with both the U16 and U18 teams. I had a chance to catch up with this up and coming Whitecaps Residency player to see what his plans are in the future and how excited he would be to be the second local BC kid to suit up for the MLS Whitecaps (*Caleb Clarke got 15 minutes of MLS action in two appearances towards the end of the 2012 season, as the first and only BC born player to come through the Residency program and play for the Whitecaps in the MLS so far). AFTN: The Whitecaps have a great history with producing quality U17 players. Where do you see yourself fitting into that mix? Dario: The Whitecaps history of having players win the U17 Player of the Year award has been very good, and I would be honoured to be nominated and follow in their footsteps. But I am a different player than those before me and I am just trying to be the best player I can be. AFTN: You are off to a amazing start with the Residency this season. What area of your game do you feel you need to improve on before stepping up to the U18 set-up full time next season? Dario: The physical side of the game is something I have been working on recently, as well as dealing better with crosses. Playing the number of games that I have with the U-18's this year has been very helpful, but as a player I am always trying to work on every aspect of my game. AFTN: With the Whitecaps moving towards a younger attacking team, how excited are you at the thought of getting a chance to suit up for the team in MLS? Dario: It is a goal of mine to play professional soccer, and playing in my home province with the Whitecaps would be a great thrill, but those are decisions that aren't up to me. I would hope that over time my development gives me that opportunity. AFTN: What professional player would you compare your game to? Dario: I aspire to play like any of the top strikers in the world, but the professional player I compare my game to is Robin van Persie. AFTN: Finally, what are your soccer specific goals for the next 5 years? Dario: To sign a professional contract, to represent my country at the U20 World Cup and to earn a spot with the senior team. ** There is one more U16 home game left this season in the USSDA and it takes place this coming Saturday, May 17th at Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam. The U16s will kick off at 2.30pm and before that the U18s will kick off the afternoon of football at noon. Come out and make it a Residency double header and #SupportTheFuture. Follow Dario Zanatta on twitter @dario_zanatta. You can see video of Dario scoring for the Caps U16s against Portland in November below:
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