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  1. 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:
  2. 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."
  3. "That was part of my plan coming in to the draft," Robinson admitted during a conference call to local media on Thursday afternoon. "To try and get the best player available, of course, but it had to have some substance and I needed to know what positions I was slightly weak in. Obviously losing two centre backs was an area, and we addressed that. The wide areas, Kay can fit into that if need be or if we're able to bring someone else in. It was a very promising draft for us." You never know how players are going to adapt to the professional ranks. Can they make the grade? Can they hack going from being a regular first choice starter to often a reserve player or at best a bench guy? How do you feel when you're drafted for MLS but playing USL? It takes a mentally strong individual to handle it all it sometimes. Christian Dean has previously admitted that he had found some of last season tough going but Robinson feels that while it was a difficult year for Dean, he will have learned from it and be better as a result of it. Both Parker and Banjo look to have potential, to perhaps varying degrees. Parker is by far the more MLS ready, whilst Banjo has some exciting attributes that need honed in what is now the ideal environment for him. Robinson had highlighted Parker as a target before flying down for the MLS draft and combine. The Whitecaps were the first team that the St John's senior spoke with and Robinson not only got his man, but a player he feels has the attributes he wants in a Whitecaps player and the skillset to make a difference to the team and his backline. "We knew about Tim going into the combine," Robinson said of the overall 13th pick in the draft. "I think his performances in the combine, he was arguably the best centreback there. If you speak to him, he's educated, he's cultured. I think the fair thing to say about him is he's a typical Whitecaps player. He's got personality, he's respectful and he's tough. If you're going to win things then those are the characters you need and we're delighted we've got him. "They say that 13 is an unlucky number, but today it was our lucky number because we actually picked up the guy that I wanted out of the draft in Tim." There was a moment of hesitation for Robinson though just before Vancouver's first round selection. Seattle were amongst the teams looking to trade up in the pecking order and Robinson had to weight up taking a deal but perhaps at the risk of losing the main player he wanted by dropping a couple of spots. A five minute timeout was taken but in the end it was a no-brainer for the 'Caps coach. "As always here at the draft, you get a lot of MLS teams that come to you at the last minute or whatever and they try and get in your head before you have to make a decision. There was talks of allocation money, there was talks of moving up and down the draft table but when Tim was still on the table there was no possibility that we'd contemplate doing that. We took our time, we got everything right and we took the player that we wanted." So just what is it about Parker that piqued Robinson's interest and made him his number one target? What does he bring to the Whitecaps table? "We considered a lot of players but after interviewing Tim, he fits the mould that I am and he also fits the mould that the club is," Robinson said. "He's very respectful, he's honest, he's hard working and I feel that he is MLS ready now. I think he's got great attributes for a defender. It was the perfect fit for me. "I think he's got great attributes for a defender. We've just lost Andy O'Brien and we're a little bit short in that area, so I wanted to strengthen. It was a perfect fit.We're changing that area at the moment, with one or two players moving on. We identified Tim in the draft and we got our man, so we're delighted with that." Character and attitude are clearly important, as Robinson has highlighted many times, but Parker's on-field qualities also excite him and having scouted him over his senior year, Robinson was particularly impressed by what he showed at the combine. "I thought he did the fundamentals very well. As a defender you're talking about reading the game, positional sense, aerial battles, playing simple when you need to. Defenders are in there to do a job. They're not in there to try and beat a centre forward with a little stepover or anything like that. The fundamentals he did very well and that's what stood out. "Not just to me but to other teams as well. After completing the draft just now I spoke to a few other teams and they're disappointed they weren't able to pick him up. I'm very happy with that. "He's tough, he's competitive. His understanding and his reading of the game is exceptional. He plays with his brain. He's very smart tactically and you need to be smart tactically. If you look at the top MLS defenders, which are mostly American in this league, then they're all very smart and Tim's definitely a smart guy." Parker was captain of St John's in his Senior year and Robinson has no doubts that he could be a future leader with the Whitecaps as well. "I do, without a doubt. One of his main qualities is that he's an organiser. Being respectful off the pitch and being competitive on the pitch. You saw that at the combine. It's an important factor and an important trait if you're going to be a solid defender in Major League Soccer and he certainly brings that to the table. "I hope he comes in in the next two weeks and tries to put his mark on because he'll be given a fair opportunity, as will every single one of my other players, and it's down to him to try and win a place in my team and my squad." While Parker may be close to being MLS ready and challenging for minutes over the course of the season, Vancouver's other SuperDraft pick today is more a long term proposition. Kay Banjo is another senior, who shone with UMBC as they advanced to the NCAA Final Four in December. Banjo grabbed 8 goals and 5 assists from 23 games last year, but went his last six matches without being able to add either. An exciting talent when on his game, from what we saw of him, he sometimes drifts out of games and can look a little lost. "I've seen exactly the same as you," Robinson told AFTN. "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." The addition of the 'Caps USL PRO team this coming season is a massive developmental boon, not just for the club but for the players as well. It's something Robinson is excited about and a tool he plans to utilise fully. "It's very important and it's something that we weren't able to have last year and I think some of my younger players, not lost their way a little bit, but didn't manage to get the competitive minutes that I wanted. It's an important piece of the puzzle to us this year. There are players who will go down and play in the USL and I think it's important for them that when they do go down they take their opportunity. "If they take their opportunity then that puts them in a very good position to compete for minutes in Major League Soccer with our team. It's a very important piece and it's probably the next stage of the development for younger players as well because we've graduated a lot of our Residency guys and if they can't crack into the first team right away then it will be important for them as well." What players will end up playing where is still up for grabs but Robinson promised that every player will be given a fair chance to impress and show that they deserve to be part of the MLS mix. "That'll be dictated in preseason. I'm giving my young players an opportunity and guys in the draft today are going to be given those opportunities and it's down to them. If they can crack into the first team squad, then there certainly will be a position there for them. If they can't, and I feel they need a year in the USL for their development, then that's where they'll be." The Whitecaps still have five draft selections left in next Tuesday third and fourth rounds. Having highlighted an initial list of players in the draft that interested him, are some of those options still available to him in the next two rounds and how does he see the club approaching it? "There are, but we've got to be smart with our decisions when we decide to make our picks," he told us. "I can't totally fill up the roster with all young players. The majority are young players but we'll have our eye on our USL roster with the next round of picks that we have, so we have to be sensible and smart with our decisions but there are certainly guys that are still very interesting to me." Robinson also promised a further three or four new faces still to come, which he hopes will be in place for either the start of training camp or soon after, and despite the addition of Parker in the draft and Rodriguez on Wednesday, expect a fifth centre back to join the ranks, and perhaps a familiar one at that. "It'll probably be [someone] within the league," Robinson said. "I could go and find another young, talented centre back like I've already added in recent weeks, but I know if we are going to be competing and winning, then I do need some leadership in certain areas. It's probably going to be a guy that's got experience within the league and is a little bit older in years. It's probably going to be an older guy." One thing is for sure, it's going to be a crowded training camp and if players want to be considered part of the MLS mix going forward, they're going to need to stand out early and consistently.
  4. Parker was keen to impress at the combine and he did just that. "I went down there with kind of a chip on my shoulder and a statement to make to coaches of the league and the league itself that I wanted to be a first round pick," Parker admitted in a conference call on Thursday afternoon. "I really wanted to make coaches happy with the way I played and overall I think I am happy with the way I played. I think I performed well and I showed up fit and tried to be as sharp as I could every day." It worked for Carl Robinson and the 6 foot 2 defender, who has never even been to Canada before, comes to Vancouver after four years and 79 appearances with the Red Storm, captaining St John's in his Senior year. So for those of us that have never seen him play, how would he describe himself as a player? "I think I'm a hard working guy who knows what his job is and is willing to do anything he can to complete it," Parker told reporters following his draft selection. He followed that up in a conference call with local media later by adding: "My kind of playing style I'd describe as physical. I think I have some physical attributes that I can contribute and also I'm one of those defenders that likes to be on the ball, so whether that's playing out of the back or being an option to other players I think I can add that dimension to the Whitecaps this year and I hope that I'm given the opportunity to." Having started all but one of his appearances with St John's, Parker will now find himself in the position that Christian Dean did last season - of not being a regular starter and having to show patience as he waits for his chance. What will benefit Parker though is the chance to play valuable USL minutes and show his worth there as he challenges for MLS minutes. "One of the most important things for a younger player is to be able to get minutes," Parker said. "Without getting minutes, it's very hard to develop as a young player, so I think that because Vancouver does have a USL PRO team, it'll give me the opportunity to get minutes, to get experience and hopefully that kind of experience and minutes can help me translate to the first team." Parker is coming to a Vancouver side however that is not afraid to give young players minutes, a fact he is very aware of. With the 'Caps facing a busy 2015 in MLS, Champions League and Canadian Championship action, Parker will definitely see minutes with the first team, and coming to a club that's manager consistently gives its younger players a chance excites the 21-year-old. "I know they're a young team and they brought me in here as a young guy," Parker said. "It gives me a lot of confidence. It shows he trusts his younger players. It shows he instils faith and that's important for a younger guy going into an organisation." "It doesn't matter about age, it matters about the way you perform. I think, for me, that's something I have to have in my mind going in to this." The Whitecaps courted Parker early and were the first team to talk with him down at the combine. Bobby Lenarduzzi described his interview as hitting a "home run" and it was a connection also felt by the player. "When I met with the coaching staff, I think we got along very well," Parker said. "We connected. For me, it was something I thought could be a possibility. I thought the meeting went very well. They were the first team I met with and I could feel some interest and connection right away. For me, it was a very important and very positive first meeting for sure." The character and mentality that he showed in that chat that cemented Robinson's interest in him, with a lot of the chat focussing on what motivated Parker and what the player was like off the pitch. "We got to know each other pretty well personally," Parker told us. "I was able to get to know them and they were able to get to know me on a more personal level. Kind of know the kind of person I am, not only on the field but also off the field. Our ideas of soccer and the game and what I believe I'm capable of over the next couple of years kind of clicked." "Through this process, coaching is going to be very important to me growing as a player. I'm very excited to be working with the staff." So just what does make Parker tick off the field? "For me, when I'm not playing soccer I'm a big family guy," he says. "I'm a big friendly guy. I love hanging out with my family and my friends. being from New York I love to spend time at the beaches but also I love seeing movies and I love doing anything kind of outdoorsy." He's certainly coming to the right place for the latter. There is no doubt that Parker is an intelligent player with his head firmly screwed on. A lot of that comes from his upbringing. His mum is a registered nurse in New York and his dad is a police officer in Long Island. Neither played soccer themselves, but both have helped him in his chosen career path. "My mum and dad have always kept me honest. I've been humble but I've also been able to be proud when I can be. The inbetween areas, are always pushing me. They always make sure I have the right head on my shoulders." So what would Parker class as a successful first season in MLS and with the Whitecaps? "I know that over the course of the year the Whitecaps don't only play in MLS but they also play other games outside of the league, like the cups and whatnot," Parker said. "For me, just getting a couple of starts. 10 to 15 starts in MLS would be massive in helping me grow as a player."
  5. With the first pick of the fourth round of the 2014 SuperDraft, Vancouver Whitecaps selected Canadian striker Mackenzie Pridham from Cal Poly Mustangs. Last round picks in the draft don't have a reputation for making the grade in MLS and sticking around, but in Mackenzie Pridham, the Whitecaps may have found an exception to the rule and one of those steal selections desired by all clubs. Pridham is a natural goalscorer. Leaving Cal Poly as their all-time leading scorer with 27 goals and a slew of accolades, the striker has shown he knows how to find the back of the net at every level he has played at so far. Now comes the ultimate test as he tries to make the grade in the professional ranks. Born in Toronto, Pridham's family moved to California when Mackenzie was at an early age. "My family made the move to California when I was about three or four. We weren't planning on staying there for very long but we ended up not leaving. All of our relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, they still live in Canada, back in Toronto, so we go back there at least once a year and visit all of them and spend time. It's always good to get back there." Pridham is a US permanent resident but Canada has always held a place close to his heart and he has represented his country at U17 level and featured in a U20 training camp. So how did it feel to be drafted by a Canadian team? "I couldn't have been happier. I was very stoked. Haven't been able to spend too much time in Vancouver but I have a couple of family friends out here and some cousins. I was really excited to come to a new place and be back in Canada and hopefully get a chance to play for a Canadian club." He'll get his chance to show what he can offer, stake a claim for a roster spot and impress the Caps coaching team over the next five weeks of training camp. Pridham arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday but hasn't been able to see any pitch time just yet as he is still carrying an undisclosed injury he picked up in the MLS combine. "I'm just rehabbing right now, trying to get as much treatment as I can and get my body healthy so I can get out on the field again soon." Pridham will head off to Arizona with the rest of the Whitecaps in camp on Monday afternoon. "I've talked to some of the guys in the locker room and stuff and they're all nice guys so far and things have been going well. My number one focus is just to get healthy and get ready to get on to the pitch and hopefully the rest will take care of itself." Pridham has been a prolific goalscorer at both high school and college level and really shone during his last two years at Cal Poly. The MLS <a href="http://www.mlssoccer.com/players/mackenzie-pridham" target="_blank"><u>scouting report</u></a> described Pridham as a "handful", "powerful" and "a born goalscorer", but for those that haven't seen him play, how would Mackenzie describe himself as a player and his style of play? "I would say I'm a hard working defender off the ball when I'm not on offence. Pressuring, very intelligent and tactical with the ball. Off the ball my movements, a lot of it's inbetween the width of the 18 yard box. I like to come in false to combine with my midfielders and wingers and play simple, hold the ball up. "I'd say my best attributes are in the box. I'm a box player and I love to score goals. I'm good with both of my feet and just try to get the ball into the box to be able to do my thing and get some shots on goal." Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson echoes those thoughts and has liked what he has seen of the 23 year old to date. "Mackenzie is one of the hardest working players I've seen. He's a good player, that's why I wanted to bring him in. His goalscoring record for these last two years has been fantastic. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pick him up." Pridham's natural goalscoring prowess, and 11 goals in his Junior year, caught the attention of professional clubs and he trained with Toronto for six months last summer and also had the chance to go and train with Sporting Kansas City. "I could have gone out to Kansas City but it wasn't finalised and I had already gotten the opportunity to go up and train with TFC for the summer, so I took advantage of that." How did it go in Toronto? "At the beginning I was with the team below the reserves and I proved myself and worked hard and ended up getting some good training in with the first team. It was a great environment and a great training aspect for going in to my Senior season. "My focus was to try and not let any hype or talk get to me and just try and focus on my game and what I have to do and just be the best leader and captain for my teammates at that time." Pridham entered the draft after another outstanding season with the Mustangs. His 14 goals included five game winners and saw him win back to back Big West Offensive Player of the Year awards. To then see him going 58th overall in the draft was somewhat of a surprise, with some http://www.mlssoccer.com/superdraft/2014/news/article/2013/12/19/mock-draft-v20-mls-campus-rates-blue-chippers-one-month-out-2014-superdraft" <u>early mock drafts</u></a> having him going as high as 12th in the first round. With his six week stint in Toronto having gone well just months before and the feedback Pridham received being very positive from the coaches, had TFC shown any signs that they were looking at selecting him in the draft? "You know, it's not like I had heard from the coaches on a regular basis or anything like that. I think they were aware of me and had seen my highlight video. I briefly talked with them at the combine but other than that, that was about it." So was there an indication before the draft that Vancouver were interested in bringing Pridham back to Canada? "I had a long talk before the combine with Jake DeClute from here at the Whitecaps and we had a good conversation and it was good to hear from him." When a player is highly rated and then finds himself not being picked in the early rounds of the draft, what is going through his mind? "I think taking this injury on at the combine definitely hurt the mental aspect and my morale a little bit, but at this time it's where you need to be that much better and that much more focused. "I had my 24 hours to kind of mope about it and be down but after that I was like I need to keep a positive attitude and stay even more focused now and do everything I can to get back." Carl Robinson has talked a lot this offseason about the character he wants to see from his players, especially off the pitch. Pridham's attitude and how he handled the disappointment of dropping down the draft will fit into Robinson's mould. "I kind of thought it would have hurt my stock as a player, but when it came down to it, it didn't matter if I went one or went last, I was still going to get the same opportunity and I couldn't be more happier than to be with the Whitecaps here in Vancouver at this club. "Everything happens for a reason and everything worked out pretty well and I was happy about it." A great attitude to have and more of Pridham's character also shines through when you look at his volunteer work he did away from the football pitch down at Cal Poly including youth clinics, working in an elderly care clinic, at a shelter and volunteering with the Special Olympics. California Polytechnic State University is based out of the beautiful city of San Luis Obispo on the southern Californian coast. It's a fantastic place to visit, so what was it like going to school there? "I had an amazing experience. It was a great college town, I got a good education, made an awesome group of friends, both in athletic and non athletics, and some of those friends I think will be friends for the rest of my life. "My overall experience there was amazing. The soccer was great. I think we were one of the few programs in the country to get a solid fanbase at a lot of our games and we had a good coaching staff, good teammates. "I wish we could have gone a little bit further my senior year, but all in all the last two years we, I'd say, turned the program around and started to put in a good step forward in the right direction and I'm just glad to have been able to be a part of that and end my last two seasons well." Pridham will be bringing some experience into the Caps training camp that most of the other draft picks and rookies will not have the advantage of - playing in front of some very large and very fervent crowds. As we discussed in our recent <a href="http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/content.php?5073-Groundhopping-Santa-Barbara-Home-of-the-Gauchos-and-the-tortilla-toss" target="_blank"><u>"Groundhopping"</u></a> feature, the red hot Cal Poly-Santa Barbara rivalry is one of the fiercest in college football. It is also the highest attended, with regular 12 and 13,000 sell out crowds. Great preparation for moving into the senior game but what was it like to play in that derby? "That's what I lived for down there. They were amazing. There's so much build up of it. All your friends, all your school. People had to buy tickets in advance to get to the games cos they would get sold out. "Our stadium max capacity is 12 or 13,000 but there's at least a few more thousand in there jammed in because the students are just standing shoulder to shoulder the whole 90 minutes, just cheering and doing chants. "It's unbelievable and hard to explain. When you're on the field you can't even hear the game, you can't talk to your teammates. The week before we practice without any communication, which is a little weird, because you have to get used to being able to not communicate with your teammates. "The fan aspect and the student support we have is unbelievable at those games. They're special and I don't think there's any other environment at the college level that's like that." Perhaps even better than just playing in one of those games is to score the winning goal in the derby. Pridham did just that in 2012 and on national television. Was that the best or the most meaningful goal of his fledgling football career so far? "It was probably the most meaningful. I wouldn't say it was the nicest goal I've scored but we came back with, I think, a minute left in the game to tie it and then went into overtime. We hadn't won down there in 15 years or something like that and I had a whole bunch of friends and our fan group come down to the game and family members were there and being on TV and stuff, it was an honour to be able to get the game winner. "I couldn't have been more stoked. It was amazing." Like all the hopefuls in the Caps camp right now, Pridham will have a tough job cracking one of the premium spots remaining on the MLS roster, although the Charleston USL Pro affiliation is always something to fall back on. He does have the advantage that there isn't exactly a long queue in the camp for an out and out striker. We'll leave you with a couple of videos of Mackenzie Pridham in action. The first one is of that 2012 game between Santa Barbara and Cal Poly (Pridham's goal comes at the six minute mark) and the second video is a highlight reel of his 2012 and 2013 seasons at the Mustangs. If he can bring this to the Caps and continue his prolific goalscoring at the next level, you know that he stands a great chance of getting a shot. Hopefully he can shake off his injury in time to see some meaningful game minutes down in Arizona as he could be an interesting player to watch over the coming month.
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