It was a disappointing result settling for a draw against LA Galaxy, but the sell-out crowd and the performances by both teams made it another memorable night at BC Place.
There are lots of reasons to be excited for the remainder of the season, as the ‘Caps last 13 MLS games are all against Western Conference foes. There were complaints about the league’s conference-based schedule early on, but I have to say that this format makes each and every game very very important, as a win or loss is a six-point swing in the standings. So buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride the rest of the way.
When you look at some of the teams in the west – LA Galaxy, San Jose, Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Portland – you find players like David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Fredy Montero and Kris Boyd. With top talent, the quality of each remaining match promises to be exceptional, just as it was last night against the Galaxy.
On top of that, we find a key to any sports culture – tradition.
Big teams with big players bring back happy memories of playing in the North American Soccer League (NASL). Aside from Real Salt Lake, each of those markets were a part of the old NASL, with all but the Galaxy retaining their traditional name and legacy.
Today’s LA team have Beckham as their main attraction, but the old LA Aztecs had a certain Dutch player by the name of Johan Cruyff, one of the best soccer players the world had ever seen. Cruyff won the European Footballer of the year three times (1971, ‘73 and ‘74). He scored 33 times for Holland in 48 matches and the Dutch never lost a game that he scored in.
San Jose Earthquakes also had world-class talent, with a player by the name of George Best who I grew up watching at Manchester United. Best, from Northern Ireland, was also considered one of the best soccer players in the world. He helped Manchester United become the first English team to become European champions. While at San Jose, he scored one of the best goals in NASL history when he beat six players inside the box before smashing the ball into the net.
Of course, the Seattle and Portland rivalry with Vancouver already had the fans in a fever every time they played. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that both teams had quality international players on their roster. Portland had defender Willie Donachie (Scotland) and striker Clyde Best (Bermuda) while the Sounders could trot out midfielder Bruce Rioch (Scotland captain) and midfielder Alan Hudson (England).
As we saw last night with the Galaxy stars against our own players such as Barry Robson, Gershon Koffie, Young-Pyo Lee, Jay DeMerit and Darren Mattocks – not to mention the addition of Kenny Miller – there is once again some very talented players plying their trade in North America.
We’ve had a number of memorable matches already this season, and playing conference rivals with top talent on both teams will only make the rest of the schedule more meaningful and more exciting. We're set to witness mouthwatering games nearly every week, with playoff spots and trophies still very much up for grabs.
Let the rest of the western games begin.
It’s been an interesting road trip for Whitecaps FC so far. After starting with a loss to LA Galaxy, the ‘Caps responded with a win against Colorado Rapids and a draw versus Chivas USA.
Now head coach Martin Rennie will have to lift the boys from a tough last-second 3-2 defeat to Toronto FC on Wednesday as they get ready to play their fifth road game in a row this Saturday in Chicago. With a positive result against the Fire, the ‘Caps can look at this road trip in a positive light. So what really makes road trips so tough?
When I first arrived in Vancouver in 1979, my longest road trip was from Oldham to London – which was a four hour bus ride. But in North America I had to endure four or five hour plane rides and different time zones, as well as the heat, altitude, and humidity.
My first couple of years traveling in the North American Soccer League (NASL) was an adventure as I went to many cities for the first time. One of the perks of being a professional athlete is getting to see a lot of great places, and everything is paid for. But not everything with travel is as glamorous as it might seem. There are long waits at the airport, many of which come on connecting flights. Flying to the east coast and changing time by three hours is especially difficult. You have to change your sleeping and eating habits with no real time for proper adjustment.
For anyone who’s travelled in a large group, you know how long it can take to get everyone organized. After the flying is done, you have to get everyone to the hotel by bus or vans, and then there’s the matter of sorting out rooms once you arrive at the hotel.
One of the biggest challenges of being on the road is finding the right roommate, not just because you have to like each other, but you need to be close to having the same routine before games. I always like to sleep in the afternoon before a night game, so my roommate needed to sleep as well. One of the best roommates I ever had was Fran O’Brien, even though he used to squeeze my toothpaste into his empty toothpaste on road trips. He was Irish.
Probably the hardest roommate I had was goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who I lived with in Vancouver and shared a room with on the road. He was very hyper active and hardly slept at all. I had to get used to the TV being on until three or four in the morning, and constant chatter when we were awake in the room.
When the game finally arrives you have to adjust to different challenges. You have to get used to the field quickly: the size, playing surface, crowd noise, weather, altitude, and so on.
The home crowd always gives the home team an extra boost, as we’ve seen numerous times at BC Place, and even in the last match for Toronto.
As for the weather, I remember a game we played in Chicago and at halftime we found big striker Ray Hankin lying naked on the cold tile floor trying to cool down from the extreme heat out on the field.
I can imagine that few people would feel any empathy, but when you have to go out and compete at a professional level you have to battle a lot of things to feel fit and fresh enough to be competitive on the road.
In regards to making travel easier, the ‘Caps are lucky to have exceptionally organized and diligent team administrator Steve Bridge on their side.
In the end, you have to have the mental capacity to overcome all these things. At home the goal is to make your home field a fortress and dominate the opposition so they fear coming to your home turf. On the road it’s much different, you must become a team that is tough to beat and that can frustrate the other team so their fans get on their backs.
There are many obstacles to overcome and lots of reasons not to win when you are away from home. But good teams find a way, and that’s what the ‘Caps will have to do in Chicago as they complete these five consecutive demanding games on the road.
Since 1979, Carl Valentine has been an integral part of the soccer community in Vancouver. A club legend, Carl was a key player for the Whitecaps FC team that won the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) Soccer Bowl, as well as the 86ers squads that won four Canadian Soccer League (CSL) titles. Now, Carl represents the 'Caps as club ambassador. Make sure to check back regularly for his columns and videos as part of 'The TWO ONE'.
This week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC agreed to have youngster Caleb Clarke go on a two-week trial with FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt in Germany’s third-tier ‘3.Liga’.
If this trial is successful, Clarke - who turned 19 on Saturday - will likely be loaned to FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt for one year. This is a good move for Caleb and the ‘Caps, and is one of the many pathways for young players to make the grade at the highest level.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency has grown from 20 to over 80 players in the past year. Even now our U-16 and U-18 Residency teams are playing in Texas in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) playoffs after both teams finished first in their respective age groups. On Thursday, the U-18 team won their group and advanced among the final eight teams in the entire USSDA, while the U-16 team went undefeated but fell just short of advancing on goal differential.
The Residency program has received a lot of praise throughout North America for the job we are doing in developing young players. With Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie wanting a winning mentality throughout the club, it bodes well that both teams have had winning USSDA seasons, as they try to develop their game to make the jump to the next level.
The challenge Whitecaps FC currently have is when these players get to Caleb Clarke’s age. They are still young and in need of much playing time. So what are the options for the club and these players?
We have seen Russell Teibert sign an MLS contract last year and then start the memorable season-opener versus Toronto FC. Russell played a strong game and would probably have got a lot more minutes, if not for some niggling injuries. He has not hit the same heights so far this season, but he is knocking on the door and has to be ready to take his chance, when it comes.
Bryce Alderson is another Residency product that signed an MLS contract and is an exciting prospect. At 18 years of age, Bryce has huge potential.
Both Russell and Bryce are gaining valuable experience training with the first team and playing reserve team games, but like any young players in a club, Whitecaps FC would like to be in a position to offer them more games.
This is why we are seeing Caleb going on trial, in the hopes of securing a loan deal that will afford him valuable time on the pitch playing high-quality games. With this experience, he will come back to the ‘Caps a more complete player.
Another option for Whitecaps FC is to look to the lower divisions in North America and loan out young players, so they can develop their game, plus try and help a second or third-tier club be successful. Below MLS, there is the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) and the third-tier United Soccer Leagues Professional Division (USL PRO).
A third development pathway is through the university or college route. We have seen first-hand what players out of college can do, having selected striker Darren Mattocks out of Akron University in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
If our Residency players are not ready to make the jump to MLS at 17 or 18 years of age, all is not lost. Young players can go to college to get an education and develop their game at a very competitive level.
If they develop their game enough, Whitecaps FC would have the option of bringing them back to the club, as they would be Homegrown players.
So whichever decision is made, there are many ways to make the grade.
This year marks the fifth edition of the Amway Canadian Championship, as the professional club teams of our country battle for the Voyageurs Cup and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. It is a championship that has so far eluded Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and it has been taken away in some unpleasant and extraordinary circumstances.
Normally we’d look at the history of events in chronological order, but this tournament has developed a strange phenomenon, with rather incredible events occurring every second year.
No castle was ever built over night, nor did any become famous for simply being built. Fortresses earn their acclaim because of the battles that they have withstood, with it's occupants protecting their hallowed grounds time after time, always standing tall in the end.
With the 'Caps playing Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Saturday (1 p.m. PT live on Sportsnet Pacific and TEAM 1410 radio), Jordan Harvey, Brad Knighton and Sebastien Le Toux will be returning to the 'City of Brotherly Love' to face their former team for the first time. Carl checked in with the trio to talk all things Philly, from playing with the Union, to cheese steaks, to booing Santa Claus.
After a weekend of travel - and the team's first road win - the 'Caps worked out at Steve Nash Fitness World. Carl Valentine was on hand to find out who the fittest guys are on the team.
CASA GRANDE, ARIZONA – Last night, I had the pleasure of picking up our latest signing, French striker Sebastien Le Toux, at the Sky Harbor Airport with my main man, videographer Zac Ratcliffe.