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17 August 1:14 pm

Recently I had the privilege of representing Vancouver Whitecaps FC at this year’s BC Summer Games, which were held in Surrey from July 19 to 22. I got to attend the opening ceremonies with nearly 4,000 athletes who would participate in 20 sports over three days. The dignitaries and athletes were treated to some great entertainment before the lighting of the torch.

Surrey put on a great BC Summer Games with over 3,500 volunteers making sure that everything ran really smoothly. For the games to be successful they need the support of the many partners, and this year Vancouver Whitecaps FC were happy to be a part of this special event.

The soccer tournament was held at Newton Athletic Park where many exciting matches were played on both the girls and boys . The coaches had scouted these players throughout their zones looking for the best players in each community.

Myself and a number of Whitecaps FC players were in attendance to present the gold, silver and bronze medals to each winning team. Following this event the coaches got to choose two players from their team to attend a clinic with the Whitecaps FC Residency coaches on August 11, and attend the game that evening against Real Salt Lake at BC Place.

The clinic was run by staff coaches Bart Choufour (U-14 boys), Martin Nash (U16 & 18 boys), and women’s head coach Jessie Symons. ‘Caps MLS defender Greg Klazura was also there to lend a hand.

Overall, 16 boys and girls were put through their paces, and Whitecaps FC head of player management and advancement Stuart Neely was on hand to do some evaluations of any potential Whitecaps FC prospects.

When I talked to our coaches they were really encouraged by the quality of play on the field.  The young BC Summer Games players were thrilled to be in this challenging environment and to have the chance to impress the ‘Caps coaches. There were also a number of BC Summer Games coaches in attendance and they were thrilled to be able learn from the ‘Caps staff in a classroom session, and then on the field.

All in all, it was a great opportunity for Whitecaps FC to foster this partnership with the BC Summer Games as we continue to help grow the game of soccer throughout British Columbia.

15 August 11:30 pm

There were many happenings in and around BC Place on Wednesday night, and all of it contributed to a sense of optimism that it would be another enjoyable match day at BC Place.

There was a gathering of Whitecaps FC alumni in the stadium suites, which brought together former members of the Blue and White from the club’s many eras.

Before kickoff, the glow of Olympic success resonated through the crowd when three members of Canada’s bronze-medal women’s soccer team walked out with both teams for the national anthems.

Following on from Saturday’s fine win over Real Salt Lake, there was also anticipation for what newcomers Kenny Miller and Andy O’Brien could do in their first MLS starts.

In the end, it was FC Dallas that enjoyed a second win in as many seasons in Vancouver, and one that keeps their playoffs hopes alive in this final stretch of the regular season.

It was one of those matches where the ‘Caps could have been in one of two places by the end of it – such is the tight nature of the Western Conference standings.

Victory on Wednesday would have taken Vancouver to the 40-point mark and put major distance between themselves and their midweek visitors, who occupy sixth place in the west.

Instead, Dallas moved closer to the ‘Caps and the west’s top five with Wednesday’s result. They also claimed the unique distinction of being the first MLS club to defeat Whitecaps FC at both Empire Field and BC Place.

So where did all the promise of Wednesday night end up? Are we all a bit guilty for expecting too much? The simplest answer might be a more classic one. One team (FC Dallas) performed better than the other (Whitecaps FC).

Remove the likely debate that will surround the performance of match referee Matthew Foerster, Whitecaps FC were not at their best on Wednesday. And like Martin Rennie stated, it was also a match that struggled to get going.

Neither side really claimed the initiative before the break. After halftime, soccer’s fortune fell to The Hoops, who took the lead in opportunistic fashion, then sealed the win on the counter attack.

Though not endearing himself at times to Whitecaps FC fans, the return to fitness of David Ferreira is a big boost for Dallas. The qualities that earned him the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2010 always make him a player to watch…and so it was the case at BC Place…

Where many hoped that a Miller, O’Brien, John Thorrington, or Atiba Harris would write the headlines, it was a diminutive Colombian in Dallas colours that played the main role in this contest.

For Whitecaps FC, it simply wasn’t to be on this warm mid-August evening, and there will always be days and nights like this during a season. Whose to say we won’t see a turnaround as early as this weekend (Seattle, anyone?).

It’s also important to remember that BC Place disappointments have been very rare in 2012. Most times, the ‘Caps faithful have all left the club’s downtown Vancouver home satisfied.

Trying to achieve the goals of this season was never going to be easy. Remember that this is only Vancouver’s second season in MLS. The club has grown a lot, but a lot more growing still needs to take place.

Like with any other setback in 2012, Rennie’s side have been excellent at putting those experiences behind them and bouncing back. Maybe a derby clash in The Emerald City in three days’ time is not so bad after all…

Until our weekend gathering!

14 August 1:49 pm

On Wednesday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will host over 70 of the club’s men’s and women’s alumni at BC Place for our match against FC Dallas. Included on this list are ‘Caps alums Sophie Schmidt and Emily Zurrer and Maple Ridge native Karina LeBlanc of our recent bronze medal-winning Canadian women’s national team!

LeBlanc, Schmidt and Zurrer will be signings autographs along with Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit from 6-6:30 p.m. PT at the Bell Box on Terry Fox Plaza before the match.

This will be a fantastic opportunity to honour the many members of our Whitecaps FC family who have made this club what it is today, and who continue to make us proud to the utmost degree.

I am personally really looking forward to seeing some old faces and reminiscing about the fond memories of the ‘Caps storied past. It is going to be a special day and an exciting match on the field as the ‘Caps try to establish themselves as one of the strongest clubs in Major League Soccer. Plus, we have history on our side.

Today we can see the legacy of our alumni continuing with our current team. Last week, I took my second trip to the Okanagan to visit a Whitecaps FC camp. In my previous visit I spent a day in Vernon with midfielder John Thorrington. I was amazed at the number of Whitecaps FC jerseys worn by the kids at the camp.  The kids were thrilled to meet and get autographs from John, and were also really excited to meet and play with our leading goalscorer and number one draft pick, striker Darren Mattocks, who was so happy to put on a bib and get involved in the games at the camp.

This reminded me so much of the time I had playing for Whitecaps FC in our heyday. As players we were always encouraged to be active in the community, and we looked to grow the game of soccer at every opportunity – much like we’ve seen with our inspiring Canadian women’s national team.

I am thankful that I took my role seriously as I have met so many fans that remember me from going to their schools, being at one of the camps, or just from meeting me on the street. I had a picture sent to me when I was in Victoria to visit a school. In this picture I’m getting ready to shake the hand of a very young Steve Nash. Imagine that!

One of the club’s goals is for the ‘Caps to be an asset in the community – not just in Vancouver but in British Columbia as a whole, and to all of Canada – just like we were back in the day. From my travels so far it looks like we are making some big strides.

(Carl Valentine signs autographs for youngsters at Oak Bay Soccer Club Awards Dinner, including Steve Nash on the far left)

11 August 8:30 pm

As summer sunshine basked BC Place on Saturday afternoon, Whitecaps FC may have achieved more than a crucial home win over a top MLS club.

Earning three points over an accomplished side like Real Salt Lake is always something to celebrate, but supporters may have had some questions answered following the weekend’s events.

Last month saw a transformation to the look of Martin Rennie’s squad, and while new faces were added, the Scottish coach’s roster movement also addressed the need for depth in key areas.

Facing an intriguing run-in, Vancouver’s new additions will have a role to play in the remaining 10 matches of the regular season campaign.

What was a bit of a surprise was seeing Whitecaps FC’s depth tested as early as the weekend battle with Salt Lake. Yet, soccer does have a way of creating unforeseen situations.

As part of the 18-man roster, Andy O’Brien might have expected to see Saturday’s events unfold from the ‘Caps substitutes’ bench. By the half-hour mark, he was in the thick of a key MLS contest.

While the situation would have been new to him, O’Brien’s experience as a top-level centre back erased any initial concerns when captain Jay DeMerit was forced out of the game after feeling the effects of a collision with teammate Brad Knighton.

The former Republic of Ireland international faced a baptism of fire that was Salt Lake’s potent attack, and yet, his efforts contributed to nullifying the Utah club’s forward ventures for much of the contest.

RSL offered little threat, which in itself was a surprise to see when you consider their attacking pedigree. Whitecaps FC, meanwhile, won the match with two goals in six second-half minutes.

The game’s other storylines included a resurgent Camilo Sanvezzo, whose goal and an assist restored memories of the Brazilian’s influence in previous matches for the Blue and White. At his best, Camilo is very difficult player to contain for any MLS club.

As for Dane Richards, his efforts in Vancouver’s last two games at BC Place are quickly making him a fan favourite. It would be nice to think he will be nominated for ‘MLS Goal of the Week’ after his sublime winner.

Richards and teammate Darren Mattocks will not be seen Wednesday night against FC Dallas, as international duty calls with Jamaica. They are just two of several players that will not seen against FC Dallas at BC Place because national team call-ups, injuries, and suspensions.

That will put the depth of Rennie’s squad to a stiffer test, with concerns over the fitness of DeMerit and the absence of Gershon Koffie through suspension for caution accumulation likely to command the media’s talking points early next week.

And what would a discussion on team depth be without mentioning Knighton, who was unfortunate not to earn a clean sheet in the RSL win. When called upon this season, Knighton has been very dependable in place of Joe Cannon.

That might make for a goalkeeping selection decision for Wednesday’s game, but Rennie will relish the idea of making such a choice, as with his entire squad.

Having the knowledge that any player can perform when called upon usually results in a passing grade with a test of depth. Saturday’s test went well, but Wednesday’s test will be more challenging.

Till we convene again on Wednesday!

06 August 5:15 am

When the Canadian women's national team arrived at the stadium in Coventry on Friday and jumped off the bus for their quarterfinal against the host nation, a Great Britain fan commented aloud that they seemed a bit subdued.

Quiet confidence. Turns out that's all it was.

Maintaining that confidence will be key tonight as they head into their semi-final match against the United States at Manchester's legendary Old Trafford.

Now, after Canada fell 2-1 to Japan in their opening match I blogged that they needed to "mind the gap" between themselves and some of the more accomplished teams.

There is a flipside to that though, and that involves giving too much respect to your opponents.

I don't mean sportmanship, you should always respect your opponents in that regard.

And you should definitely respect their ability. Be mindful of their strengths and strategize to find tactics that will minimize them.

But you should never, ever, fear your opponent.

Look at any champion in any competition and you'll find a genuine belief that in any matchup - no matter talent or ability - they'll out perform their opponent and will ultimately get the better of them.

If you fear your opponent then you've already set yourself up for defeat. Inferiority becomes an excuse and losing becomes acceptable.

But Canada are not inferior, not to the Americans and not to anyone.

They've shown that so far during these Olympics. It hasn't mattered if they've gone down a goal (or two), if the calls haven't gone their way, or if the crowd was against them; through it all they've remained confident in their play. And because of that, they've been the superior team for the vast majority of their matches this tournament.

This is something that their counterparts have always done well. The Americans focus only on their own performance, and they certainly fear no one. It's a fierce competitiveness and a winning mentality.

But the best competitors in the world learn from their opponents, and I believe that Canada have finally done that. This is the most confident I've ever seen them play.

So tonight, it shouldn't matter who their opponent is.

It's simply another obstacle in the way of a gold medal.

The sacred temple

During my past week in England I've visited some of the most cherished cathedrals in the world. As a football fan though, one piece of architecture struck me more than any.

That, my friends, would be Wembley Stadium.

For those of you who've been there you'll certainly understand.

It's the most divine of venues. A 90,000-seat masterpiece that seemingly stretches into the clouds (you literally have to take five lengthy escalators to get to the top level).

Circling around the upper concourse provides a view to the outside stretching across thousands of kilokmetres, while the inside is even more spectacular.

The sight from anywhere is stunning, and the acoustics of the stadium carry like no other, making even a South Korea versus Gabon Olympic Group Stage match feel like a World Cup final.

This is where the Olympic final for the women's tourney is being held. So as usual, there's only one thing left to be said.

Go Canada Go!

Blog 1: The journey begins again

Blog 2: Mind the gap

Blog 3: A Geordie dream come true

04 August 9:05 am

Vancouver Whitecaps FC currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference and are in a good position to challenge for a playoff spot this season. The team has seen a number of roster changes in the last month as head coach Martin Rennie looks to shape up his team into a strong playoff contender this year, and for many years to come. When being interviewed before the season started coach Rennie said he wanted to bring in character players that the fans could relate too, while continuing to add quality to the squad. So far he’s accomplished this job!

In the first 23 games of the season, our Vancouver Whitecaps FC have tied seven of them and they have won seven games by one goal. Another of Rennie’s goals was to build a team that was hard to beat, and to make BC Place a home that Major League Soccer teams would not look forward to visiting. Early on in the season as our ‘Caps were wining these close games or fighting to get draws, the fans were happy with the results and the effort the team was putting out on the field. Even in a couple of games that they did not play well in, like good teams do, they found a way to win or tie and get a positive result.

Martin Rennie would like his team to win every game playing an attractive style of soccer, but that is not realistic. But what is attainable is to try and put in a performance every single match, to try and outwork the other team and give the fans a team they can be proud of.

The most exciting thing about this team is its going from strength to strength. After five games on the road our ‘Caps faced two of the form teams in MLS – LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes at home, followed by back to back games against Real Salt Lake. I for one was concerned with how we would perform in this tough part of the schedule, and how many points we could acquire. There was no need for me to worry as Vancouver played some of their best soccer of the season in tying LA 2-2 and beating San Jose 2-1, and although they lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1, the team created enough chances to win the game by a couple of goals.

The new Whitecaps FC signings came into an already good team and made their impact on the fans at BC Place. Dane Richards scored his first goal and excited the crowd with his exciting wing play. Barry Robson scored a couple of goals and thrilled the crowds with his none stop action. Even Kenny Miller got in on the act by making a substitute appearance and nearly scoring with his first touch of the match.

Now Vancouver Whitecaps FC have added another key player in Andy Obrien, a central defender with lots of experience.  He’s a player who has been a leader on most teams he has played for. There has been a buzz regarding this team for most of the season, as they established themselves to be one of the teams to watch in Major League soccer this year.  Now with the additions that have been made it’s scary to think how good this team can be as the MLS season moves into its final third of the season.

One thing is for sure, this team has shown its going to be hard to beat them at home or on the road. And the fans in Vancouver have a team they can be truly proud of. 

30 July 2:39 am

Playing at legendary St. James Park in Newcastle on Tuesday will be quite the occasion for the players on Canada’s women’s national team, but it will be a particularly special moment for head coach John Herdman – a native of Newcastle.

Herdman grew up going to St. James Park and cheering on Newcastle United. Now he gets to coach on that very same pitch, on the world’s stage no less.

In my encounters with coach Herdman I’ve found him to be very friendly and easy to talk to.

While in London recently I met another couple from Newcastle. They too were equally friendly and a delight to talk to.

This is supposedly the norm with the “Geordies”, as the people of Newcastle are known. They’re very welcoming and love to have a good chat. Apparently they especially like to chat up anyone with an outside accent, so much so that my good colleague Simon “Hot” Fudge told me that I’ll never return from the shores of Newcastle. We’ll see Fudgy.

Kind people like that are easy to cheer for, so it’s no trouble to root for coach Herdman, and I’m sure his fellow Geordies will be behind him.

Here’s to hoping that the homecoming ends in style.

The situation, Geordie Shore style

Here’s the scenario for the Red and White.

Going into their final match of the group stage against Sweden, Canada are in good shape to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games – which would then leave them one win away from a medal game.

A win or draw on Tuesday would guarantee they advance, but even a loss could see them through as one of the two best third-place teams. They’re currently the best of the three third-place teams and hold a +5 goal differential on North Korea, who play the much-favoured United States.

It’s unlikely now that they’ll finish first in the group, as Japan lead them by a point and play South Africa, but truth be told they’d be better off not finishing first. That would mean a likely quarterfinal match with France, who’ve rapidly become a power in the women’s game.

Second place would mean a likely quarterfinal versus Great Britain. While it’s always a tough match against the home nation, it would certainly be winnable.

Third in the group probably means a date with either the United States or Brazil, which would not be ideal.

So essentially, the best bet for Canada is to beat Sweden and clinch second.

Make sure to cheer them on bright and early Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. PT.

Go Canada Go!

27 July 11:50 pm

Late July in the Beehive State, and the first of two visits to one of Major League Soccer’s toughest stadiums.

Such encounters usually provide a good measuring stick for MLS clubs. Friday night offered that type of test for Whitecaps FC, with the first of three regular season meetings versus Real Salt Lake.

Last season’s defeat in Sandy, Utah, was a distant memory. What was in front of Martin Rennie’s squad was a chance to close the gap on second-place RSL and solidify their hold on third place in the west.

A second win over league leaders San Jose Earthquakes provided a source of belief that earning a superior head-to-head record against Jason Kreis’ talented side was possible.

Now earning that head-to-head record will be settled in the future. As for Friday’s encounter, Whitecaps FC were given the feeling that their time to shine in MLS is still to come…

As a defeat, the Blue and White offered plenty in Friday’s match, and that may prove as a strong reminder to RSL, the Western Conference, and MLS that Vancouver are emerging in this league.

A draw or a Whitecaps FC victory was a possible outcome in Utah, but Salt Lake got a favourable penalty decision before scoring the match winner from arguably their best chance of the match.

It wasn’t a vintage RSL performance, but in some ways, it didn’t need to be. The desired result was achieved. With 42 points from 23 games played, it’s hard not to see Salt Lake outside the west’s top two places for the remainder of the regular season.

Nonetheless, Vancouver will relish their RSL re-match in two weeks. They certainly put enough of a scare into their hosts with the type of chances they created. How much joy would it have been to see a Jun Marques Davidson goal? Only the width of a post denied ‘Caps fans that possibility.

It would have also been interesting to see how Friday’s match would have unfolded had a second Whitecaps FC goal arrived soon after Mattocks’ well-taken equalizer? In the end, what we can take from Utah was how well we created our chances.

It was as if the move that created Mattocks’ goal inspired the great quality of Vancouver’s chances. Usually a solid defensive unit, Salt Lake were put on the back foot in the second half, and that offers a very good sign for the future.

There have been times when creating chances has been a challenge for Whitecaps FC in 2012, but that wasn’t the case on Friday. Coming from a variety of sources, RSL were put under the type of pressure that will have them dreading next month’s trip to BC Place.

And for the third straight game, Whitecaps FC offered something else - entertainment. Not only did Rennie’s side show again that they can compete against the league’s best, they can do so in entertaining style.

The job ahead will be to polish that ability to compete and entertain. Training sessions will help considerably, and with the schedule not as hectic over the next three months, a welcome reality.

Defeats always leave an empty feeling, but Whitecaps FC supporters know their squad have shown the resolve to bounce back and compete in 2012.

We also know RSL is an MLS powerhouse, but the impression the ‘Caps may have left on them might be more significant. With continued growth and progress, Vancouver may yet earn more of the MLS talk in the autumn months.

Time for a summer break! And then back at it in August. That looks like a tasty month…

26 July 2:22 pm

Dane Richards is becoming a crowd favorite with his play on the wing, and I have been thrilled by a number observations liking Dane to a young Carl Valentine. As a result, I spent some time with Dane to see how much we are alike, both on and off the pitch.

Dane is Jamaican and I have Jamaican blood (my dad is from Jamaica, so this is not just a good tan…), we both have lots of sisters - Dane has five to my four. We both have had some scary hairstyles and we both agree that our afros are not to be seen again.

On the pitch, we both played on the right wing, had speed to burn, and both of our left legs were for standing on. Both of us are not very tall, but learnt to bounce off defenders get to the byline, cross the ball, and energize the crowd with exciting wing play.

The only thing that separates us is our taste in food. Dane is a chef who likes good Jamaican food and I was brought up on your traditional English fish and chips.

In my playing days, my nickname was ‘Chalkie’, as managers told me to hug the sideline (chalk-filled lines). Now the ‘Great Dane’ (yeah, I made that up!) gets to do that job on the right wing for the ‘Caps and I will be feeling a little ‘Déjà Vue’ every time he speeds down the line.

25 July 4:42 pm

When you travel through the London Underground you'll hear an automated message at every station warning you to be cautious before you step off. “Mind the gap” says the kind voice, as it urges you to be aware of the distance between the train and the platform.

After a while the frequency of the announcement becomes somewhat comical. We get it, “mind the gap”. Thanks.

But the phrase has taken on meaning in the UK outside of just public transportation, and for many it’s no joke when they say “mind the gap”.

Take this year’s English Premier League race for instance. While it came down to the final seconds of the season for the title to be decided, Manchester City have no hesitation in reminding their rivals Manchester United to “mind the gap” between the two teams, as the Blues claimed their first league title in 44 years.

So on Wednesday, the Canadian women’s national team had to “mind the gap” when they played current FIFA Women’s World Cup champions Japan.

The Asian nation were unheralded before last year’s triumph, but they’ve proven to be worthy of their status. Canada, on the other hand, had an underwhelming campaign during the World Cup.

Now fast-forward back to Wednesday.

The first 20 minutes of the match did indeed show a gap between the two sides, as one team quite clearly looked superior to the other. That team, however, was the team in white with red trim.

As I sat only three rows from the field, I could see a Canadian side that was confident on the ball, dominating possession and not giving their opponents an inch when they did give the ball away.

The problem though was one we’ve seen all too many times before with Canadian national teams, an inability to find a creative way to generate scoring chances in the final third of the field.

The Japanese, meanwhile, were resolute in their play. Despite being outplayed, they remained patient and continued to play their game until they settled in and found opportunities. Once they did they punished the Canucks with two first-half goals.

Those goals knocked the Canadians off their game, and despite a second half goal which pleased the many red-clad fans in attendance, the Red and White couldn’t recover to get a result.

In the end, the match proved that Canada do indeed need to “mind the gap” as they work their way through this tournament. But after showing flashes of promise, they should also keep this in mind:

It’s still only a short step to the platform.