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05 September 3:45 pm

Today is a historic day, perhaps even more than we can appreciate right now.

This major announcement of the National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is what Vancouver Whitecaps FC have been waiting to have built for years, and what a difference it’s going to make to our club!

In this partnership between Whitecaps FC, the Government of British Columbia, and UBC, we have something here that will benefit all levels of the game, from youth to professional.

We now have a place to call home, a place that will house our men’s and women’s teams, as well as our Residency, Girls Elite, and other youth development programs.

It starts at the top

Our ownership team have lofty goals for this club and for the sport of soccer, and there has been a need for first-class facilities for some time.

Now, with a proper training centre, Whitecaps FC look to move to the next level as we try to establish ourselves as one of the very best soccer clubs in North America.

Having grass and turf fields and a state-of the-art fieldhouse is going to open many doors on numerous fronts for the game of soccer here.

Our owners have already invested greatly in our Residency and youth programs, so it will be great for our Whitecaps FC youth players – and other BC Soccer players – to be at the same fields as our first team players and to be able to watch them more closely as they try to realize their own dreams of becoming pro players.

Attracting the best

With top facilities we will finally have a firm attraction for top talent to train in Vancouver.

The NSDC will provide a place on the West Coast for Canada’s men’s, women’s, and youth national teams.

We will also be able to attract the top teams from around the world, instead of having to travel to see them. We have seen the likes of Manchester United, Roma, and Benfica come to Vancouver in the past and now we can look forward to again seeing the very best teams here in our home city.

These are exciting times for the club. We’re in the midst of a heart-pounding playoff race and we’re pumped to have four home matches on the trot and an electric atmosphere created by our fans.

And now we can look forward to moving into a new training home as we enter into another chapter of this club’s proud history.

The game is growing, and the ‘Caps are more than happy to help plant the seeds.

04 September 2:45 pm

September has arrived. Time for many to bid farewell to summer and head back to work (or school) after holidays in the sunshine and warm weather.

The month also dawns the start of Major League Soccer’s 2012 regular season run-in and the aim of securing spots in the postseason. With only a handful of rounds remaining, a closer look at the Western Conference playoff picture reveals some interesting facts.

The last few games have been tough viewing for Whitecaps FC supporters, and while Vancouver’s recent form needs turning around, Martin Rennie’s squad know their six remaining fixtures offer opportunities to take them towards a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs. This is especially true in the timing of their next couple of games.

Many are focused on Whitecaps FC’s next match at FC Dallas, who only trail fifth-place Vancouver by four points for the last postseason berth in the MLS Western Conference. After a 1-1 home draw with Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday, The Hoops know they cannot move past Vancouver, should they earn a result against their Canadian foes.

In many ways, the Saturday, September 15, match is one that Whitecaps FC can relish for the opportunity it provides. Should the Blue and White earn a result in Texas, they would return home for four straight games on Bell Pitch at BC Place - the first of which is a major chance to add further distance between themselves and Dallas. Their clash with Colorado Rapids on Sunday, September 23, is Vancouver’s game in hand on The Hoops, as the Texas club will not be in action that weekend.

While that scenario is in Whitecaps FC’s hands, Chivas USA have three games in hand on Vancouver. If one considered those three matches as victories, it would take the Southern California outfit level with the ‘Caps on 37 points.

Problem is The Goats have not shown signs of making a late surge up the Western Conference standings. Sunday’s 4-0 defeat at San Jose Earthquakes took Chivas USA’s winless run in the league to five matches, with Robin Fraser’s side facing a season-defining month.

The Goats play five more times in September, including difficult trips to in-form sides Seattle and Columbus Crew, plus Eastern Conference playoff chasers D.C. United. They also have challenging home games versus San Jose and Real Salt Lake this month. They too need to find form and in a short space of time.

Another note to keep in mind - there are enough matches left for Whitecaps FC to reel in the frontrunners in the West. On the surface, that task may prove difficult when you consider the form of sides like Seattle (two games in hand) and LA Galaxy, but it’s important to remember that most of the remaining league games are all-conference match-ups.

Results from those games can easily alter the picture of the Western Conference standings (same scenario in the highly-congested Eastern Conference), and that means we’re all in for an intriguing and exciting end to this regular season campaign.

A message to my fellow ‘Caps faithful - We thrilled in joining MLS in 2009, we thrilled in winning our inaugural match in 2011, and the great moments that followed! Surely, the next few weeks will be even more thrilling!

Enjoy the World Cup qualifying break! Until mid-September…

23 August 4:20 pm

As many of our fans prepare to head to Portland for another big Cascadia match, I thought I’d share my experience from last weekend when I had the opportunity to experience the rivalry as a fan on the road for the first time.

 I hosted a bus load of Whitecaps fans on a day trip down to Seattle courtesy of UNIGLOBE Vision Travel. I had been to a game in Seattle before to watch the team I had supported as a boy, Manchester United, as they played Celtic. But this was my first time watching the ‘Caps play the Sounders in Seattle, and my first time going to the game as a fan.

I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to travel down the I-5 to Seattle and Portland for a Whitecaps FC game, and now here I was about to get a new perspective of this Cascadia rivalry. The meeting of the bus was nice and early at 6:45 a.m. and the wait at the boarder was longer than usual, but these things took nothing away from the excitement and anticipation of what was to come when we reached our destination.

As soon as we entered the city of Seattle there was lots of evidence of the upcoming game, as we began to witness more than a few green shirts worn by the Sounders fans, and the closer to the stadium we got the more green we saw. We arrived around kick-off, so most of the ‘Caps fans were already inside singing their heads off.

When we left the bus in our Whitecaps jerseys and scarves, we took some good-hearted ribbing from numerous Seattle fans that were still tailgating and getting in the mood for the game. I loved it, rival fans baiting each other before the game started. I was now chomping at the bit to get inside with the rest of the 55,000 plus crowd.

As I showed my ticket at the gate and began to walk up the stairs to my seats I got chills as I heard the chanting and the singing coming from both sets of fans. The atmosphere was electric and I hurried as fast as I could to join in the action.

When I arrived at the Whitecaps section the place was rocking. I did not reach my seats as some ‘Caps fans recognized me and pulled me into their section. I was not going to argue with them. Our 2,000 or so fans were certainly outnumbered, but we were not drowned out as they roared on their team. This is what I remembered as a boy growing up in Manchester.

There is no doubt in my mind that this Cascadia rivalry is the best of Major League Soccer, and a small taste of what the future holds for the league. We are only into the second year of the Cascadia rivalry in MLS and it will continue to grow on and off the field.

I really hope all of our fans can experience travelling to Seattle or Portland for a game, as it truly is a unique experience. I hope to again travel with our fans soon so I don’t miss out on all the fun!

18 August 4:00 pm

As weeks go for Whitecaps FC, this middle week of August 2012 will likely be forgotten in a hurry.

Despite the challenge that it posed (three Western Conference rivals in a week), the opportunity to make ground and further solidify a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs was abruptly halted by two sobering defeats – the latest leaving a particular regional sting.

It felt like the soccer omens were against Vancouver heading into Seattle on Saturday. Though there were welcome faces back from international duty, the absence of injured captain Jay DeMerit and suspended centre-back partner Martin Bonjour caused speculation as to who would play in Martin Rennie’s backline.

Then came word on Saturday morning that influential midfielder Barry Robson was also forced to sit out this latest Cascadia derby after MLS deemed his booking late on in the home defeat to Dallas was aggravated dissent against an assistant referee.

While there was debate over the timing of Robson’s suspension announcement by MLS, Rennie gave some players a chance to stake their claim for a regular starting role.

Top of that list was Carlyle Mitchell, who was slotted into the starting XI alongside Andy O’Brien in the centre of Vancouver’s defence. After appearing for his native Trinidad & Tobago in midweek, the young defender earned himself a measure of redemption with his performance on Saturday.

His last MLS start at New England Revolution back on May 12 was a tough outing for the Caribbean import, and though Whitecaps FC conceded twice in the second half in Seattle, Mitchell can take encouragement from his efforts in Washington State.

Next to him, the experience of O’Brien was tested again, as the former Republic of Ireland international made his second start for the club. Though still short of full match fitness, O’Brien looks a real find, as he showed defensive expertise in nullifying a couple of Sounders FC attacks, especially in the first half.

Rennie and his staff will know that, despite the bitterness of a derby defeat, players like Mitchell and O’Brien will feel they are stronger and can make a more telling contribution to the club after their building-block efforts on Saturday.

This can also be said for striker Kenny Miller, who was asked to fill the role usually occupied by suspended Robson in central midfield. His work rate at CenturyLink Field was also an encouraging sign. The way he made himself busy against Sounders FC was a strong suggestion that the Scotland international made an important step forward with his match fitness.

With a full week to focus on another derby trip to Portland Timbers, the time may prove beneficial after the hectic schedule of this past week. With injuries clearing up and suspensions served, these next few days should help to galvanize Rennie’s squad physically and mentally for the end-of-season run-in.

Time to move forward to the next chapter: Saturday in Portland

17 August 12:14 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 10:30 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 12:49 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 7:30 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 4:15 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 8:05 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.