Eddy's Cuban soccer mission

This past off-season has been a busy and eventful time for experienced Vancouver Whitecaps striker Eduardo Sebrango.

Like many of his Whitecaps teammates, the 34-year-old is involved in the coaching side of the game, with the forward currently in charge of the North Shore U-14 Metro Boys Selects. Yet, the goal-scorer has not limited his time to just aspiring young local soccer players.

Last month, Sebrango accompanied his friend Andy Nera and members of the Ottawa-based Carlton University Ravens women's soccer team to his hometown of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. The group spent the day conducting soccer clinics and having a friendly game between members of the local sport school's boys team. Part of the trip also included a large donation of soccer equipment from the Canadians to the local youngsters.

The former Cuban international describes how February's trip to his hometown came about. "I went back home in December to see my family for Christmas, as it had been almost two years since I had seen them," Sebrango told whitecapsfc.com. "When I was there, I didn't realize how much the local kids needed soccer equipment. The sports school that the kids were attending was the same sports school that I attended, and they are comprised of the best players from my home province. Seeing that they were playing soccer in their bare feet, I felt I had to do something. I had been collecting soccer equipment for the last few years and I had been keeping all of it in Andy's store in Ottawa. As he is an Umbro representative in Eastern Canada, he also pitched in by getting 200 soccer balls, as well as donations from the Carlton women's players. When we arrived in Cuba, Carlton came and spent a day in my town and helped with the equipment donation, as I would not have been allowed by authorities to do it myself. In fact, I was actually surprised to get all the stuff through Cuban customs when we arrived because they would not normally allow people to bring that much stuff into the country."

Sebrango hopes the late February trip back to his homeland is the first of many soccer-related charity missions that take place in the future. His next aim is to raise funds to buy much-needed soccer equipment for Cuban youngsters. "In Havana, there are stores like Adidas where, if you have the money, you can buy the same soccer equipment as I took down in donations," the striker revealed. "If you can raise a few thousand dollars, you would then be able to purchase that equipment in Cuba for local teams."

With future trips to Cuba still in the planning stages, Sebrango's present focus is the 2008 season with Vancouver and preparations for the coming campaign. The striker has enjoyed the challenge of preseason training under the direction of new men's team head coach Teitur Thordarson. "It's been hard," he said. "My body has been completely sore from training so far, though I was expecting Teitur to demand a lot from us physically, knowing his experience of coaching in Europe. The players are still learning about him as a coach, but I feel we're going to be physically fitter than in previous years. Teitur has put lots of emphasis on fitness and playing with a high tempo, with an approach to play more directly, so it will be different than in previous seasons."

Not only will the Whitecaps look different in 2008, but their season will have a different flavour to it as well. Thordarson's squad will have the chance to contest for the honour of being the top professional side in Canada when it plays USL First Division rivals Montreal Impact and Major League Soccer outfit Toronto FC in a three-club competition this summer. The men's team will also play a more balanced USL-1 regular season schedule, with the Whitecaps facing all ten league rivals three times.

Sebrango believes Vancouver's rivals will likely be the teams to beat in 2008. "Seattle will always by there," he said. "They have a great group of players and their coach, Brian Schmetzer, has done a great job down there. With Seattle going into MLS in 2009, those players will be really focused to try and win a job in the new team next year. I think Montreal will also be tough, especially with the extended preseason training program that they've had. Portland had a great season last year, but they've put new turf into PGE Park, so that might act as a leveler from visiting teams. Last season, it was hard to go and play on the old surface in Portland, but with the new turf in place, they may have to change their system of play and the visiting teams may have a better chance to succeed there."

Click here to view last month's Ottawa Citizen article on the Carlton women's team's Cuban soccer experience.

The Whitecaps open the 2008 regular season at Swangard Stadium with an all-Canadian tilt versus the Montreal Impact on April 12. Season tickets are on sale now and start at $199. All season tickets include a bonus ticket to this year’s international friendly. For more information, CLICK HERE or call the Whitecaps office at 604.669.WAVE (9283).