Jarun sees bright times ahead

Six weeks away from the opening game of the season, new Vancouver Whitecaps centre back Omar Jarun is looking forward to his inaugural campaign in Vancouver.

The 24-year-old is one of several new faces to arrive for the 2008 season, with Vancouver fans having had their first glimpse of the defender in a Whitecaps uniform last November when he replaced captain Jeff Clarke in the second half of the 0-0 friendly draw with Major League Soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy.

After signing a one-year contract – plus an option – with the club on February 7, Jarun has been impressed by the way new coach Teitur Thordarson and his assistant Todd Wawrousek have been conducting preseason training. “It’s been going well,” Jarun told whitecapsfc.com. “We’ve got into training right away, even though not all the players have arrived in Vancouver as yet. We are definitely getting a workout in. We’re training three times-a-week and doing some strength and conditioning sessions as well. The way Teitur and Todd conduct training is very professional. They set up the session and then have a meeting with the players beforehand to let us know what we will be doing. There is a lot of attention to detail. Certainly with Teitur, he makes training feel like you are at a top European club, and I think all the players are really enjoying the experience.”

After leading hometown club Atlanta Silverbacks to the USL First Division championship game last September, Jarun had no hesitation in making the move to western Canada and the Whitecaps after his experiences with the men’s team back in the autumn. “I know that the fans like the team here,” he said. “There’s a good core of guys that are returning, so that was one reason for my decision to sign on here. The big reason I came back was the way Todd ran things ahead of the Galaxy game. Personally, I knew he would make me become a better player as a defender. I’m always looking to grow as a player and I thought that this was the place to do it. I’m sure Atlanta is a little disappointed that I decided not to return, but at this time in my career, I felt that Vancouver was the best place to come to.”

Jarun will be well familiar with the opponents that the Whitecaps will face in 2008, having embarked on his professional career with the Silverbacks back in 2006. Though Atlanta’s impressive playoff run ended in defeat to hosts Seattle Sounders in the championship final, the defender took great pride in leading the Georgia-based club to the last match of the 2007 USL-1 campaign. “I learned a lot as a player in my two years in Atlanta and how to handle myself as a professional,” he said. “Last season, our expectations were to get to the playoffs, which we achieved. However, the way we came together as a group under our captain Rodrigo Rios was important, as he led the team by example through our playoff run.”

As for the new season, all 11 USL-1 clubs will have a more balanced schedule facing them, with every team facing its other 10 rivals three times in the regular season. Jarun expects more parity throughout the coming campaign. “I think the third regular season game against our league rivals will be the hardest because everyone will know each other by then,” Jarun said of the regular season schedule. “It should be extremely competitive this year and interesting to see how all the teams fare. Squad depth may be an issue for teams this season, but most clubs in the league have worked hard to get the right players in. Overall, I think it’s going to be a good year for USL-1.”

The new Whitecaps season will also provide Jarun and his teammates with the opportunity of leading the club to a Canadian title, as Thordarson’s side will face MLS club Toronto FC and USL-1 rivals Montreal Impact in a national competition to decide the Canadian qualifier for the newly-formed CONCACAF Champions League. “The fact the Canadian tournament leads to something bigger is very exciting.” said Jarun. “Obviously, there’s no US Open Cup in Canada and I’ll miss out on that this year, as I always liked playing against the teams in MLS. I never realized I would have an opportunity to play in something like this as a 24-year-old, but I’m looking forward to it. I think some of the guys will be keen to play in it because it’s a chance to be known as the best team in Canada. It will be interesting to see which one of us three will come out on top.”

Though raised in Peachtree City, Georgia, Jarun has chosen to play international soccer for the country of his father’s birthplace in Palestine. Before appearing against the Galaxy last November, the centre back made his international debut in Palestine’s World Cup qualifying defeat to Singapore in Doha, Qatar, last October. Jarun hopes future opportunities to represent the Middle Eastern nation are on the horizon. “I have a lot of pride in being an Arabic person, as it’s a big part of who I am,” he said. “When the opportunity came, I was ecstatic to play for Palestine in World Cup qualifying, even though it wasn’t the best result against Singapore. If I am in good form, then hopefully I will get called back into the squad in the future. I will always be supportive of giving the Palestinian people some hope by doing something positive through soccer.”

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).