Arze kicks off season strong

Alumnus formed early skills with legendary club

Marc Weber
The Province

Friday, April 25, 2008

Vicente Arze's family tree is full of accomplished sportsmen. The soccer gift, though, is uniquely his.

"My mum is, like, No. 2 in South America playing bowling," says the Vancouver Whitecaps' tricky and talented Bolivian midfielder. "My uncle, he was second in South American rally cars and my cousin was No. 2 in Division I tennis -- he played Olympics in Sydney."

In a soccer-mad region, Arze chose the more traditional route, being in love with the beautiful game as long ago as he can remember. Back when his dad would sit bedside, throwing him the ball to practise his headers before going to sleep.

"It's thanks to him that I play," says Arze, 22, "because he take me out in front of my house and practise, practise, practise every day after work."

Those early-formed skills were honed in high school with the legendary Newell's Old Boys -- the Argentinean club that produced Gabriel Batistuta and Lionel Messi. Then at Division I Mercer University in Georgia, where he was a four-time Atlantic Sun Conference all-star.

Mercer head coach Tom Melville told a Macon, Ga., newspaper that he first saw Arze "in a little field in Bolivia, with little chickens running around," and that he stood out right away.

Arze is from Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia, and now says that there were no chickens that day. But there were cows.

Under Teitur Thordarson's watch, you can bet the Whitecaps will try to milk Arze for all the offensive talent in his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame.

He showed considerable skill and flair in the first half of their season-opening win over Montreal before rolling an ankle, and fans can expect a similar treat Saturday night at Swangard Stadium when the Minnesota Thunder come to town.

"He had a really good debut," says veteran midfielder Martin Nash, who played inside Arze on the right side. "He's a very skillful player -- talented, he's got both feet, can cross a ball both ways. He's still got to learn the system a bit and become stronger defensively, but what he brings offensively is great."

If Arze tackles the defensive challenge like he tackles politics, there won't be any problem seeing an improvement in that area.

He didn't shy away from discussing the current crisis facing Bolivia, where tensions are rising as opposition members demand autonomy for the resource-rich eastern province of Santa Cruz, where Arze is from.

"He doesn't like us," Arze says of President Evo Morales, who is trying to push through a new constitution that would give more power to the indigenous majority and further redistribute the wealth. "I always go for autonomy. May 4 is going to be the referendum and I know a million people are going to be on the streets protesting. That's why the president doesn't like our city, because we stand up for what we want."

Drafted by the Kansas City Wizards of MLS and carrying dreams of one day playing in Europe, right now Arze just wants to stand up and be counted as a Whitecap.

"What happens later is not in my hands," he says. "Whitecaps is what's important. I think I just have to do my best here."