Prepare for racy soccer

Steve Ewen
The Province

Friday, April 11, 2008

Talk about extreme makeovers.

The Vancouver Whitecaps took a wrecking ball to their identity, smacking it to smithereens over the winter. That defensive focus is dust now, and the team, under new coach Teitur Thordarson, hopes a sleek, sexy offensive ideal has been built in its place.

It's like they went from the 1990s, trap-happy New Jersey Devils to the 1980s, free-flowing Edmonton Oilers in a single winter. How it works in the standings remains to be seen.

"The fans will notice," said veteran midfielder/defender Steve Kindel, 31. "The more direct soccer will be pretty prevalent.

"We're going to take some teams by surprise, especially early on, with the shift in thinking. We're going to give them something to think about and we'll see if they can adapt.

"It'll be interesting."

That's exactly what the club brass want the Whitecaps to be; interesting, for all the right reasons. The Whitecaps are trying to build their profile. They're talking about Major League Soccer, they're talking about a downtown stadium. To make those things work you need to grow the fan base past that diehard 5,000.

Bob Lilley did things to help that during his three years as coach, principle among them leading the Whitecaps to the 2006 USL First Division championship.

In a bandwagon sports town like this, it was a massive boost to the team's image. In the end, though, his defensive leanings created too many games that were about as much fun as watching somebody else watch paint dry.

A championship normally buys a coach two or three years grace at least. When the Whitecaps only scored 27 goals in 28 regular season games and then got ousted in the first round for the second time in his tenure, Lilley was quickly determined expendable by club brass.

"We want our fans to think that if we lost a game, at least we dictated the tempo," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "We want them to think that there's an urgency to our game, and that we're not prepared to sit back behind the ball and not have a go at the opposition."

Vancouver has had the pieces to play a more upbeat style. There were times during Lilley's stint, especially in 2006, when they passed the ball so well as a group it looked like a big game of keep away.

Thordarson is also said to favour some long-ball, English tactics and the Whitecaps do have players with speed to make that work, too.

"There's a lot of guys who have played a lot of years ... and some of us have been through four or five coaches," said Kindel, who has now played for five coaches in 11 years with the Whitecaps. "You wouldn't last long if you couldn't adapt.

"We're just going to have to change our thinking to fit Teitur's gameplan."

Midfielder Alfredo Valente, 27, who is also in his 11th year with Whitecaps added: "It's going to take a little while. Guys are doing their best to adjust. We're working at getting the ball forward and we're looking to create more chances. It's a matter of just getting a good rhythm in the game now."