Steady Freddie at the ready - The Province
No Vancouver Whitecap crosses a ball better than Alfredo Valente. You'd be hard pressed finding a player who gets cross less often, too.
A key cog in new head coach Teitur Thordarson's system, Valente won't bite on suggestions that life must be more enjoyable than his up-and-down tenure under Bob Lilley.
He won't even nibble at the notion.
"I think it was just part of his tactical way of coaching," Valente said of Lilley. "He liked to change lineups quite a bit. It's kind of hard [to play all the time] when you're in a position on the wide flank where you do a lot of running."
In 2005, Valente didn't get off the bench in the playoffs. He did start the 2006 championship game, but in 2007 started only 14 times and came off the bench in the playoffs.
Under Thordarson, his minutes are way up. He's started 20 of 26 games he's been available for, including 12 of the last 13 -- the only exception due to yellow card suspension.
"Just to get consistency right now and get starts every game -- knowing that the left side is my position to lose -- is a good challenge for me," said Valente, whose two assists this season do nothing to acknowledge the frequency and accuracy of his crosses.
A lack of finish outside of Eduardo Sebrango has seen to that.
"You saw it in the first half against Minnesota," lamented Thordarson, referring to Sunday's 0-0 home draw with the Thunder.
"I don't know how many quality crosses he put into the box, but, as a team, we have not been able all through the season to use his qualities."
Is Valente upset? Hardly. He's either too nice to be mad, or too classy to admit it. He said that any day now the forwards will start clicking with him.
"It's just a matter of timing right now," he said. "We've got some big, talented strikers and unfortunately we haven't been getting too much out of our chances in the box."
Even a stint on the bench early this season that must have given him a "here-we-go-again" feeling couldn't dampen Valente's spirit. How he handled that brief demotion in favour of rookie Vicente Arze endeared him to Thordarson as much as his technical abilities have.
"First of all, Freddy is a fantastic guy, he's a personality," said Thordarson. "He's a guy that I really like.
"When you are not in the team, if you choose to sit moaning on the bench and not give everything you have when you have the chance, then you will not play many games. But he was positive all the time, and every time he came on he brought something to the game."
A little perspective doesn't hurt, either. Valente and wife Kristen are the proud parents of nine-month-old Noah -- their first child. It's made being fresh for training every day a little tougher, but it's also made the soccer highs and lows that much easier to handle.
"There's no question that fatherhood has changed it a little bit," Valente said. "It's been one of the best experiences of my life. Hey, you go home and he's still smiling at you."
It's hard to be cross about that.
© The Vancouver Province 2008