Pumped or not, they're pivotal - The Vancouver Sun
Special to the Sun
Whitecaps at Montreal Impact
- - -
To be or not to be ... "pumped up" before a big game?
That is the question which bubbled to the surface in interviews with the Whitecaps' most influential players this week.
And the answer? According to Alfredo "Freddie" Valente and Omar Jarun, it cuts both ways.
Tonight, both will look to help the Whitecaps make mincemeat of Montreal in the first leg of the all-Canadian USL-1 playoff semi-final (Saputo Stadium, 5 p.m.) -- though from opposite ends of the motivational spectrum.
Winger Valente, 28, is cool, calm and collected. A man in his professional sporting prime. Confident in the knowledge that his magical left foot will spring into action at the sound of that first whistle; preparing to inflict chaos on opposing defenders with a deft flick, turn-of-pace or killer cross. Getting revved up for a game to the tune of Eye of the Tiger is just not in the 5-6, 155-pound Valente's nature.
"I'm not really a guy that gets pumped up or motivated," he said. "I'm kind of an easy-going, mellow guy. So I just like to stay relaxed and keep myself focused on what my job is when I'm on the field."
Centre-half Jarun, meanwhile, is the antithesis of Valente. A 6-5, 225-pound powerhouse of unbridled aggression, he is still infused with a youthful air of exuberance (he turns 25 the day after the USL-1 playoff final) and pumped up beyond recognition to lock horns with opposing forwards.
Especially, when he's been forced to sit on the sidelines for three weeks at the sharp end of the season, due to a three-game suspension and hip flexor injury.
Sweating and shifting from side-to-side anxiously while answering questions following a training session at SFU, the Palestinian international was like a coiled spring. It was all he could do to avoid self-combusting.
"I'm just so pumped up to play again," he said after admitting it had been both "frustrating" and "disappointing" to sit out the previous quartet of key matches. "It's been a long time; it feels like a new season's about to start for me."
With Geordie Lyall having tweaked a hamstring sufficiently to miss the trip to Quebec, Jarun may go straight back into tonight's starting 11. If so, he'll try hard to keep a lid on his enthusiasm. Back in the land of calm, Valente -- a Whitecaps player since 1997 --lit up a cigar as he pondered the possibility of a second championship win to go with Vancouver's triumph in 2006.
"In 11 seasons with the club I don't think we've missed the playoffs [once] so it's a fun time [of year] to play," he said.
"People still ask questions about the championship win [and] it means a lot to us. [It's also exciting] to get this series [with Montreal] going. It's a good rivalry and they're great games to play in."
For fired-up Jarun, there's even more of an incentive.
"I'm still kind of upset from the whole [Nutrilite Canadian Championship] thing with those guys," he said through gritted teeth of Vancouver's brace of 2-0 defeats against the Impact.
"[Not least] because they're still playing in it (well, the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League, their prize for winning the NCC) -- and that's the big stuff to play in. So this will be a chance to redress the balance, big-time."
One thing's for sure: pumped up or not, Valente and Jarun are both poised to play a pivotal part in the Whitecaps' push for 2008 playoff glory.
Vancouver hosts the second leg of their playoff semifinal at Swangard on Sunday (3:30pm).
You can comment on this story at vancouversun.com/sports
© The Vancouver Sun 2008