Team back with change in the Ayre - The Province

Son of Hall of Famer Garry Ayre, Keegan bids for spot in USL lineup

Marc Weber, The Province

For Keegan Ayre, the European dream is now on hold. A dream father-son storyline is in the works.

The 20-year-old midfielder from Coquitlam returned home Sunday from an unsuccessful week-long trial with Dutch second-division team SC Cambuur Leeuwarden.

He's spent the better part of three years with Scottish side Hibernian's reserves, but fell out of favour when the Edinburgh-based club skewed older.

Now he's hoping to catch on with the Vancouver Whitecaps, where his Canadian soccer hall of fame father, Garry, made life miserable for forwards in 1977 and '78.

On Tuesday, the Ayre apparent was the most intriguing trialist at Burnaby-8 Rinks for fitness testing as the new-look Whitecaps opened camp much earlier than past years. Vancouver native Marcus Haber, who spent the past three years with Dutch Eredivisie U19 side FC Groningen, was also there.

"Playing in Europe is everyone's dream, and if it happens [again] it happens," said the 6-foot, 160-pound Ayre. "But I'm trying to earn something here now. I want to do well and show I can play here."

Playing for Hibs' reserves was an up and down experience for Ayre, who saw three coaches come through in less than three seasons, each time having to prove himself. He dressed for 10 or so games with the premier side but never made an appearance, though he did come close.

"Everything was lined up really nicely," he said. "I was about to come in against Rangers at Easter Road, but one of our guys got sent off and we made a tactical adjustment.

"It would have been a really good experience. I felt kind of stupid, just standing there on the sideline. I had two friends over visiting and they couldn't understand why I didn't go in."

Last January, Hibs loaned him out to then second-division Scottish side Berwick Rangers, which proved to be an eye-opening experience for the wrong reasons. It's basically a glorified men's league and not the right situation for a motivated youngster, said Ayre.

"They all have day jobs. You'd come to training and guys are all tired from a day's work. They were training two or three times a week and I was used to training every day. It was different."

If Ayre can stick with the Whitecaps, which is by no means a certainty, it will make for a feel-good story.

"It would be neat, the like-father, like-son thing," said Garry, who, being a huge Liverpool fan, named his son after his favourite player, Kevin Keegan. "With MLS in the picture, it's a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for the club to get back that tradition we had in the older days."

Tradition in the Ayre household is in plain view. Garry had the privilege of playing against Maradona when the legend was with the Argentine U23 side, and against Pele and Johan Cruyff in the NASL. He won a Soccer Bowl in '78 with a New York Cosmos team that featured German great Franz Beckenbauer.

"My mom calls it the wall of vain," Ayre quips of his dad's in-house memorabilia -- photos and jerseys. "He's obviously achieved a lot in the game and it's something to be proud of.

"He's been at a high level, he knows what it's about and he's definitely got some good advice. Hopefully one day I can say the same."
More on the web

There's loads more from 'Caps camp on the web, including Martin Nash's thoughts on the new faces and the season ahead. Visit BACK OF THE NET on the province.com/blogs.

© The Vancouver Province 2009