Whitecaps' Haber plays like legends of the past - The Province


In the running for rookie of the year, he's being compared to past greats

BY MARC WEBER

Asked to name the last Caps' rookie who's had the impact of Marcus Haber, club president Bob Lenarduzzi paused, then said: "It's got to be Domenic.

"Certainly we haven't had anybody since Domenic, and the most impressive part about Marcus is he's getting better when it counts."

Haber, a 20-year-old Vancouverite, has 11 goals in 37 games overall, including a pair of tallies in Vancouver's semifinal series win over Portland.

The Caps host the Montreal Impact to open the two-leg USL-1 final Saturday at Swangard.

Wednesday, Haber was named a finalist for USL-1 rookie of the year, along with teammate Wes Knight, a midfielder, and Austin Aztex forward Sullivan Silva.

Haber's got miles to go, of course, before his career can be mentioned in the same sentence as Mobilio's. The beloved Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame forward scored a club record 170 goals in 286 career games, and played 25 times for Canada, before his tragic death in 2004.

The kudos is simply acknowledgment of a tremendous rookie campaign and a hint at a bright future.

"I can't think of another rookie that's done so well in my time," said Whitecaps captain Martin Nash, who made his Vancouver debut as a 19-year-old in 1995. "Marcus has got a good head on his shoulders, he's a nice kid and works hard every day. And he's been consistent."

Remarkably so.

Haber was the only out player to appear in every league game. He finished seventh in league scoring with eight goals and four assists. He scored in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. He's scored in the playoffs. The longest he's gone without a goal was six games, which was during the first six weeks of the season. And his young, fast legs have allowed him to do the defensive work demanded by coach Teitur Thordarson.

"I'm not surprised by the quality he's brought into it," said Thordarson, "but I am surprised he's been so stable. For a young player, that is not easy.

"He can go quite far, I'll tell you."

Whether Haber's longer-term future is to go far with Vancouver -- who are MLS-bound in 2011 -- or whether he wants to test Europe again, will be an interesting off-season question.

For now, the Swangard stands are packed with fans loving the local lad with the lengthy stride. The kid who grew up in Dunbar and developed at Roman Tulis's soccer school.

Haber not only won Vancouver's newcomer of the year award, but was also named fan favourite.

"Playing at home, there's nothing like it," said Haber, who signed with Vancouver in February after failing to catch on in England following a two-year stint with Dutch club FC Groningen.

Haber's family has been soaking it up, too. His parents and two siblings come to all the games wearing their Haber jerseys. There's an extended family trip planned for the second leg of the championship final in Montreal a week Saturday, complete with shirts for all.

"Particularly his mom has become a die-hard fan," said Haber's dad, David, his coach from age five to 14. "It's been quite the experience having him back and very exciting for us seeing everybody embracing that -- a young, local guy. It's a lot of fun in our family."

Haber says he could never have pictured playing such a key role in his rookie year. But he made the most of his opportunity when striker Marlon James sprained his ankle before the season opener. And he's been determined to improve every week.

"I've learned from the players around me and Teitur has opened up my eyes to things about being a pro I didn't know before -- run making, tactics," said Haber. "Everybody's been giving me confidence."

Confidence and the ultimate compliment.

mweber@theprovince.com

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