Home away from home
Long Tan was one of many players that re-located to Vancouver as Whitecaps FC prepared to launch into their inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season. The promising youg striker originally grew up in Dalian, a city located in northeast China's Liaoning Province, and now he is the first Chinese-born soccer player to play in MLS.
Born on April 1, 1988, Long Tan has always been a quiet, shy, soft-spoken individual who prefers keeping a low profile. Tan is known for his dynamic goal scoring ability and enthusiastic style of play. His game has always forced fans to constantly readjust in their seats in anticipation of his next move.
“I started to play soccer around six years old,” said Tan through a translator. “My parents weren’t very supportive of soccer at first, but they quickly became fans and things have worked out well ever since”.
In time, it has become more than just Tan’s parents who have learned about the special gift the fan- favourite possesses. After finishing his amateur career with the U-18 squad of Shanghai United FC, Tan joined Shanghai Seven Stars in China League Two before quickly being promoted to China League One with club Pudong Zobon FC in 2008. In 16 appearances that season, the then 18-year-old striker scored six goals and appeared ready to take China’s professional soccer league by storm.
But Tan’s family made a decision that would change his life forever – they decided to relocate to Houston, Texas. When Long arrived in Houston, he immediately experienced culture shock at its finest.
“In terms of language, it was difficult at first to communicate with anyone except my family, but things got better slowly”.
But while life changed in the United States, Tan’s passion for the game of soccer remained, and that allowed the young athlete to continue his dream in North America. By 2009, Tan joined Atlanta Blackhawks of the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) where he scored seven times in 12 appearances, including a second-half hat-trick early that season. However, while the statistics showed a successful season on the field, Tan was forced to change his game to deal with the North American style of soccer.
“In terms of the physical side, it was a challenge. North American people here are very healthy and are quite strong, so there was an adjustment period”.
And while Tan’s game evolved, so too did his options. Entering his 2010 season, Tan received trial opportunities with MLS expansion club Philadelphia Union and USL Professional Division outfit FC New York. Tan would eventually land with FC Tampa Bay (USSF D-2) and spent one season there, before joining Whitecaps FC after the club acquired his rights in a midseason trade.
Since that time, Tan has settled in Vancouver, both on and off the field. “I love the food and the weather here. There are so many familiar cultural elements to enjoy. This city has been like a second home.”
Finding himself in a city that prides itself on cultural diversity, Tan’s discovery of Vancouver as his new ‘home away from home’ has resulted in another strong season of growth and development on the field.
Tan started his season by playing several matches with the Whitecaps FC Residency squad in the PDL, then later saw action in the MLS Reserve League where he continued to fill the score sheet. In a two week span, Tan scored three goals in two matches and helped Vancouver earn their first-ever MLS Reserve League victory.
Late in the season, the 23-year old started three of the final four matches, helping Vancouver secure their win on Bell Pitch downtown against Real Salt Lake and before scoring the game-winning goal against D.C. United.
Tan’s success story both on and off the field continues to pave way for his future. “The next stop, I will see. For now I am very focused on playing with Vancouver and I want to do well here. My family is here. It’s very special and I enjoy having them around.”
Living in Vancouver has also expanded Tan’s love of shopping at Gucci and eating Chinese cuisine, but while familiarity has eased his transition, it's the local community that continues to remind Tan that home is never your mailing address, but simply where your heart is.