From Residency program to MLS roster, Russell Teibert is on the rise
For Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the philosophy on young talent has always been ‘if they’re good enough, they’re old enough’.
In that case, 18-year-old Russell Teibert is certainly old enough.
“You see a lot kids in Europe who are 16 or 17-years-old making their way to the first team, so it wasn’t an issue of age for me,” stated Teibert. “It was more of when was I ready. Now I’m just making my way with this team and it’s been awesome.”
The speedy winger proved to not only be dependable when he was on the field this past season, but at times, one of the best attacking options on the team. Teibert exudes confidence on the field and has shown a knack for creating dangerous scoring opportunities with his accurate crosses. Though he didn't score last season, he did show that he is an offensive threat to do so. In the second leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) semifinals, he twice cut into the middle of the field and ripped shots just wide of net.
Now, with new head coach Martin Rennie encouraging players to make penetrating runs and passes in the attack, Teibert again looks to be an integral piece of the 'Caps future.
Teibert was an active kid growing up and loved to play every sport he could, but two of them were a little bit more fun than the rest.
“I had two favourite sports, and that was soccer and hockey,” stated Teibert. “People always told me that I’d have to choose between the two and I did have to make that choice when I was 14-years-old.”
That’s when Teibert looked into the full-time, fully funded Whitecaps FC Residency program. Four years ago the Canadian youngster was enrolled in Toronto FC’s Academy, but seeing an opportunity in Vancouver, he entered the Whitecaps FC Residency program.
“Toronto FC didn’t have a full-time Residency program,” said Teibert. “Vancouver was the closest thing to what was happening in Europe and I didn’t think that I was ready to move to Europe at the time.”
When it was first initiated, the aim was to provide opportunities for elite prospects to harness their soccer abilities and become quality professional players without having to travel thousands of miles away to do so. More than anything, the ‘Caps wanted to develop Canadian players who could grow within the club and become important members of the first team and beyond. That’s no longer just a dream, now it’s quickly becoming reality.
Moving away from home and learning to become a professional athlete and compete with some of best young talent in the country wasn’t easy at the beginning for Teibert.
“The first month I really didn’t feel like I was fitting in at all,” said Teibert. “I was playing with guys like Philippe Davies, who in my eyes were way better players than me. I wasn’t comfortable with my surroundings. I was used to growing up playing with a bunch of friends and these guys were doing it as a serious professional sport, so it was a big jump for me.”
After moving in with Residency staff coach Steve Meadley, Teibert grew accustomed to life in Vancouver and began to shine on the field.
“Phil Davies was living there too and Steve said ‘We have an extra bedroom, you can move in with us,’” recalled Teibert. “Once I got used to his family: Steve, Kathy, daughter Leah and the dog Ben, it made it more of a home atmosphere for me. I got more comfortable off the field and that made me a lot more comfortable on the field.”
Teibert’s progress is proof that hard work and perserverance can pay off in the Whitecaps system. At 17 years and 221 days, Teibert became the 10th youngest player ever to appear for Whitecaps FC when he made his competitive debut against Martin Rennie’s Carolina Railhawks on July 31, 2010.
Flash forward to today and he’s now becoming an integral part of the ‘Caps future. Teibert started five MLS matches this past season, including the season opener against the club with whom he began his professional ascension, Toronto FC.
“It was awesome, that game is something I’ll never forget. There was so much building up and playing against my hometown team and with the atmosphere and seeing a couple of guys I knew on the field, it was great. Plus we got the win.”
Playing in front of family and friends in Toronto also proved to be a highlight of the season for the Niagara Falls, Ontario native, with many of them having not seen him play live since he was 13 or 14-years-old. But with his career on the rise, he’ll hope to have more opportunities to do so in the future.
Teibert hasn’t only excelled at the club level; he’s also thrived while playing for his country. The left-footed winger has played for Canada at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels and was named Canadian U-17 Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009.
He most recently played for his country at the 2011 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Guatemala. Now he’s got his sights set on making the jump to the senior national team
“It’s always something special to put the Canadian jersey on,” said Teibert. “You just feel something special, the pride, and it’s something you don’t forget. The next goal for me is to play with the U-23 team and the biggest goal for me would be to play with the men’s national team.”
It may not yet be his time, but Teibert has caught the attention of national team head coach Stephen Hart.
Hart has been quoted saying of Teibert that ‘he is a player I'll keep my eye on’.
He won’t be the only one.