Familiar faces at FC Edmonton
When Vancouver Whitecaps FC begin their 2013 Amway Canadian Championship campaign away at FC Edmonton on Wednesday it will be a case of better the devil you know than the devil you don't as they come up against plenty of familiar faces.
Vancouver’s closest regional Canadian rivals have a squad peppered with players who have turned out for the ‘Caps at some point in their career and even the man at the helm, Colin Miller, has recent experience this side of the Rockies.
Between 2009 and 2011 Miller was on Whitecaps FC’s coaching staff, joining the club in 2010 while the club was in the second division as first team assistant coach under Teitur Thordarson before making the step up with the team to MLS in 2011.
Miller, who moved to Vancouver at the age of ten, sought to surround himself with familiar faces when he was appointed head coach at FC Edmonton in November 2012.
One of his first additions was defender Wes Knight, a player who will be well-known to Whitecaps FC fans for a three-year spell in Vancouver. The South Carolina native made 59 appearances for the Blue and White in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, in which he was a finalist for the 2009 USL-1 Rookie of the Year and voted for the "Fan Favourite" award in 2010. Knight then stayed on with the ‘Caps as they embarked on their inaugural MLS campaign.
The American started Vancouver's inaugural MLS match on the bench, but wrote his name into 'Caps soccer folklore when he came on in the 69th minute for Russell Teibert and just three minutes later provided an assist for Eric Hassli to seal a 4-2 win against Toronto FC.
Knight went on to make 12 appearances for Vancouver in the 2011 MLS season before moving on to San Antonio Scorpions in 2012, where he won the NASL regular season title. When his former coach Miller came calling, Knight had little hesitation in joining the Eddies this past offseason.
Unfortunately for Knight, it appears that he will miss the Amway Canadian Championship with a left foot injury.
Joining Knight on Edmonton's roster is former Whitecaps FC teammate Carlyle Mitchell.
Mitchell, a Trinidad and Tobago international, was added by Miller on loan from the ‘Caps earlier this year. Although he is ineligible to play in the Amway Canadian Championship against the 'Caps, he will have a most vested interest in this semi-final series.
During the offseason, Miller also captured the signature of young striker Sadi Jalili, another player who has recent experience with Vancouver having spent part of 2012 in the Whitecaps FC Residency program.
The young prospect recently followed in the footsteps of his head coach by making his NASL debut at the tender age of 17, the age at which Miller made his debut for Toronto Blizard in 1982, when he came on as a substitute in the recent 2-1 loss away to Martin Rennie’s former club Carolina Railhawks.
Another player with 'Caps ties is midfielder Chris Nurse. Although the Guyana international has never played for Whitecaps FC he still has his connections in the ‘Caps dressing room having played under Martin Rennie in Carolina and counting midfield dynamo Nigel Reo-Coker as one of his closest friends.
The two know each other from playing Sunday league football together back in England when they were younger, and Nurse was even due to be groomsman at Reo-Coker’s wedding but was unable to attend due to his participation in Guyana’s World Cup Qualifiers.
A mainstay of the FC Edmonton defence over the past two seasons, Antonio Rago is the final player with Whitecaps FC on his resume. The Alberta native spent time in the Whitecaps FC Residency program in 2008 before joining his hometown team in 2011.
Rago almost came back to bite Vancouver in last season’s edition of the Amway Canadian Championship, providing an assist for Yashir Pinto to halve the aggregate deficit in the second leg of the semi-final at BC Place before a trio of late goals for the ‘Caps sealed a place in the final.
The ‘Caps will be looking to emulate last year’s success against FC Edmonton, where they won 5-1 over two legs, as they look to advance to this year’s final.
And with so many familiar faces in the Eddies’ ranks, there are certainly bragging rights on the line.