Making plans with Nigel
Back in 2002, Wimbledon FC were enduring a tumultuous period in their history. Floundering in the English First Division and set to be relocated to Milton Keynes from their South London spiritual home, there was little for the fans to cheer.
However, there was a rare beacon of optimism during the 2002-03 season when the then 18-year-old Nigel Reo-Coker made his first team debut for the Dons. Later promoted to team captain in his rookie season, he went on to enjoy a successful career in the upper echelons of English soccer over the past decade.
Fast forward to 2013 and a more experienced, wiser Reo-Coker finds himself in Vancouver. Still only 28, the Englishman with family ties to Sierra Leone has had an eventful career to date.
In 2006 he tasted defeat in one of the most thrilling FA Cup finals of modern times as his West Ham United side lost on penalties to Liverpool after conceding a last minute screamer from Steven Gerrard. A year later he made history as the first Englishman to captain a side at the refurbished Wembley stadium when he skippered the England U-21 national team.
But Reo-Coker isn’t one to look back on past glories. He’s looking forward to what he can achieve with Whitecaps FC and enjoying his time in Vancouver.
“It’s a great city with fantastic scenery and the people are very welcoming,” said Reo-Coker. “I haven’t had a chance to do all the tourist activities but I’m taking my time with all that. I want to go salmon fishing, I want to go up to Whistler, and just anything else that people recommend.”
Whilst training and match preparation leaves Reo-Coker with little spare time to explore his new home city, he makes the most of the opportunities he does get during down-time.
“I took Russell (Teibert) skateboarding the other day, we skateboarded along the walkway that goes round the city” explained the tenacious midfielder.
“I thought it would be a nice day to do it and I gave him a call to see what he was doing. He was around the corner so he came and met me. He told me it was his first time he’d actually done it and you could see that it was.”
Fresh from making his first start of the season against San Jose Earthquakes, Teibert was quick to disagree. “He told me to come out and he thinks he’s Tony Hawk, but he’s not that good,” commented the Canadian international. “It was my first time but I got the hang of it and I think I was better than him at the end.”
The young midfielder has been one of the major beneficiaries of Reo-Coker's signing. "He’s been very important for me this season," Teibert added. "He brings a lot of passion to the game and it’s really easy to feed off his energy. For me personally, he’s been a mentor both on and off the field."
For Reo-Coker, taking his young teammate under his wing is just part of the job.
"I don’t see myself as a mentor to him," he said. "I just try and educate him about the game, the art of playing central midfield and what I see would be beneficial to him and help him become a better player.
"I’ve always been a big fan of Russell from when I got to the club and from then on I’ve really admired the ability that he possesses and how much of a good player he is"
With an impressive resume that has included spells in the English Premier League with West Ham United, Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers as well as a brief stint with Championship side Ipswich Town, Reo-Coker is hoping that the wealth of experience he has built up can rub off on some of his other young colleagues.
"In this situation, with the young team that we have, I'm also helping these younger players to develop and hopefully the knowledge and the wisdom that I’ve gained in my career so far will be beneficial to them and help them become better players."
Entering the prime of his career and at the peak of his powers, it's this opportunity to develop the sport in North America that most appealed to Reo-Coker when he found himself seeking his next challenge.
"I’ve always been a big fan of MLS from a long time ago," he explained. "The main reason is that I see the development in this league. I see this league still has room to grow and get bigger and better. It’s the only league in the world that I feel still has that room and has the foundations to be a real big, dominant league in world football.
"I believe in the league and I believe in what the league can do. This is a long term thing for me."
And with that statement of intent, the man known as NRC outlines his MLS mission. So strap on your helmet. He may not be Tony Hawk, but with Reo-Coker leading the way, this promises to be a fun ride.