Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic is looking forward to his second spell with his hometown club.
This time last year, the Serbian-born shot-stopper looked set to help the Whitecaps defend their 2006 United Soccer Leagues First Division title. That all changed in late April when Canadian rivals Toronto FC signed the 25-year-old for their inaugural season in Major League Soccer after agreeing an undisclosed fee with Vancouver for the keeper. Though he made eight appearances for TFC last season, Djekanovic was released by the MLS club in the autumn.
After leading the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds to a second Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship title in three years last November, Djekanovic has returned to what is a new-look Whitecaps squad under the guidance of head coach Teitur Thordarson. The Delta, BC, native is impressed with the spirit he has seen in the team so far. "It's a good group of guys and there are gelling really well," Djekanovic told whitecapsfc.com. "I think the coaching staff is helping with that. Teitur has the experience of being a player, so that helps, while his assistant Todd Wawrousek has been a positive influence as well."
With goalkeeping being a specialized role, Djekanovic has been working closely with the club's new goalkeeping coach Mike Salmon. The Englishman brings a wealth of experience to the role, having played for several professional clubs in the UK and as a coach at English Premier League giants Arsenal. "Jay and I are doing things with him that I've never seen before," Djekanovic said of Salmon. "Mike is very organized and pays a lot of attention to detail. It shows his professionalism when you show up for training every morning and you see everything set up 15 to 20 minutes before practice."
With only one starting position available in goal, Djekanovic will be contesting for the club's number one jersey with another former MLS keeper in Jay Nolly. Though he knows they are competing for the role, Djekanovic has enjoyed training with the former Real Salt Lake and DC United man. "Jay is a classy guy," he said. "I think we both have had the same career paths, having been around either Major League Soccer or the USL First Division, but not having played as much as we hoped. If either one of us were not here in Vancouver, it would have been easier for us to be a number one with any club in this league. We are both going to push for that number one spot, but at the same time, there is a lot of mutual respect between us and a good friendship off the field."
Returning with Vancouver will allow Djekanovic an opportunity to face his old club Toronto FC in the new CONCACAF Champions League qualifying tournament this summer. Though he expects two tough games against TFC, the Whitecaps keeper feels USL-1 rivals Montreal Impact may be slight favourites to claim the honour of Canada's top professional club in 2008. "Montreal has put a lot of money into their preseason," noted Djekanovic. "They have a good team and will always be tough to play, so I would put them as pre-tournament favourites right now. Overall, I think it's going to be very tight, as I can see lots of drawn matches in the competition."
The Impact are also widely touted as one of the favorites for the USL-1 title in 2008. For Djekanovic, the keeper also sees defending league champions Seattle Sounders be one of the teams to beat in the upcoming campaign. "From what I saw of Seattle in preseason, I think they are going to be a tough team to play," he admitted. "They're well organized and play nice soccer. Portland Timbers should also have a good side, and from what I've seen, I expect Charleston to be really well organized defensively with the additions of Marco Reda and Jack Stewart. With former Canadian international defender Mark Watson in their coaching staff, I would see them being a tough team to play and create scoring chances against."
The Whitecaps open the 2008 regular season at Swangard Stadium with an all-Canadian tilt versus the Montreal Impact on April 12. Season tickets are on sale now and start at $199. All season tickets include a bonus ticket to this year’s international friendly. For more information, CLICK HERE or call the Whitecaps office at 604.669.WAVE (9283).