By Ian Walker
Teitur Thordorson didn’t try to sugar-coat things. He wouldn’t go into specifics, mind you, but the Vancouver Whitecaps head coach made one thing perfectly clear on Tuesday. This is his team.
Thordorson wasted little words about the Whitecaps controversial decision to cut loose veterans Jeff Clarke, 31, Steve Kindel, 31, and Alfredo Valente, 28, this off-season. The trio were local and had spent the better part of their careers playing for Vancouver. All were starters on last year’s United Soccer Leagues First Division championship team as well as the one that won it all in 2006, when Clarke was named the tournament’s MVP. Kindel leaves second on the club's all-time games and minutes-played list. Valente is second all-time in assists.
The team cited “philosophical differences” as the reason for the players release at the time. The players offered a joint retort one-day later, stating their problems were exclusively with Thordarson.
Consider the second-year coach’s comments on Tuesday the third and final chapter of the saga. At least as far as the Whitecaps are concerned.
“They didn’t totally buy into our way of thinking,” said Thordarson, addressing the media publicly for the first time since a Whitecaps flag-raising ceremony at city hall a few days after the team’s 2-1 championship victory over Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium on Oct. 12. “I want to do it my way and if the guys that don’t buy into that we obviously we have to take it one step further.”
The move leaves midfielder Martin Nash and defender Geordie Lyall, who re-signed with the club earlier this week, as the lone holdovers from the 2006 USL-1 championship team.
“It’s exciting in the sense that there’s a lot of challenges ahead — you always want to be challenged,” said Nash, a top candidate for the role of team captain, a position he held at various times last season. “It’s going to be a bit different, especially with the three local boys gone. They’re all great players, served the club great and good friends of mine, so its tough to see them go, but decisions have been made and you just have to move forward as a club.
“It’s going to be a bit of adjustment and might take a little bit of time, but we just have to move on.”
Exactly one of the reasons management chose to start training camp three months before the start of the USL-1 season. It’s the earliest the franchise has gathered to train as a unit dating back to 1984, Vancouver’s final season in the North American Soccer League.
“It’s very exciting to get going,” said Thordorson, a native of Iceland. “It was my intention to make the off-season short, to start earlier and extend the season because that is the future for the club. The club is waiting for hopefully to get a good announcement to get on to the MLS and while waiting for that I think it was the right thing to do to get in some of the younger players and the players who will be part of the club in the future.”
MLS has said it will make its decision on the two expansion teams for 2011 by the start of the 2009 regular season on March 19. Vancouver is considered a favourite along with Miami. Ottawa and Portland and St. Louis are the other teams in the mix.
Looking to 2011, Ansu Toure was among the players gathered for conditioning at the Performance Institute at Burnaby 8-Rinks. The Whitecaps are currently in negotiations with Miami FC for his release, which is expected to happen in the coming days. The left-footed attacking midfielder split the 2008 season between the Atlanta Silverbacks and Miami FC and a a stint with MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
Two of Toure’s six goals last season came against the Whitecaps.
“I pray to God I can be a big help to Vancouver and be a part of the MLS,” said the 27-year-old Liberian, who has made Minnesota home for the past 10 years.
The club also announced the resigning of defender/midfielder Takashi Hirano. That leaves 16 of the Whitecaps’ 25-man training camp roster are in their first or second year with the club.
“This is just how it is,” said Thordarson. “Thinking of the future, it was definitely the right step and the right move to make the changes now.”
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