BY IAN WALKER
It may only be the second week of training for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but there’s some noticeable trends among the newest crop of players.
They’re young, they’re fast and they all come from outside Canada and the U.S... Oh, and they’re all someone you’d have no problem bringing home for supper unannounced. They remember names, always make eye contact and only start speaking after first offering a smile and an outstretched hand.
You don’t have to be in the company of Tyrell Burgess very long before the Bermuda-born midfielder’s calm demeanour wins you over. Quiet by nature, the lanky 6-2, 175-pound midfielder possesses a refreshing combination of confidence and humility. A mix of youthful exuberance and the air of a wise soul.
“I just want to get better,” said Burgess, 22, one of two Whitecaps player signings on Friday, the other being goalkeeper Diego Aparecido F. Oliveira.
“I’m here because I want to work on my weaknesses. By no means do I think I know all the tricks, I know I still have a lot to prove. This is a humbling game and I just want to grow with this team and take the next step. I did a lot of research before coming here and know the roster’s changed and the team’s looking for a younger group of players and I want to be part of that.”
The native of Smiths, Bermuda, comes to the Whitecaps from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., where he’s played the last three seasons. He finished second on the team in scoring last season with 10 goals and 10 assists in 20 matches and was named to the NCAA Division II All-Sunshine State Conference first team.
He scored five goals and added three assists in 16 games with the Reading Rage of the USL’s Premier Development League in 2008, helping it capture the Mid- Atlantic Division regular season title and Eastern Conference playoff title. His international experience includes nine senior caps for Bermuda as well as time with the country’s U-17, U-20 and U-23 national teams.
It was while playing with the Rage that Burgess first became known to the Whitecaps, who invited him to participate in their two-day player combine in Palmyra, Penn., this past December.
“I had seen him in the PDL and he had a lot of favourable elements to his game,” Whitecaps assistant coach Todd Wawrousek said before Friday’s training session at Performance Institute at Burnaby 8-Rinks. “He’s got great pace, is an explosive player, an excellent crosser of the ball, can play the left or right side and understands the principles of the game. We were also drawn to him by his personality, which is a big part of the selection process. He’s got a humility about him that’s refreshing in modern sport.”
But while simple manners will get you in the front door, there’s never been a goal scored or stopped by etiquette. Still, this year more than ever, the Whitecaps have made a commitment to bringing in good people as much as talent. Burgess, Marlon James, Ansu Toure, Kenold Versailles — all new international players who, on first impression, stand out as much off the field as on.
“I’ve only been here a few days, but already it feels so comfortable — both the young guys and the vets are so supportive and helpful,” said Burgess, who is also interning with the Whitecaps as part of his sports management degree. “It seems although the team hasn’t been together a long time, everyone’s on board which is good because I know expectations are high.”
Maybe too high. The addition of Burgess and Diego means Vancouver has 18 players in camp who are in their first or second year with the club.
“Winning a championship was a huge bonus last year and finishing a point out of first place wasn’t expected,” said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. “Almost forgotten is we’re still building the squad. You talk about the number of first year or returning players — there’s been a huge, huge shift in personnel — but that was the plan.”
Diego Aparecido F. Oliveira — who goes by his first name, Diego — arrived in town mid-day Friday and is expected to challenge for the backup goalkeeper position behind starter Jay Nolly.
The 6-5, 205-pound netminder was initially spotted with AC Corinthians, when the Brazilian first division club played a friendly at Swangard Stadium last September.
The two newest additions leave Vancouver with eight international players, one more than the league allows teams to carry on its active roster.
Not that it’s a concern, however.
“Our PDL team allows us to place players there, so that’s what we’ll likely do,” said Lenarduzzi. “We don’t need to make those decisions right now.”
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