Ankle surgery keeps veteran defender home as teammates tour African country
BY IAN WALKER
Geordie Lyall didn't have to think twice about turning down a trip to Africa with his Vancouver Whitecap teammates. No, really, he didn't. It wasn't his decision to make. Off-season ankle surgery will be keeping him home from the Whitecaps' historic three-game pre-season tour of Tanzania next month.
It doesn't change the fact that even if Lyall wasn't rehabbing, he wouldn't be going. Not if it meant someone else on the team wouldn't have the opportunity. The Victoria native has twice visited Africa -- most recently in November of 2005 when he was invited to join the Seattle Sounders for their tour of Tanzania -- and is the type of person who would never deny someone from experiencing the life-changing event for the first time.
"It's a completely different trip than many of these guys have been on in terms of soccer," said the Whitecaps defender, who was limited to just eight regular season games last season due to a lingering ankle problem. "The game against the Tanzanian national team was like 25,000 people in the stands and they are pretty passionate fans, all wanting to see their team win. We went and did some kids camps and seeing how much effort they put in was amazing. To go to the game reserves, safaris, the Ngorongoro Crater and [Mt.} Kilimanjaro -- sights like that you've got to kick yourself and be very thankful for the opportunity."
The Whitecaps depart on March 4, arriving in Dar es Salaam early on March 6. Two days later they will play Tanzania's national team, ranked 103rd in the world, in front of the country's president, Jakaya Kikwete. Vancouver will also play a pair of games against the Young Africans and Simba, top Tanzanian Premier League sides. All three matches will be played at the 60,000-seat Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium. The team will also be visiting four schools and participate in two clinics with local youth clubs.
It marks the first time the Whitecaps will play overseas since 1981, when they toured Europe as a member of the now-defunct North American Soccer League. The franchise has never played a club or international side from Africa.
The focus of the trip, whose details were officially released on Wednesday, is three-fold.
"It's a great opportunity for the team to get to know each other, for me to get to know the new players and work with them in terms of preparing them for the season," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "It will be a great life experience for everyone. It's a totally different culture with lots to explore. Guaranteed, it's a great thing, but I don't look at it as strictly tourism."
Injured midfielder Justin Moose and four players called to represent Canada at the CONCACAF U-20 championships next month will also miss the trip. Along with Lyall, it meant Thordarson didn't have to make any tough decisions on who was going to Africa and who would be staying at home.
"To get to go in the first place is such an opportunity," said Lyall, who also travelled to the continent with his family while in university. "I've been pretty fortunate to get the opportunity not once, but twice and going back a third would be amazing, but it's better for me to stay and continue what I'm doing here. Even if I wasn't rehabbing I pass up my chance."
To know Lyall, even just a bit, is to believe him.
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