Culture shock awaits team
BY MARC WEBER,
Jay Nolly pulled out a map after last weekend's friendly in Seattle, but the Whitecaps' goalie wasn't lost in the Emerald City. He was looking for Tanzania.
"Absolutely nothing," is how he described his knowledge base of the East African country, and he wasn't alone.
The entire team, though, is about to get a cultural crash course during an historic trip for the franchise.
On Wednesday, the Whitecaps announced the details of their two-week Tanzanian tour, which includes games against the national team and two of the top club teams, all in the recently-opened 60,000-seat national stadium.
They'll also help run school clinics and visit the breathtaking Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
It's the first time the Caps have ever faced African competition, and their first overseas trip since going to Europe in 1981. LZ Enterprise, a company that works with the Tanzanian government and brought the Seattle Sounders there in 2005, initiated talks with the Whitecaps last summer.
"It's pretty exciting," Nolly said. "Me and [Martin] Nash had to bring out the map to see where we're going, where the safari was. It's an experience the players will remember for the rest of their lives."
The Caps depart on March 4, arrive in Dar es Salaam on March 6 and face the national team March 8. Temperatures there this week were in the low 30s.
Games follow against the Tanzanian Premier League-leading Young Africans (known locally as Yanga) and third-place Simba.
FIFA ranks Tanzania 103rd in the world, sandwiched between Malawi and China, and 15 spots below Canada. The Tafia Stars, as they're known, are currently competing in the African Nations Championship in Ivory Coast.
"They'll have talented players, players who can change a game, I'm sure," said Nash. "If we have a good game, we'll be able to compete.
"It'll be one of those experiences we'll never forget. We've got a lot of new faces and we need to find our identity as a group. This will allow us to do that."
Ansu Toure and Charles Gbeke are the African-born Whitecaps -- Liberia and Ivory Coast, respectively -- but injured defender Geordie Lyall, who's not making the trip, can offer as much insight as anyone. He joined the Sounders for their '05 tour and played the same teams the Caps will face, tying the national team.
"I remember someone on our team got nutmegged and the crowd went crazy," he said. "It wasn't even in a position where it mattered, it did nothing for the guy, but that's the kind of stuff they want to see. That and bone-crunching tackles."
Sold-out crowds are not an unrealistic expectation and playing in front of that many fans will be a new experience for most of the players.
"It's an atmosphere I look forward to and you've just got to take it as an experience," said forward Marlon James, who's seen crowds up to 80,000 for Malaysian Cup finals.
The popularity of soccer in Tanzania has exploded in recent years, coinciding with an influx of foreign players, construction of stadiums and the federation taking a hard line on match-fixing and discipline.
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