By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC return to preseason action on North American soil when they meet University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Tuesday evening.
Coming ten days after the third and final match of their historic preseason trip to the United Republic of Tanzania, Teitur Thordarson's side will look to fine tune their preparations when they take on Mike Mosher's UBC squad at Thunderbird Park. It will be an important contest for the defending USL First Division champions, with less than three weeks left before their 2009 season opener versus Charleston Battery on Saturday, April 11.
The cooler spring weather on the Lower Mainland will come as a bit of a shock to the Whitecaps squad, who trained in extremely hot conditions during their time in the East African nation. Playing three friendly matches in the space of six days, the Whitecaps earned a win, a draw, and a defeat in Tanzania. Vancouver fell 3-0 to Tanzanian Premier League side Young Africans FC on March 9 before two first-half goals by Marlon James gave the 'Caps a 2-1 victory over Simba Sports Club on March 12. Two days later, the Blue and White played out a goalless draw with Tanzania's national team at the Tanzania National Main Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
Assistant coach Todd Wawrousek will be in charge of the 'Caps on Tuesday, as Thordarson remains in Europe for his daughter's wedding this week. The former Hershey Wildcats assistant was pleased with all aspects of the team's Tanzanian experience. "I thought Tanzania was illuminating, productive, and enlightening. It was great for team building in every respect," he told whitecapsfc.com. "From a soccer vantage point, I thought it was a test of will to deal with some of the elements that we were dealing with, especially in terms of the quality of our opponents and the extreme temperatures that exceeded forty or fifty degrees on a daily basis. Our training was productive, as we were in an environment that helped greatly towards our cardiovascular fitness. Overall, I think we've connected better as a team, as we got to know each other better."
With preseason entering its latter stages, Wawrousek is now looking for his side to move things to the next level. "We're in a mode now of putting out our best side for games and looking to perform at a top level, as we are aiming to do against UBC," he said. "We may have some inexperience in our side, but we've seen some evolution of leadership on our team this winter. Also, the players that were at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship looked very good in training on Monday and are a group that I feel will contribute to our season."
The Whitecaps are still without the injured trio of Geordie Lyall, Lyle Martin, and Justin Moose for Tuesday's match. Haitian midfielder Kenold Versailles is also sidelined with injury concerns, while centre back Wesley Charles is in the Republic of Ireland tending to personal matters. One player that remains with the squad is trialist Gordon Chin. The Burnaby, BC, native was also part of the team's trip to Tanzania.
Tuesday's friendly will not only be the Whitecaps first match since returning home last Thursday night, it will also be their first run-out since last week's announcement that Vancouver will be the home of Major League Soccer's 17th franchise, with the team set to begin play in a refurbished BC Place in 2011.
Wawrousek believes the news of MLS coming to Vancouver will provide his players with much to aspire for. "The news is a great incentive for our players that are at the start or in the middle of their careers. Even our veteran players have the chance of showing their ambition and being a part of things in 2011," he said. "Even though it is two years away, it certainly is a great environment for the players to show their value to the club and be part of its bright future. Right now, the team is excited for the city and the organization that they have been afforded the opportunity to join MLS. The fact that Portland was named to the league two days later is just a match made in heaven for natural rivalries in the Pacific Northwest."
Meanwhile, UBC will aim to give the Whitecaps a difficult contest on Tuesday. The Thunderbirds finished the 2008 Canada West men's soccer regular season in a tie for first place with University of Victoria Vikes - whom the Whitecaps defeated 3-0 in a friendly back on February 28. The Thunderbirds squad includes former Whitecaps defender Graham Smith and former Whitecaps Residency midfielder Devin Gunenc.
Mosher is looking forward to testing his young side against the USL-1 champions. "This is a great chance for our guys to see another level," Mosher told goTHUNDERBIRDS.ca. "We have played them in the past and it will be a good test for our side to see what it takes to make that next step. They are just a few weeks out from the beginning of their season, so I expect a good, hard game."
The Whitecaps will continue their preseason schedule on Sunday afternoon, as they meet Seattle University at Winskill Park in Tsawwassen before hosting USL Premier Development League side Seattle Wolves FC at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on Wednesday, April 1. Vancouver complete their preseason with a friendly versus USL-1 rivals Portland Timbers at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on Friday, April 3.
Tuesday's friendly versus UBC at Thunderbird Park kicks off at 6:00 p.m. PDT.
Whitecaps 2009 season tickets are now on sale. Season tickets include all men’s and women's team regular season and playoff home matches at Swangard Stadium, Nutrilite Canadian Championship home matches against Toronto FC and Montreal Impact, as well as priority listing for Vancouver MLS 2011 in BC Place and the proposed Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium. For more information on the 2009 season ticket packages, click here or call 604.669.WAVE (9283).