By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Continuity and freshness may be the best way to describe the Vancouver Whitecaps FC goalkeeping department this season.
In the first of our four-part preview series to the 2009 Whitecaps men's squad, whitecapsfc.com takes a closer look at the players that will form the last line of defence for the USL First Division champions.
One of the major keys to last season's success was the form of Whitecaps number one Jay Nolly. The former Real Salt Lake and D.C. United man led the Blue and White to victory in nearly half of his 31 total appearances during his first year in Vancouver, posting 11 clean sheets in the process. The Whitecaps will long remember the 27-year-old American's heroic efforts in last year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship, as his string of fine saves led the 'Caps to a famous Canada Day win over MLS side Toronto FC at BMO Field.
The Littleton, Colorado, native will be Thordarson's first choice, as the Whitecaps head into the new campaign, but with Srdjan Djekanovic moving on to USL-1 rivals Montreal Impact and playoff hero Tyler Baldock being released by the club last December, the Whitecaps were in the market for another shot-stopper during the offseason. Few, however, would have expected that acquisition to come from the soccer hotbed of South America.
Standing at six-foot-five, Brazilian import Diego Aparecido Ferreira Oliveira first caught the eye of Thordarson last September when he appeared for Brazilian First Division club Atlético Clube Coríntians during their tour of British Columbia. The Icelandic tactician was impressed enough to sign the 22-year-old, who is known simply as 'Diego', to a one-year contract - plus an option - on January 30. "There were a few things that really impressed me about Diego," Thordarson told whitecapsfc.com. "The first was that he is extremely strong at coming out of his goal and winning crosses that are played into his penalty box. In the game I watched him play last September, he won everything in the air and dominated his area. He also has extremely good reactions for his size, responds well in one-on-one situations, and is very good with the ball at his feet. It is those qualities that prompted me to bring him here from Brazil."
Thordarson thinks he will need to call on both Nolly and Diego during the course of the upcoming season, with the Whitecaps facing a 30-match regular season schedule in USL-1 and four important contests in the Canadian Championship. "I can't see us going through the season by using only one goalkeeper," he admitted. "There may be injuries or instances where we have those back-to-back league games, so using both keepers will be an option that we will have to consider at certain stages of the year."
The goalkeeping department also includes a glimpse into the club's future, with Whitecaps Residency youngsters Simon Thomas and Julien Latendresse-Lévesque continuing to develop their skills under the guidance of experienced goalkeeper coach Mike Salmon. Thomas was even included in the men's team squad that made last month's historic preseason trip to the United Republic of Tanzania. "Both Simon and Julien are very promising goalkeepers," Thordarson said. "Simon has been with us for some time during our preseason and has been improving all the time. At this moment, I look at Simon as our third-choice goalkeeper."
In the next edition of our 2009 men's team preview, we look at the players that will patrol the club's defensive backline.