Wes Knight has potential, but will he be around in 2011?
BY MARC WEBER
Wes Knight knows a thing or two about horses. He grew up around plenty of stables in Easley, S.C., a town of about 20,000 midway between Atlanta, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C.
He knows that dangling a reward can be a great motivator.
"Major League Soccer, it's the carrot in front of the horse," says Knight, the Vancouver Whitecaps' 22-year-old right-side defender-midfielder. "I don't think a day goes by that I don't talk about it. It's what drives you through training and motivates you to do extra things so you can be part of that transition." Before and after their recent 2-0 win over MLS side Toronto FC -- a victory that has all but confirmed their place in the CONCACAF Champions League -- the Whitecaps again found themselves answering all sorts of questions about the franchise's jump to MLS in 2011: - "Can the team compete at the next level?" - "How much different are the players?" - "What does it mean to beat TFC, an MLS team?" Some facts remained relatively unmentioned.
1. Toronto FC missed the playoffs their first two seasons and currently sit second-to-last in the East.
2. Seattle Sounders just jumped from USL-1 to MLS and took exactly six players with them.
3. Of those six, two were higher-end players signed early by the MLS club and loaned out to the USL-1 side last season, and three others have seen the field a total of five minutes.
Essentially, that is to say the 2011 Whitecaps will look markedly different from today's, although Vancouver does have its thriving residency program going for it, which Seattle did not.
Whitecaps defender Jeff Parke, an MLS vet looking to test European waters in July, cautioned against reading too much into the Toronto win, but said he's been impressed by several of Vancouver's younger players, Knight among them.
"I think there's five or six players on our [senior] team now who could definitely be around in 2011," said Parke, a longtime New York Red Bull.
Knight signed a one-year contract plus a club option with Vancouver in February after head coach Teitur Thordarson watched the College of Charleston graduate with Thoroughbred pace at a pair of combines. His development since preseason has been the most dramatic of any player and he's worked himself into a regular starting role.
"I was just thrown right into it and it was overwhelming at first," said Knight. "But you just decide you're not going to play at a mediocre level, you're going to push yourself." Between the small-town background, the southern drawl and the Toby Keith song, "Should've Been A Cowboy" that sometimes plays on his cell phone, Knight's found it tough to shake his bumpkin label.
"Where's your tractor?" a player questions during the interview.
Knight can take the jokes. He's too focused on the finish line of this particular race.
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