Club's preseason tour could pay dividends in new, young talents
By Marc Weber,
His career highlight to date cost him $50, or about 66,800 Tanzanian shillings.
If everything goes to plan, Nadir Haroub will actually make money off his latest playing milestone.
Haroub, 24, and Nazir Khalfan, 21 -- members of the Tanzanian national team that faced the Vancouver Whitecaps on the USL-1 club's preseason tour -- arrived in Vancouver on Friday and began training on Saturday.
Caps head coach Teitur Thordarson called them "great talents," and if they perform up to expectation, both could soon sign their first professional contracts.
"We are very happy, our first time playing professional," Haroub said in his limited English. "I get the opportunity, I work hard here. We are very hard working."
Haroub, a defender, comes to the Whitecaps from Tanzanian club champion Young Africans. He made international headlines almost a year ago to the day, when following a World Cup qualifier in Cameroon he swapped jerseys with FC Barcelona star Samuel Eto'o.
The cash-strapped Tanzanian Football Federation didn't take kindly to the gesture and said Haroub would have to pay out of pocket to replace his jersey. That drew criticism from fans and media as Haroub was praised for limiting Eto'o in a 2-1 loss, some saying it was Eto'o who sought out Haroub as a show of respect.
The federation reportedly backtracked, but Haroub said at Tuesday practice that it still cost him.
"I pay national team $50, but no problem," he said with a laugh.
"It's a great memory."
The Whitecaps hoped their preseason tour to Tanzania would be about more than unforgettable memories. They hoped to convert the competitive schedule into a bright start to league play, which hasn't happened.
It has, however, spawned a reciprocal international experience -- one that Thordarson thinks can pay off immediately.
"There were a few interesting players there, but these are the two best ones we wanted to look at," the coach said. "They are young, have very good technique, they have speed and versatility.
"If we sign them, I definitely won't be afraid to throw them on the field. For Nadir, playing on the back line, he might need a bit more time to adapt to it, but Nazir is a very creative player and I don't think he'd have any problems going straight in."
Signing either Tanzanian player would make life harder for some of the Whitecaps' current internationals.
United Soccer Leagues rules allow USL-1 teams to carry seven international players on their roster.
Vancouver already has eight (see box) in its system, but the club has flexibility in that it also operates a USL Premier Development League team -- essentially the residency roster -- and can move players back and forth, carrying up to eight internationals on the PDL side.
Seldom-used foreign players this season are Bermudan winger Tyrell Burgess (92 minutes), injured Haitian midfielder Kenold Versailles (nine minutes) and Brazilian goalkeeper Diego (no appearances). Jamaican residency forward Dever Orgill (145 minutes) has started to see more action lately.
"I'm not going to start talking about names, but that's just how it is," said Thordarson. "That will obviously be a challenge, how we approach that."
The Whitecaps are, in a way, fortunate that the residency team will miss the PDL playoffs, as it limits the effect that the July 13 PDL roster freeze will have on player movement between squads.
Players are free to move again after the PDL team is eliminated, which will be after the July 19 regular-season finale.
"Right now it doesn't really impact us at all," Whitecaps director of professional teams Greg Anderson said of the roster freeze.
"The only restriction [to sign Haroub or Khalfan] is the August 14 international transfer window closing."
Newspapers in Tanzania mentioned that a third national team player, Zahoro Pazi, was expected to join the Whitecaps shortly, but Anderson said there were no such immediate plans.
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