BY BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
VANCOUVER — The harsh realities of professional sports kicked in this week when Wesley Charles learned he won’t play for the Vancouver Whitecaps this year.
The popular 34-year-old centre back’s inspiring bid to win a new contract with the team that released him last year fell agonizingly short Thursday when the Caps announced the signing of French/Algerian centre back Mouloud Akloul.
Akloul, a 27-year-old former French under-17 international, impressed the team during a trial period this week with his aggressive, vocal play and on-field leadership skills.
Charles was released by the Whitecaps last July after two physical altercations with teammates but rejoined the club for training purposes in November. It was later revealed he had an infant child die last year and Charles hadn’t properly dealt with the issue. Since rejoining the team without a new contract, the player known as Butu trained hard and lost more than 20 pounds to get himself back to playing fitness.
Charles said Thursday he was obviously disappointed with the team’s decision.
“It didn’t happen for me so there’s not much I can do,” he said. “I really enjoyed training with the team . . . But a few clubs have shown some interest in me and who knows what might happen in the next week or so.”
Head coach Teitur Thordarson said he would have signed Charles if Akloul hadn’t been available. He said Charles was arguably the best player on the team when the Whitecaps won the United Soccer Leagues First Division championship in 2008.
“He was a huge player for us and a great, great person — a fantastic guy,” Thordarson said. “But unfortunately I can’t think of that. I have to take a technical decision and that’s why we didn’t sign him.”
Whitecaps officials expect other teams will be interested in Charles and he might play against them this year.
“I’m not looking forward to it,” Thordarson said.
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