By Bruce Constantineau
A jet-lagged Marcus Haber returned to the Vancouver Whitecaps training grounds today, fresh off a plane from England and ready to score as many goals as he can for his old team over the next two months.
Teammates warmly embraced the 21-year-old Vancouver striker who will play for the 'Caps again under a two-month loan deal arranged with English squad West Bromwich Albion, where he will return in mid-June.
He didn't practice today — arriving in street clothes in time to hear head coach Teitur Thordarson's post-practice strategy session — but is expected to train Monday and debut against Miami FC next Saturday.
"This is a great opportunity to be back with a club I'm really familiar with and I'm definitely eager to get some games under my belt," he said in an interview.
The 2009 USL-1 Rookie of the Year scored eight regular-season goals and three playoff tallies for the Whitecaps last season before signing an 18-month contract with West Brom in January. His arrival bolsters a 'Caps lineup that was clearly in need of experienced strikers.
Haber said West Brom technical director Dan Ashworth wants him to work hard in Vancouver during the English off-season and return to England ready to win a spot with West Brom's first team.
"He has definitely been very straightforward that this [off-season] is definitely not a holiday and it's a time when I can progress more as a player," he said. "It's only a bonus for me that I can play throughout the [spring] and come into pre-season flying and hopefully fit in with the first team right away — that's the blueprint that he's looking for."
Haber said he has enjoyed his time in England so far — calling it a "learning and growing experience." He went goalless in five appearances with League One squad Exeter City during a one-month loan but scored his first goal for the West Brom reserves this week in a 3-3 draw with Shrewsbury.
He scored the goal — a header from a cross — in front of his Vancouver-based parents, who had come for a visit.
Haber said English soccer crowds are demanding but appreciative of good play and feels the English game is faster and a bit more physical than what he was used to in USL-1 last year.
"You have less time on the ball so you have to make quicker decisions," he said.
West Brom is heading for promotion to the Premiership League next season and Haber said the mood is very positive among everybody involved with the club. He definitely wants to be part of that top-tier squad next season and feels he can make the jump if he works hard.
"Of course you have to earn everything you get," he said. "But they wouldn't have signed me if they didn't seriously consider me as a part of the puzzle along the way if I develop properly.
"So this next two months for me here is definitely a piece of the puzzle. The goal is to stay sharp and get as much as I can over here and definitely help the team get some results."
SIDE KICKS New French/Algerian centre back Mouloud Akloul has returned to France to collect his personal belongings. His international transfer has not gone through yet but he will return to Vancouver early next week and likely debut for the 'Caps against Miami next weekend . . . Defender/midfielder Blake Wagner trained with team Saturday but a left foot injury is expected to keep him out of the lineup Sunday.
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