BURNABY, British Columbia – For most of the players present at Whitecaps FC training camp, the chance to play in Major League Soccer is a new experience. For others, it’s a second chance to prove that they belong.
Among the latter is center back Greg Janicki, a Michigan State alum who has had an up-and-down career so far.
A solid season with the USL-2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2008 sent the burly defender on loan to D.C. United. He returned for the 2009 season but was released after only seven MLS starts.
“Last year was tough with injuries and trying to stay sharp,” Janicki said. “It was the first time in my career that I hadn’t been getting steady time on the field.”
Janicki eventually landed in Vancouver, seeing an opportunity to regain the form that originally caught the attention of former D.C. United head coach and current Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tom Soehn.
“What I wanted to get out of this year for me personally was to get my confidence back and play 90 minutes game in and game out,” Janicki said.
The Michigan native had a strong season with the second-division Whitecaps, and he was named 2010 USSF-D2 Defender of the Year.
“The award is nice to have, but it doesn’t lock you up for next year,” Janicki said. “I’ve still got to keep getting better.”
Jay Nolly took a different path to MLS, but experienced similar results. The 6-foot-3 goalkeeper had a standout college career with the Indiana Hoosiers, winning back-to-back NCAA Division I titles in 2003 and 2004 before being drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.
After two seasons of limited action in Salt Lake, Nolly was traded to the nation’s capital. But like Janicki, he had trouble finding playing time and was released in January 2008.
“When I was first in MLS, the only experience I really had was college,” Nolly said. “I never really got an extended chance.”
Three seasons of starting experience with the D2 Whitecaps has given Nolly the confidence to believe that he is now ready for the demands of MLS.
“I’ve improved a lot as far as experience,” Nolly said. “I’ve gotten to play over 100 games here and I think that’s prepared me well.”
The native of Littleton, Colo., was named team MVP the last two years and was also honored as USSF-D2 Goalkeeper of the Year this past season.
“They’re going to have to look to better every position, and goalkeeper is one of them” Nolly said of the competition to make the Whitecaps MLS roster. “I know I’m going to be fighting for the spot.”
With the Nov. 24 Expansion Draft bringing MLS veterans into the fold, the time is now for both Janicki and Nolly to prove that they can translate their second-division performance into MLS success.
“I’m feeling pretty confident in myself and I’m looking to prove that I can still play at that level,” Janicki said. “This training camp coming up is going to be big.”