BURNABY, British Columbia – Sunday’s MLS Cup Final will provide a glance into the future for Vancouver Whitecaps FC brass. It will give the players on hand a chance to find out what MLS is all about, to witness the ultimate goal for any team in the league. But for Blake Wagner, the game will have added meaning.
The Atlanta native began his professional career with FC Dallas in 2007 as a baby-faced teenager looking to break into MLS.
“I got drafted when I was 17, but my first year really started when I was 18,” Wagner said. “I’ve been playing professionally ever since.”
A strong player throughout his youth days, Wagner was spotted by the US Olympic Development Program when he was just 13. He moved on to play for the United States U-14 national team and eventually progressed to the 2005 U-17 World Championship team, where he started ahead of the likes of Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez.
When he arrived in Frisco, though, he found out that life as a professional soccer player was not going to be easy.
“I was so young, being 18,” Wagner said. “Most guys are going to college, but I had to start being a true professional and it hits you real quick. You see how many good players are out there and it humbles you and makes you realize how hard you have to work to be a great player.”
Wagner was not without help, as FCD had an experienced nucleus in the team to help the youngster along.
“When I first came to Dallas, there were guys like Greg Vanney, Ronnie O’Brien, Richard Mulrooney,” Wagner said. “Those guys were veterans and top quality players and it was good for me to learn from guys like that.”
Now in Vancouver, Wagner is looking to parlay that knowledge into a spot on the Whitecaps MLS roster, and the 22-year-old has nearly 3,000 MLS minutes under his belt.
“I think that everyone has as much experience as I do here, whether they were playing in MLS or USL or wherever, it’s all professional,” Wagner said. “I don’t see myself having any advantage over anyone else. I think they know the game just as well as I do.”
Wagner left FCD in 2009.
“I have some good friends on the team,” Wagner said at Monday’s training session. “I wanted to let them live it up last night and enjoy it, but I’ll probably talk to them in the next few days.”
And his predictions for the final?