I was going to start off this column by saying that I would love to be participating in preseason now, with all of the scientific advances on the medical side of things. But then I gave myself a slap across the head, because that is not true. I hated running – as funny as that seems for a professional athlete to say – and preseason was a nightmare that I did not look forward to.
Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to be starting a new season and to meet up with my teammates old and new, but you have to remember that in my day preseason was a real slog. We would not see a soccer ball for the first two weeks. Instead, we had to do many long runs with lots of hills, and if the manager was in a foul mood he would even make us run in the sand. All the while I’d be thinking “let’s get this over with and get the ball out and play!” With that said, I know our current ‘Caps players are reared and ready to go. I can feel the anticipation building quickly as we look forward to a new Major League Soccer season.
Things certainly look a lot different than last year. We have a new coach in Martin Rennie, a revamped squad, and we’ll play the whole season in one stadium this time around, the beautiful BC Place. Most importantly, we now have the experience of a full season in MLS.
We also have physiotherapist consultant Rick Celebrini on board to complement our excellent medical staff. His contributions have been instrumental in getting players such as Jay DeMerit and John Thorrington over their lingering injuries.
Yes, our players have been away from the game since mid-November, but they went away with a fitness program designed to keep them ticking over the course of the off-season. In the modern game, there is more of a science to sport – as we know a lot more about our bodies then we used to – and the medical staff can monitor a player’s fitness more easily.
My how things have changed
I remember going to England for preseason with the Whitecaps back in the day. I had a fun off-season, eating lots and having a few drinks, but when I returned I was in for a bit of a rude awakening.
John Giles was the coach then and we were two days into training when he called me over and told me to lose 10lbs in the next two weeks – and when the coach tells you to shed a few, that’s exactly what you’ll do if you know what’s good for you. I did that by wearing a garbage bag under my training gear – a trick I got off ‘Wee’ Willie Johnston, the great Scottish international that played on the opposite wing from me for the ‘Caps.
The next off-season I worked out in the gym and came into camp in much better shape, or so I thought anyway …wrong! Two days into camp, coach Giles pulled me to the side and hammered me for putting too much muscle on, which he said would slow me down. He may have been right, but there was definitely no science to his reasoning.
The players will come into preseason with mixed emotions. For the first few days, they could very well be nervous and apprehensive, as they hope that they’re in decent shape so they do not get injured, which would set them back and leave them having to catch up. They’ll also be excited though, as they get to meet a number of new teammates. For those new players such as Martín Bonjour, Jun Marques Davidson, Brad Knighton, Young-Pyo Lee, Darren Mattocks, Lee Nguyen and Matt Watson, this will be the first step in making Vancouver their new home. On the field, meanwhile, some will be fighting to make the roster, but all will be trying to impress the new coaching staff led by Rennie.
Yes, it is a time for optimism amongst the players and staff as we head towards our second season in MLS.
The squad will come into camp a lot fitter than in my day, and the boys will see the ball a lot quicker than I ever did. But I imagine the emotions will remain the same, because the thrill of a new season never gets old.
Since 1979, Carl Valentine has been an integral part of the soccer community in Vancouver. A club legend, Carl was a key player for the Whitecaps FC team that won the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) Soccer Bowl, as well as the 86ers squads that won four Canadian Soccer League (CSL) titles. Now, Carl represents the 'Caps as club ambassador. Make sure to check back regularly for his columns and videos as part of 'The TWO ONE'.