VANCOUVER, BC – You can learn a lot about someone by spending a few days with them on the road.
Imagine what you can learn from spending a week together at Grande Sports World, an isolated athletic facility in the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona.
- PHOTO GALLERY: 'Caps in Casa Grande
That’s where I was this past week, as Vancouver Whitecaps FC ramped up preparations for the 2014 Major League Soccer season. It was my first trip with the team and it was an informative one, to say the least.
After all, you’re bound to learn a thing or two when you’re with the team every meal, every training session, and a lot of the time in between.
Here are a few of my takeaway points from the trip.
Behind the scenes with the ‘Caps coaching staff
This past week was the first time I had seen Vancouver’s coaching staff in action behind the scenes and it was an eye-opening experience. I attend training sessions regularly, but they don’t tell the whole story. In Casa Grande, I got the whole story.
I saw the coaches spend hours planning training sessions that were scripted down to the minute. Every single day, the coaches were in the office before anyone else and still there long after we left. Whether it was before breakfast or after dinner, everyone knew where they’d be.
I heard the messages they’re preaching to the players. Disrespect won’t be tolerated – neither will tardiness. The team comes first – always. If you make a mistake on the pitch, how will you react? Will you throw your arms up in the air? Or will you make an effort to fix it?
And lastly, I saw the positive vibe and camaraderie that exists between the coaching staff and players. There were a lot of laughs during training sessions and team meals, but it wasn’t all fun and games. The coaching staff has high standards. And when those standards aren’t met, they aren’t afraid to tell you.
Driven to succeed
Since taking over as Whitecaps FC head coach in December, Carl Robinson has spoken a lot about giving young players opportunities. One reason Robinson is high on young players is because of their hunger and desire to succeed.
That’s something I witnessed first-hand in Casa Grande. A few instances stand out in my mind.
That same game, an intercepted Sam Adekugbe pass led to Indy Eleven’s go-ahead goal in the second half. About 10 minutes later, after Whitecaps FC brought the score level, Adekugbe made a nice run down the flank and set up Omar Salgado’s eventual winner with a cross from the left corner of the field.
Adekugbe then booted a stray ball into the air in celebration, clearly still thinking about the earlier miscue. The 19-year-old was still visibly disappointed later that night.
These are just a few small examples, but I think they say a lot about the type of people here at the club.
There were a few players who made an impression in Vancouver’s first three preseason matches of 2014. One of them was Erik Hurtado, who was used as a lone central forward in each of his three appearances.
The highlight was no doubt his stunning half-volley on February 6 against Seattle Sounders FC, but Hurtado also made several clever runs and was involved in a few attacking combinations with Salgado. Salgado, who played on the left wing, also showed some signs of promise – particularly in his two-goal performance against Indy Eleven.
Another player who looked to be in form was Russell Teibert. Though he made just one appearance for 45 minutes, the 21-year-old Canadian looked lively in a holding midfielder role, both in attacking and defending positions.
As for the newcomers, centre back Christian Dean and Uruguayans Sebastian Fernandez and Nicolas Mezquida each appear to be adjusting well to their new surroundings. Dean looked calm on the ball and physically ready, while the Uruguayans created several chances with their link-up play in midfield.
It's still early days, but these were some of the encouraging signs from Vancouver's preseason trip in Casa Grande.
Whitecaps FC begin their 2014 MLS season on March 8 versus New York Red Bulls at BC Place. Season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps also offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets