The ‘Caps have returned to Vancouver after a 10-day training camp in Honolulu, Hawaii, in which they posted a 2W-1L-0D record to kick off the preseason.
Here are 10 things that stood out to me from the trip.
1. The ‘Caps have many different leaders, but it seems to me that Kendall Waston and newcomers Kei Kamara and Efrain Juarez have really taken on that responsibility.
The three of them, for example, helped arrange for the rookies to get up on stage and sing when the ‘Caps attended a luau (read Jake Nerwinski’s blog for his review on the star of the evening). That may seem like a small thing, but I’ve never seen the players laugh as much as they did that night. There are countless other examples.
After training one day, I spotted Kamara with his arm around 17-year-old training camp invitee Isaiah Hudson, chatting with the youngster for several minutes following a tough session. Waston had a similar moment with 15-year-old Simon Colyn after the Whitecaps FC Residency midfielder/forward made his first-team debut (more on that later).
I was also extremely impressed with Kamara’s work rate and winning mentality in these preseason matches. The 33-year-old striker was pressing like his life depended on it and he put the team on his back with the score level in the dying stages of Vancouver’s Pacific Rim Cup opener vs. Iwaki FC, making things happen all over the pitch and eventually drawing a PK.
2. Then, there’s Juarez.
Already, he’s someone who is bringing the team together. That’s something Carl Robinson spoke about on TSN Radio Vancouver, referencing team meals at the hotel.
“You get your South and Central American group that speak Spanish together and you get your North American group that talk about NFL stuff and all that, and we’re trying to avoid that,” Robinson said. “Effy tries to float at different tables.”
He also suggested a new team rule, which has since been instituted, that prevents players from leaving team meals on their own. Now, they leave as a team.
“Preseason is about building relationships,” Robinson said. “Your teammate across the road has got to help you, not when times are good, when times are bad. You have to stick together. He’s been on successful teams. He knows how to build cultures and clubs.”
3. Sticking with the team spirit theme, I just wanted to share this video.
In it, you see assistant performance coach Carl Bergstrom racing club coach Pa-Modou Kah. They were arguing who was faster the previous night and decided to settle it on the track – or in this case, the pitch. So why am I showing you this?
Because it really speaks volumes to the camaraderie within this locker room – coaches, players, and staff alike. I mean, just look at everyone’s reaction to the race.
That speaks for itself.
Team bonding is a HUGE part of these preseason trips – it’s not just about the on-field stuff. And in that sense, these last 10 days definitely served their purpose.
4. It’s no secret at this point that Robinson is considering playing three at the back in 2018.
Will he do it every game? Definitely not. Will he start the season that way? Not necessarily. Heck, maybe the ‘Caps don’t end up using it at all. But it’s an option. And an option, according to Robinson, that may play to the strengths of Alphonso Davies.
The 17-year-old played as a left-sided wingback in Vancouver’s pre-tournament friendly against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, as well as part of their second match vs. Sapporo, and was extremely effective.
“You class him as a winger,” Robinson told TSN Radio Vancouver, “but he does so much work and has so much energy that he’s able to get up and down naturally.”
Davies was consistently one of Vancouver’s liveliest players down in Hawaii – not unlike a year ago when he impressed in the preseason and ultimately earned a spot in Robinson’s XI to start the season. So far, he appears to be on track to do the same.
5. The natural question that follows: what does that mean for Marcel de Jong?
Robinson said that the Canadian international could be a good fit on the left side of a back three, acting as a ball-playing centre back who can also defend the flank behind Davies.
“When you play three at the back, it’s important the outside central defenders are able to defend in fullback areas,” Robinson said. “Chelsea has César Azpilicueta, who’s a right back playing on the outside of the three. We can have that with Marcel.”
6. Someone recently asked me: “Who’s been the biggest surprise at camp so far?”
My answer was Colyn (pronounced co-line), because I literally knew nothing about him before this trip. Colyn was referred to Robinson by Robert Earnshaw, who coached him with the Whitecaps FC U-14 Residency side. The ‘Caps Residency program is very high on him. And I can see why.
The 15-year-old midfielder/forward came on as a late sub in Vancouver’s first preseason match and made an immediate impact with his energy and guile in the attacking third.
Robinson said Colyn is a “really talented player” with an “unbelievable knowledge of the game.”
“Things that are hard to teach players he has naturally,” Robinson added.
If this reminds you of a couple years ago when Davies burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old, you probably aren’t the only one. But that’s where the comparison should probably end.
One of the reasons Davies was able to step into the pro game so quickly was because he was physically ready. Colyn, like most kids that age, is not. He still has a long way to go.
But the Langley native certainly has potential and I – for one – am excited to track his progress.
7. I think one of the best stories to come out of camp was Doneil Henry’s return to the pitch.
Now, I know it’s only preseason. And I know he only played a couple halves. But it had been 15 months since he had last played a game in any competition. Henry, who joined Whitecaps FC in December from English Premier League club West Ham United FC, has had a tough spell with injuries in recent years.
But he appears to have finally turned a corner.
“It’s been a long time, an emotional roller coaster to say the least,” Henry told whitecapsfc.com. “To get back on the pitch and to get a clean sheet, work hard, and just to get through the game and feel great is a testament to hard work and true commitment. The staff has been really good since I’ve been here, it’s been awesome, so I’m really thankful to be here and playing the game that I love again.”
The 24-year-old Canadian centre back (it’s hard to believe he’s still only 24) looked quite solid as well. He was aggressive, comfortable on the ball, and dominant in the air.
He also appears to have the right mentality.
“We all buy into Robbo’s vision,” Henry said. “We all have a role to play in this team. I’m just here every day to continue to work hard and give it everything. Wherever I fall, I accept it. I’ll just continue to work and push guys.”
8. Stefan Marinovic played the first half in each of Vancouver’s three matches in Hawaii. And he did not concede a single goal.
It’s not like he didn’t have anything to do, either.
As you can see below, he made highlight reel saves in each of the first two matches. The Kiwi international, who also impressed for New Zealand in their World Cup playoff vs. Peru in November, sure seems to have picked up where he left off last year.
9. I had a nice chat with actor Henry Ian Cusick (known as Desmond from Lost, Stephen from Scandal, and, his current role, Marcus from The 100) down in Hawaii.
Cusick is a big footy fan who lives in Hawaii so it was no surprise to see him checking out the ‘Caps at Aloha Stadium. He also has a soft spot for Vancouver, since that’s where The 100 is filmed. Cusick took part in last year’s Whitecaps FC Legends & Stars charity alumni match and he told me he fully plans to play again in 2018. This year’s match is set for September 15 at BC Place.
10. You’ve probably already seen this by now, but I just have to share it one last time.
Because PINEAPPLE STAMPS!