VANCOUVER, BC – The day is July 31, 2010.
A 17-year-old boy from Niagara Falls, Ontario achieved his life-long dream of making his debut as a professional footballer.
The boy had previously been with Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Academy and Residency program, originally joining the club at age 15 in 2008.
Fast forward to March 19, 2011, the Blue and White played their first-ever match in Major League Soccer at Empire Field against Canadian rivals Toronto. You know the rest.
Putting the game itself to the side, the boy from Niagara Falls started the match, making his second appearance for the club.
Now a man at 30 and a player with plenty of experience, Russell Teibert has been here ever since.
The long-time captain was honoured for reaching 300 appearances for the club prior to kickoff in the ‘Caps Decision Day clash against Los Angeles FC last Saturday at BC Place.
“I wasn’t thinking about it at that time,” said Teibert, when asked if he thought he would reach 300 when he started against Toronto FC on that spring, March day in 2011.
“I just remember, I signed a contract a week before that game and I just wanted to play in one game. I wasn't thinking about 300.”
The milestone arrived in a Cascadia derby win, no less, on August 26 against Portland Timbers at Providence Park. It’s a place where Teibert has been a part of some memorable ‘Caps moments, including a comeback 3-2 victory in October 2021 and a thrilling 4-3 win all the way back in 2014.
Nowadays, it’s rare in football to see a player stay with the same club for a large portion of their career, let alone make 300 appearances. The term used to describe them is “one-club man”, which isn’t as common to hear in the modern game as it was before with the likes of FC Barcelona’s Carles Puyol or Liverpool FC’s Jamie Carragher as previous examples.
Yet with Teibert, his road to 300 is unique.
Coming through the ‘Caps Academy and Residency program, he became one of the first young Canadians in the club’s MLS history to represent the national team and, of course, became the only one thus far to reach 300 appearances.
“I think it's been a gratifying experience to see so many young players come up through the Academy and through the Residency program and to, kind of, be a pioneer in that sense [in] making the pathway possible,” said Teibert.
”The organization made it possible for me so to be an example, to show that it was possible for other young athletes to try and to know that there was a pathway to become professional, I think that's been a gratifying experience.”
Teibert goes on to mention other examples of young Canadian players who he has proudly seen come up through the development pathway, such as one Alphonso Davies, as well as current ‘Caps first team players Ali Ahmed and Isaac Boehmer.
Despite becoming a pioneer of the pathway, more than anything Teibert enjoys seeing others succeed.
“I think it's just been a really cool experience to be a part of that program as a youth player, to be a part of the Residency program at its origin as a teenager, and then to watch other teenagers come into the club and find their footing to become a big part of the first team.”
When asked about his favourite memories from his 300 appearances, Teibert notes the flying ponchos from the first MLS match against Toronto FC, the 'Caps first Canadian Championship triumph in 2015, winning the Cascadia Cup down in Seattle in 2014, and scoring his first two professional goals against Los Angeles Galaxy in 2013.
Teibert's parents were in attendance for the match and he remembers celebrating with long-time friend and former 'Caps player Nigel Reo-Coker, someone who meant a lot to his career.
Fittingly, the same celebration Teibert did on that day after his second goal was the same one Ali Ahmed pulled off last Saturday against Los Angeles FC to honour the long-time 'Caps captain.
"To be honest, when the ball went in the net, the first thing that came to my mind was Rusty's celly," said Ahmed. "We talked about it all week, so I was more happy with the celly than the goal to be honest."
Teibert also notes making the playoffs in 2021, winning back-to-back Canadian Championships in the last two years, and witnessing the growth of Alphonso Davies are some of his favourite moments.
It’s not just the on-the-field memories Teibert recalls from his 300 appearances, it’s also how tight-knit he’s become to the city of Vancouver.
“I think the city adopted me and I mean every sense of the word that it really has become my home," described Teibert. "Vancouver will always be home base for me and that's coming from a kid born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario on the east coast so the city has done amazing things for me."
The midfielder has recorded goals, assists, tackles, and some of the highest passing accuracies in the club's MLS era. But off the field, he's tallied assists to the community, giving back in any way he can to help inspire the next generation of Canadian footballers.
“There's a real onus to give back to this community, to give back to the city. Not just Downtown Vancouver, but the community that surrounds the organization, that community has a very far reach. For me personally, that extends as far as Penalakut Island, that extends to different schools, communities, children's hospitals, organizations. You do feel a real sense of community when you're involved in this organization."
When it comes to reaching 300 appearances, he thanks the club most of all for believing in him from the get-go. It's the dream he's been chasing ever since he was playing for fun in his backyard in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
“The organization has done great things for me. They gave me a pathway, they gave me a framework and a structure to grow in and they believed in me and I think that's the most important. The city, the fan base, the club, they believed that I could make it possible to play for 14 years, reverse it to play over 300 games, to play for the national team. I look at that and I look at those numbers, I look at that sentence and that's a childhood dream come true."
The 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs are coming to BC Place!
We'll be taking on LAFC in Round 1 Match 2 of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.