VALE OF GLAMORGAN, WALES – At the 45-minute mark of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s preseason opener against the Cardiff City U-23s on Friday, Jake Nerwinski went to the bench with the rest of his teammates assuming he was getting subbed off.
He knew that many changes were coming.
“I assumed everyone was switching out,” Nerwinski told whitecapsfc.com.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson ended up making seven changes at that point – and a few more at the hour-mark. Nerwinski was not one of them.
In fact, he was the only Whitecaps FC player to play the full 90 minutes. And it was his first-ever game, preseason albeit, in a ‘Caps uniform.
Suffice to say, it was a “special experience.”
“It was awesome,” said Nerwinski, Vancouver’s first pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft earlier this month. “Seeing my name on the back was pretty cool … I know it was preseason, I know it’s not the real thing yet, but to get out and play with professionals was a pretty special experience.”
Robinson said that Nerwinski “should be proud of his first 90 minutes.”
The reason he went the distance was because his fitness levels were already at a high level after playing three matches in five days at the recent MLS Combine, where he tested as the fastest combine attendee with a time of 3.87 seconds in the 30-metre dash.
Robinson also said that Sheanon Williams, who Nerwinski is expected to challenge for minutes at right back, was carrying a minor knock.
At any rate, the rookie certainly did himself no harm.
He looked particularly dangerous on the attack, playing a part in two of Vancouver’s best chances. In the 33rd minute, he played a nice one-two with Alphonso Davies down the right before unleashing a shot on target from the right side of the box. Then, late in the match, he picked up the ball on the overlap and found Kyle Greig in the box with a well-placed cross.
“I thought he did really well,” said centre back Tim Parker, who played alongside Nerwinski for 60 minutes. “I think he has a lot of power going forward, but he also offers a lot in the back. He offers that solidarity in the back, and he communicates well, which is important.”
So too is having some teammates who can show you the way.
And Nerwinski said that Parker, Christian Dean, and Cole Seiler have done just that over the last few weeks, which is no surprise since they’ve been in his shoes as fellow American defenders who came through the MLS SuperDraft. Safe to say they have a few things in common.
“You don’t want to overcomplicate things,” Parker said of his advice for Nerwinski. “Just do what comes naturally. Don’t try to step outside your comfort zone.”
It’s only been two weeks since he was drafted, a whirlwind two weeks at that, but Nerwinski said he’s already starting to get more comfortable with the team. And that’s part of what this preseason is all about. If there’s ever a time to get to know someone, a 16-hour travel day and 11-day training camp in a suburb outside Cardiff, Wales might do it.
“I like the guys, I like the coaches, I like the whole organization,” he said. “It’s going really well. I hope to help the team any way I can, whether it’s on the field or off the field. But I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure I’m on the field.”
And, in that regard, he’s certainly off to a good start.
Whitecaps FC continue their preseason schedule on Monday against EFL League One side Oxford United FC (5 a.m. PT/1 p.m. GMT at Dragon Park). The match is open to the public. Follow Whitecaps FC on Twitter for live updates and stay tuned to whitecapsfc.com for post-match coverage.