Vancouver Whitecaps defender Diaz Kambere is hoping to book a trip to the Beijing Olympics later this year.
While the Whitecaps men gear up for their first preseason game at the University of Victoria on Sunday, the 22-year-old is in Oxnard, California, trying to impress Canada U-23 Olympic team head coach and former Whitecaps defender Nick Dasovic that he is worthy of a place in his final 20-man squad.
The Surrey, BC, native is one of 30 players being assessed for next week’s qualification tournament, with the call-up being Kambere’s first experience in any Canadian national team. "It's a dream come true because I always wanted to play for the national team since I was a youth player," the Ugandan-born defender told whitecapsfc.com. "When Nick gave me the call, I was so excited. Talking to him, he mentioned that he saw a couple of games of mine last season, and that he was impressed by my displays."
With training camp having started on March 1, Dasovic has had little time to work with the players at his disposal. He must choose his 20-man squad by Monday, with Canada then facing the difficult task of playing CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico in their first qualifying match on Wednesday. Having been drawn in Group B of the CONCACAF U-23 Championship in Carson, California, Dasovic's side will also face Haiti next Friday before completing their group stage against Guatemala on Sunday, March 16. Canada must finish in the top two in Group B in order to reach a crossover semifinal clash with a side from Group A - which consists of the United States, Cuba, Honduras, and Panama. They would need to win the March 20 clash in Nashville, Tennessee, to not only reach the March 23 final, but also claim one of two CONCACAF places in the men's Olympic Football Tournament in China.
Kambere knows he will have to be at his best in California, if he is to have any part of possibly helping Canada reach the Olympic Football Tournament for the first time since 1984 in Los Angeles. "The best thing I can do is go to the camp and play my best," he said. "If I don’t do well, it means I didn’t play my best soccer. I’ve got to go in there with a mindset that we’ve got playoffs next week and not think it is preseason. I’ve got to train like I’m preparing for the playoffs with the Whitecaps."
Though they are short on preparation time, Kambere is hoping to see a battling spirit from the team come next week. "It’s always a challenge for us as Canadians, as we’re likely going to go into qualifying as underdogs," the defender said. "Despite not being together for a long period of time, I think it could work out for us. If we go into the tournament and battle as a squad, we might surprise some of these teams."
Though his current priority is Canada U-23’s and Olympic qualifying, Kambere has been part of the Whitecaps extended preseason program that began back in January. The defender has been impressed by new head coach Teitur Thordarson’s approach to training. "He's very soft spoken and he knows how to handle the players," he said. "His training is very different, as he changes up the sessions all the time. He also lets us know what the session will be like beforehand. The new players that have come in are a good group of guys and are very down-to-earth. I like the way things are heading."
Kambere feels the 2008 USL-1 regular season schedule, where the Whitecaps will play its other 10 opponents three times, will make for interesting viewing. "I think it’s going to be more competitive than in years past," he said. "The aim will be to claim the series with each team by winning two of the three games or all three games you play against your opposition."
Having competed against top youth and university teams from the rest of Canada in recent years, Kambere is keen to rekindle those rivalries when the Whitecaps meet Major League Soccer side Toronto FC and USL-1 rivals Montreal Impact in a soon-to-be announced domestic competition this summer. The defender hopes even potential involvement in the newly-formed CONCACAF Champions League can take the club's exposure to new heights. "I think the Canadian competition will give us a lift, if we have aspirations as a club to play at a higher level," he said. "It’s good to see the Canadian clubs will be battling to see who is the best in the country. If we win, it would not only prolong our season, but give us more publicity as a club. If we make it as far as playing some of the top clubs from MLS or Mexico, for example, then it will show just how much we’ve improved."
The Whitecaps open the 2008 regular season at Swangard Stadium with an all-Canadian tilt versus the Montreal Impact on April 12. Season tickets are on sale now and start at $199. All season tickets include a bonus ticket to this year’s international friendly. For more information, CLICK HERE or call the Whitecaps office at 604.669.WAVE (9283).