From Bolivia to Prince George, by way of Vancouver and Macon, Ga., Vicente Arze has done his part to make the soccer world a little bit smaller.
Arze, the 23-year-old native of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, speaks fluent English through a Spanish accent, but on Saturday the Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder let his feet do the talking.
Playing the Prince George All-Stars, a collection of the best young players the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League has to offer, Vicente and the Whitecaps did the expected and put on a clinical exhibition in soccer -- the way the game was meant to be played.
Vicente, a five-foot-10, 170-pound marketing graduate who attended Mercer University in Macon, was a bull to try to knock off the ball and he and Takashi Hirano were especially dangerous with their crossing passes into the middle. More often than not, Nick Addlery was the fortunate recipient, collecting three goals in a 6-0 whitewash.
“I get a lot of assists because when you play with forwards who move a lot, it’s easy to combine, and I think I’m doing a good job,” said Arze. “Prince George has a good team, but they’re still very young and they need to learn a little stuff. They have the quality and I hope they keep practicing. I hope they love soccer as much as I do, so they can get better and make a life playing soccer.”
The 500 fans who packed the east sideline at Glen Thompson Field had just gotten settled onto their bench seats when Addlery headed in a Arze pass to open the scoring about nine minutes in, a play that started when Charles Gebeke stripped the ball away from Richard Klein. Gebeke’s shot at goalie Kyle Flannagan was blocked and the rebound bounced right to Arze, whose lob pass found Addlery’s forehead. Two minutes later, Hirano threaded a needle over the Prince George defence and well within Gebeke’s header range to make it 2-0.
The shifty Addlery deked Derek Flindell in the 14th minute and ran in on a breakaway. Flannagan got a piece of the shot, but not enough to keep the ball from rolling in. Jason Jordan had all kinds of room cashing in another breakaway chance in the 29th minute, and Addlery was in the right place downfield to accept a long Arze stretch pass that led to the hat trick. Arze, a first-year pro, completed the scoring into an open net early in the second half.
The Whitecaps leaned more on Arze’s offence with leading scorer Eduardo Sebrango out of the lineup to rest a pulled hamstring.
The game was arranged three weeks ago when a scheduled matchup in Vancouver against an English Premiership team fell through. Although it meant nothing to the Whitecaps, once they found their rhythm on the field, they played like they were trying to beat another USL team. Anything less, and the crowd might have gone home disappointed.
“We’re a professional soccer team and this is work for us,” said Addlery, 26, a native of Kingston, Jamaica. “We have two huge games coming up (this week against Charleston and Carolina) and we’re using this as an opportunity to get our fitness up and prepare for those games.
“We work on it every day and you want to try to bring to the games what you work on in practice.”
As good as the Whitecaps were in the first half at trapping passes seemingly with Velcro attached to their feet, their ball control noticeably improved in the second 45-minute session. By that time, they had a healthy lead, but didn’t stop pressuring P.G. goalie Mitchell McFarlin.
Joe Lavoie brought about a huge roar from the crowd 10 minutes into the second half when he came out of nowhere and dove to block a shot from Jordan and take away a sure goal, with McFarlin down and out on the turf.
The P.G. boys were held to three shots in the first half and none in the second while trying to penetrate what is the top-rated defence in the United Soccer League First Division. Joao Medeiros gave Whitecaps starting goalie Jay Nolly a few anxious seconds in the early stages when Prince George worked the ball deep. But the best chance for the home side came 16 minutes into the game, when the Potrugal-born-and-raised Medeiros launched a rocket from just outside the 18-yard box and Nolly had to dive to make the catch.
Arnold Ngabo also got a crack at the net from a sharp angle late in the half when he hustled down the wing to gain control of a loose ball.
“It was really just a fun game -- we weren’t expecting a whole lot and the guys competed well for a team that was put together in a week, and we couldn’t have asked for any better,” said Ngabo, 23. “They’re big guys and we’re not used to playing guys that size who are that fast. These guys are professionals, it was quite a change. It was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Martin Nash, 32, the 13-year veteran Whitecaps midfielder, remembers beating the Vancouver 86ers as part of Canada’s under-23 national team and had a good idea what Saturday’s game meant to the Prince George players. Nash, the younger brother of NBA superstar Steve Nash, played an A-league pro game for the 86ers against Atlanta in Prince George in 1996.
“It’s nice for these kids to play against us as a learning experience -- we play quicker than they’re used to and it’s different level of game but it’s good for them to see.”
The Whitecaps are now third in the USL standings, three points behind the Puerto Rico Islanders and six behind the first-place Charleston Battery. They’ll play six games over the next two weeks.
“This was the only break we have in the season and we looked a little bit heavy in the first half, but got better and the tempo was better in the second,” said Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson. “The Prince George guys got it together just for this event and it’s normal they didn’t get everything going. But they worked very hard all through the 90 minutes. There’s lots of good young talent here.”
Prince George coach Sipho Sibiya said he hopes to get his team together one more time in September to take on a team from Brazil.