'Grumpy old men' ponder final whistle - The Province

Close like brothers, Clarke and Kindel mull life after Caps Steve Ewen You can imagine, 30 years from now, Steve Kindel speedwalking to his seats at a Vancouver Whitecaps game, a gaggle of grandkids in hot pursuit as he chirps away about how lazy soccer players have become. And you can also imagine Jeff Clarke ambling behind within earshot, wrangling his own grandchildren and chuckling about how Kindel needs to chill out at the same time. Long term, it's easy to see Kindel and Clarke hanging out together. They've been buddies since they started playing together on provincial teams when they were 13. Long term, it's easy to see Kindel and Clarke still tied to the Whitecaps in some fashion. They've been faces of the franchise for much of the last decade, and they're both busy minor soccer coaches, so they'll always be involved in the game. Their short-term, front-and-centre connection to the Whitecaps could be another story, though. Midfielders Clarke, 30, and Kindel, 31, are both getting to the age, and the family situations with young children, when players routinely retire. Also, with the Whitecaps angling towards Major League Soccer, it wouldn't be surprising if the club opted to go with a youth movement and shuttle some veterans out. This playoff run could be the last for ever-clever Clarke and workhorse Kindel. A generation could be closing. "They're two players who have led by example, two players who have put in their time and made sacrifices," said Whitecaps midfielder Alfredo Valente. "They've represented the club so well. If this really is their last year, they can walk away proud of what they did for soccer in Vancouver and for the Vancouver Whitecaps." Valente knows all too well. Vancouver would regularly make just a few roster changes year to year, but, in the bid to improve, the moves have become more frequent and more international in the past few seasons. Just six players on the current roster have played more than five seasons with Vancouver. Valente, Clarke and Kindel are among them. The three are close friends, so much so that Clarke jokingly refers to them as the "Three Wise Men" with he and Kindel "The Grumpy Old Men". "We feed off each other's moods and that can be a good thing and a bad thing," said Clarke, who was in Kindel's wedding party and vice versa. "Our wives are close. Our parents are close. We are like brothers ... we fight and sometimes we don't get along. "When this is all over, whenever that might be, we'll certainly be friends. We've got kids the same age now. It'll be play dates and baptisms and birthday parties. You can go on and on. The bond reaches way further than the grass field. To me, it's borderline blood. I do look at him like a brother. I hate him at times and he can annoy the hell out of me, but you get the idea." Consider it understood. And don't think that hint about not knowing when careers might be ending was missed either. That's Clarke. He can get fired up on the field, but he's largely laid back. Kindel's passion is palpable. "The retirement question? I hate that question," Kindel said when the story was first broached with him this week. "Damn. I hate it. Print that. I hate it." After a couple of breaths, he did answer. "I do think about retiring," said Kindel, who, like Clarke, has also played some defence with the Whitecaps. "Every year, when you're at this stage of your career, it becomes a decision. When you're young, there's no decision to be made. You just keep playing. "But it's one of those decisions you can't make in the middle of a season, because there are so many ups and downs, and definitely not close to playoff time, because it's so emotional. We win it all, you might think you're invincible and can play another 10 years, or you might think, 'Hey, I've done it all.''' When it really is over, though, you can bet there will be some sort of ceremony for each of them. Clarke will speak at Kindel's and Kindel will return the favour. No one else knows their legacies as well. Kindel on Clarke: "I just think consistency and professionalism are the first two words. Jeff's off day is so few degrees from his top day. This league, when you have so many games and back-to-backs, a lot of young guys will come in and perform well at the start of the year and then play well in spurts and then fade off. To do it for close to 10 years at the same level is something." Clarke on Kindel: "In one word, it's durability. He can go and go. He's one of the most mentally tough players I've ever played with. He always seems to be able to bring it. When we go on the road he'll be limping off the field one game and two days later he's ready to play. Guys feed off that." steve.ewen@gmail.com © The Vancouver Province 2008