By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC embark on their historic trip to the United Republic of Tanzania this week.
Though the curtain on the new USL First Division season is several weeks away from being raised, Teitur Thordarson's squad will board a plane on Wednesday night and head to the East African country to continue their preparations for the 2009 campaign. The trip, which is being organized by LZ Enterprise and endorsed by the Government of Tanzania, will see the Blue and White play three matches in Dar es Salaam after the team's arrival in Tanzania's largest city on Friday.
Playing at the 60,000-seat Tanzania National Main Stadium, the Whitecaps will face the first of two Tanzanian Premier League clubs in Young Africans FC on Monday. The USL-1 champions will then meet another Dar es Salaam-based outfit in Simba SC on Thursday before completing their schedule when they take on Tanzania’s national team on Saturday, March 14.
Thordarson is anticipating a challenging set of matches for his revamped squad in Africa. "I'm very much looking forward to the games we will be playing. I know they will be tough and the players in the teams we face will be very good," the former Iceland international striker told whitecapsfc.com. "From what I understand, the three teams we will face have players of very good quality, though how they are as teams is difficult to say, as I haven't seen them in action. Nonetheless, I'm preparing my players for three very tough contests, which I'm sure will be a good experience for them."
Thordarson's traveling squad includes many of the new additions that have joined the club for 2009, as well as three members of the Whitecaps FC Residency program in goalkeeper Simon Thomas and attacking midfielders Gagandeep Dosanjh and Alex Semenets. Playmaker Dosanjh earned a late call-up for the trip after a number of his Residency teammates were called up for international duty ahead of the upcoming CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Trinidad & Tobago.
The Whitecaps head coach is hoping to see his team move to another level with their preparation and performance levels in Tanzania. "The physical work will be important, but playing games and getting our way of playing, both defensively and offensively, right will be a major focus for us," he said. "We had a good test against Seattle Sounders FC last month and I hope this trip will show that we have taken some steps forward since that defeat."
Three senior players are set to miss out on the trip to Tanzania, as they look to recover from their respective injury concerns. Defender Geordie Lyall - who visited the East African nation with former USL-1 club Seattle Sounders in November 2005 - is working his way back to fitness after offseason ankle surgery, while winger Justin Moose is recovering from problems in his abdominal area. Added to the Whitecaps casualty list this week was right fullback Lyle Martin. The speedy defender suffered a broken right foot in Saturday's 3-0 friendly win at University of Victoria Vikes and faces around eight to ten week on the sidelines. As a result, the defender will likely miss the start of the USL-1 season and Vancouver's opening match in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship at Toronto FC on May 6. "Lyle's injury was extremely disappointing news," Thordarson said. "He was in great shape and looking ready for the new season, so to have this injury and be out for several weeks is a big setback for him and the team."
Martin's absence will allow trialist Gordon Chin to travel with the squad to Tanzania, as he looks to earn a contract with the 'Caps. The Burnaby, BC, native played with the Whitecaps in 2003 and has further USL-1 experience with former league clubs Edmonton Aviators (2004) and Toronto Lynx (2006), as well as a season with Charleston Battery in 2007. Last year, Chin played for Yantai Yiteng in China's second-tier Jia League before returning home. "Gordon has been training with us for awhile," Thordarson said. "I gave him a chance to stay fit for his spell in China, but when that came to an end for him, he came back and trained with us for two weeks. He impressed me during that time and I wanted to see more of him. When Lyle got injured on Saturday, it allowed us to add Gordon to our travel roster."
Of course, preseason work will not be the only focus of the 'Caps during their two-week stay in Tanzania. Players and staff will also participate in four school visits and two clinics with local soccer clubs during their trip, with the squad taking a large donation of soccer equipment to Tanzania. This includes a set of used soccer balls from Vancouver's Dunbar Soccer Association and kit from the North Delta Youth Soccer Club. "Our players have everything here in terms of resources," Thordarson said. "For them to visit a place where young players struggle to have those same resources and where they can help those youngsters in any way possible will be a fantastic experience for them."
Team bonding will also be an important part of the trip for the Whitecaps, with the squad visiting Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater during their stay. Thordarson is hoping such experiences will bring his side closer together. "It's always important in soccer to have great teamwork and chemistry, so this trip is an opportunity to build on that as a group," he said.
As part of our coverage of this historic trip to Tanzania, whitecapsfc.com will be launching a new and improved Fanzone section that will allow fans to follow the team's visit to East Africa. The section will include photos and videos, as well as player blogs on their experiences during their time in Tanzania. Defender Mason Trafford will be contributing his thoughts to The Province's 'Back of the Net' soccer blog during the two-week trip, while reporter Bob Mackin from 24 Hours Vancouver will also give his thoughts on the 'Caps while in Tanzania.Whitecaps 2009 season tickets are now on sale. Season tickets include all men’s and women's team regular season and playoff home matches at Swangard Stadium, Nutrilite Canadian Championship home matches against Toronto FC and Montreal Impact, as well as priority listing for BC Place and the proposed Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium. For more information on the 2009 season ticket packages, click here or call 604.669.WAVE (9283).