By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
With Vancouver fully gripped by Winter Olympic fever, the Whitecaps men's team have been in the desert heat of Arizona building towards the 2010 USSF D-2 Pro League season.
Head coach Teitur Thordarson has put his squad through their paces during this latest off-season training phase, with the Blue and White set to complete a six-week training spell when they face Major League Soccer (MLS) club Real Salt Lake on Saturday afternoon.
For the past week, the 'Caps have been using the state-of-the-art Grande Sports World facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, to work on their fitness and tactical play ahead of the new campaign. With the trip nearing its conclusion, Thordarson has been pleased with the way the camp has progressed. "This trip has been very good for our team," he told whitecapsfc.com. "The facilities here in Casa Grande are great. The complex includes six fields, which are about 200 yards from where we're staying, while there is a huge gymnasium that the players have used to do their strength and conditioning sessions."
During their Arizona stay, the Whitecaps have also tested themselves with a couple of challenging friendly matches versus MLS opposition. Last Thursday, Vancouver fell 3-2 to Seattle Sounders FC before suffering a 4-1 loss to Chicago Fire on Monday. Though both results were less than favourable, Thordarson felt it was crucial for his side to face MLS opposition, with Vancouver set to join the league in 2011. "Playing strong opposition like we've done in Seattle and Chicago allows us to see how our team performs under pressure," he said. "When you play teams like we have, you can ill-afford to make many mistakes because MLS teams have the quality to punish you. These matches also help us discover what kind of opposition we are likely to face in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship or of a similar calibre this season."
With several new players joining the club in the off-season, the Arizona trip also provides an important opportunity for players to bond as a group and participate in team social functions like attending a Phoenix Suns NBA basketball game on Friday night. The camp has also afforded Thordarson the chance to speak with each of his players one-on-one. "I have used the time down here to have individual talks with our players, which was a big priority for me," he revealed. "It's been a chance for myself and the players to learn more about each other, and what we are expecting from them this season."
The trip has also allowed the squad to get used to a new face in the coaching staff following last week's appointment of former Canadian men's national team captain Colin Miller as assistant coach. The Scottish-born Miller has been impressed by what he has seen since arriving last Friday. "Things have been excellent so far," he said. "I get along really well with Teitur and the rest of the staff, and since I arrived down here, I've been trying to find my feet with all the players by getting an idea of where they are at, while they're trying to understand the type of person that I am. I have a no-nonsense approach to things and I'm very thorough at setting very high standards. However, I also like to think I'm one of the game's good guys and have good sense of humour, so I'm hoping this will become a long-lasting relationship."
The Whitecaps will conclude their trip with Saturday's friendly versus Real Salt Lake before returning home to Vancouver on Sunday. Thordarson will be looking to end the camp on a high versus the current MLS Cup holders. "I know the players have enjoyed testing themselves against these MLS teams, and we're looking forward to facing the defending MLS Cup champions," he said. "We had done a lot of training around the Seattle and Chicago games, but for Saturday, we'll look to prepare for that game a little bit more."
Don't miss out on your first chance to see the 2010 Whitecaps men's team! On Saturday, March 6, Thordarson's side host MLS club Seattle Sounders FC in a pre-season friendly match at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, BC. Kick off is set for 4 p.m. PT. Tickets for the MLS Sounders inaugural trip to British Columbia are now on sale for $15, plus applicable service charges, and are available online at ticketmaster.ca or by calling 604.280.4400.