Though the rain poured down on a typical west coast winter's day at Empire Field, Vancouver Whitecaps FC began preparations for the inaugural season in Major League Soccer with a spirited training session on Monday afternoon.
With the visit of Canadian rivals Toronto FC now eight weeks away, the Blue and White set their course towards Saturday, March 19, by putting their squad of around 30 players through their paces in the first training session of 2011.
For goalkeeper Jay Nolly, being part of Vancouver's move up from the North American second division level to MLS has been worth the wait. "I've been on this team for three years, so when they announced that we would become part of MLS, my goal was to stay with this club and show what I can do," he told whitecapsfc.com. "Now that preseason is upon us, it's a good time to start moving forward."
Monday's events included a press conference with president Bob Lenarduzzi, director of soccer operations Tom Soehn, and head coach Teitur Thordarson. That was followed by media interviews with the players in the club's changing room on the north side of Empire Field before training.
One of the newest faces to meet the press on Monday was New Zealand youth international Michael Boxall. The product of the University of California, Santa Barbara, arrived in Vancouver after the 'Caps made the 22-year-old the top pick in last Tuesday's MLS Supplemental Draft. "Although I was disappointed not to get picked in the SuperDraft, I'm really happy with the way things worked out," said the defender. "I'm excited for this opportunity, and I'll be working hard this preseason to try and make the roster. I've just got to wait and see how things unfold over the next few weeks."
Though the elements were far from ideal, Thordarson and his coaching staff wasted little time in getting the players to work on Monday, with the club's strength and conditioning specialist Steve Ramsbottom leading the warm-up. Assistant coach Colin Miller then led the squad through a pass, run, and control drill before taking charge of a competitive keep-away session that involved limited touches on the ball for each player. Training concluded with two small-sided scrimmages that involved three teams - an 8v8 contest with keepers in each goal and a smaller 4v4 game involving the third team of eight players.
With preseason underway, centre back Jay DeMerit is looking forward to the squad building work that lies ahead. "It's important that the group gets together and works hard as a unit through preseason," said the United States international. "You start to learn about the different personalities and the coaching staff in preseason, and you do so with an open mind, as we need to make sure we're all on the same page come March 19th."
Training sessions await the players on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week before the 'Caps continue MLS preparations with an 11-day camp at the Grande Sports World complex in Casa Grande, Arizona, starting this Friday.