VANCOUVER, BC – Tight-knit. Special. Family.
These are some of the words that have been used to describe Vancouver Whitecaps FC this season by those involved with – and close to – the club.
Some might write it off as pure rhetoric.
Can’t say I’d blame them. Professional sports are filled with these sorts of clichés.
From the outside, it’s hard to know the truth sometimes.
That’s where this article comes in. Throughout the year, I’ve witnessed – and been privy to – a number of instances that show how tight this team really is (there are surely many more that I don’t know of).
Here are a few that stand out in my mind.
A WARM WELCOME
Let’s start with the preseason.
After a long day of travel from his native Uruguay, new Whitecaps FC centre back Diego Rodriguez arrived in Vancouver at around 10:30 p.m. on a cold January night.
Much to his surprise, Rodriguez found Kendall Waston, Matias Laba, and Nicolas Mezquida waiting for him at the airport. Rodriguez knew Mezquida from back in Uruguay, but had never met the others.
Talk about a warm welcome.
“We decided to pick him up because we speak Spanish and we want all the new players to feel comfortable here,” Waston told whitecapsfc.com. “He was very thankful.”
The ‘Caps may have the youngest team in MLS, but they have some pretty good leaders, too.
Here’s an example.
Back in preseason, a few of the veterans made it a point to room with a younger player when the team was away in Arizona for 10 days. David Ousted asked to room with Marco Carducci, Mauro Rosales asked for Matias Laba, and Pedro Morales asked for Marco Bustos.
They each took upon this mentorship role themselves – with no outside pressure.
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That speaks for itself.
Similarly, Pa-Modou Kah has been a big mentor to Kekuta Manneh this year, Robert Earnshaw is often seen teaching the likes of Bustos and Kianz Froese, and the ‘Caps coaching staff are always complimentary of experienced fullbacks Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey.
The list goes on.
If there’s a big brother on the team, it’s Kendall Waston – who, fittingly, goes by the “big man.”
When Deybi Flores, then 18, joined Whitecaps FC at the end of March, Waston took it upon himself to show the Honduran the ropes. Not only did Waston and his wife have Flores over for dinner on numerous occasions, they also drove him around and helped him with things like online banking, WhatsApp, etc…
“I’m really grateful for their generosity, their hospitality, and their friendship,” Flores told whitecapsfc.com. “I’m just taking everything they say to heart and trying to implement it in my personal life and my professional life as well. It’s been great having people like that looking out for me.”
Jordan Smith sang a similar tune about Waston when he joined the team from Costa Rica in August.
Then there’s the fact that Waston invited Whitecaps FC midfielder Gershon Koffie into his family’s home back in Costa Rica during the team’s bye week in June.
“They accepted me like a son,” Koffie said. “That’s what this team is about. It’s not just about playing. It’s about being together off the field as well.”
You’ve likely heard of Vancouver’s “wet bandits” by now.
If not, here’s the story. Back in the preseason, Steven Beitashour and Pa-Modou Kah spontaneously decided to dump a bucket of ice water on Jordan Harvey for his 31st birthday.
Then, they did it for the next birthday. And then the next one. And the next one.
A lot of the time, the coaching staff is in on it, too.
It just never gets old.
“Now, if it’s someone’s birthday, everyone is telling us that we have to keep the streak alive,” Beitashour said. “It’s nice because we don’t have to keep track of everyone’s birthday. Someone just tells us and we take care of the rest.”
Kah and Beitashour are now calling themselves the “wet bandits.”
“Like Marv and Harry from Home Alone,” Beitashour laughed.
As he wrote about here, Whitecaps FC club ambassador Carl Valentine had some struggles after undergoing double knee surgery back in July.
There were times when Valentine just didn’t want to see anyone.
But some of Whitecaps FC’s first team staff and a few players decided to pay him a visit in the hospital anyway. And as you can see from the photo below, it put a smile on his face.
KARAOKE ON THE BUS
This is what happens when the ‘Caps get stuck in traffic in Kansas City.
I think we can safely say these guys enjoy each other’s company.
MR. LABA LABA
Any team that has a character like Matias Laba on it is going to have a good time.
Here are a few examples.
After almost every training session, you’ll find Nicolas Mezquida, Octavio Rivero, and Cristian Techera on the pitch long after everyone (including the media) has left.
Sometimes, they’ll kick the ball around. Sometimes, they’ll just sit there and talk.
These guys love the game – and they love being around each other.
That’s a common theme with this group of players.
SHOWING THEIR SUPPORT
If you’ve been to a WFC2 game this year, then chances are you’ve bumped shoulders with some first-team players and staff. You can understand why Carl Robinson and his coaching staff are regular attendees, but the players always seem to turn out in numbers as well to show their support.
Along the same lines, many of them took in Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency’s historic first-ever home playoff match at SFU – as documented here.
The club’s motto is “Our all, our honour.”
Clearly, it’s more than just a good line.
So there you have it.
Does any of this have a correlation with the team’s on-field success (the ‘Caps finished third in MLS and are off to the Western Conference Semifinals)? Maybe. Maybe not.
But after a 3-0 win over Houston Dynamo in Sunday's regular season finale, Robinson said: "I firmly believe we recruited a good group of players that could do something special."
They appear to be well on their way.
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