VANCOUVER, BC – Efrain Juarez was a not-so-impartial observer during last year’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Tigres UANL.
Tigres are one of two Mexican Liga MX sides based in Monterrey – the other being CF Monterrey. Naturally, there’s a big rivalry between the two clubs. So Juarez, a member of CF Monterrey at the time, paid close attention to the semifinal series, hoping the ‘Caps could pull off an upset.
“I was supporting Vancouver because obviously I was playing for the other team from the city,” Juarez told whitecapsfc.com with a laugh. “In that moment, I was so interested in Vancouver Whitecaps. I didn’t know in the future I would be involved in the team, but that’s destiny.”
Whitecaps FC announced on Thursday that the club has acquired Juarez from CF Monterrey and signed him to a two-year deal with a club option for 2020.
The 29-year-old Mexican brings a plethora of experience to Vancouver, including 274 professional club appearances with CF Monterrey, Pumas UNAM, and Club America of Liga MX, Celtic FC of the Scottish Premiership, and then La Liga side Real Zaragoza – not to mention two years in the famed FC Barcelona academy. He also has 39 caps with the senior Mexican national team, including three starts at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a pair of CONCACAF Gold Cup titles.
“His CV speaks for itself,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson.
It certainly does.
But, as with any new signing, Robinson still wanted to do his due diligence. So this past November, he made a trip down to Monterrey to meet Juarez and watch him play and train. Coincidentally, the ‘Caps coach was there for a game against Tigres.
And that trip was all the reassurance Robinson needed.
“He fits everything we want as a profile,” Robinson said.
“I know the fans here will love him, the people at the football club will love him, the players will love him. As I said, he’s a perfect example of what every should player should be with his character, his mentality, and his desire to win and get better each day.”
Robinson’s visit to Monterrey was also extremely important to Juarez.
The Mexico City native emphasized how loved the club made him feel during the entire recruitment process. In particular, Juarez said that he and his wife connected with Robinson. Before the game against Tigres, in fact, Juarez asked his wife to pick Robinson up from the hotel and drive him to the stadium. They all went out for dinner after the game, too.
Juarez liked what he heard from Robinson – and so did his wife.
“She said he’s a very good guy, I talked with him on the road,” Juarez said. “He explained to me about the team and about Vancouver and she said, ‘It will be so nice if some day you play for Vancouver and play for Robbo.’”
One topic of conversation on Robinson’s visit revolved around Juarez’s position.
In recent years, Juarez has spent the vast majority of his time at right back. However, he was a central midfielder at Celtic, where he scored a pair of goals in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. And that’s the position Robinson sees him playing in Vancouver due to his technical ability and “energy and willingness to get into the opposition’s box,” which was music to Juarez’s ears.
“I feel better, more comfortable, and more satisfied with my work in the midfield,” Juarez said. “That’s the best position I enjoy. I know I can give all my effort to the team in that position. When Robbo told me he wants me to play in the midfield, that was another reason to sign for Vancouver.”
After five seasons with Monterrey, Juarez said he’s excited for this new chapter in his career. And a recent call he received from longtime friend and national team teammate Giovani dos Santos, currently a member of LA Galaxy, gave credence to his decision.
“He called me and said you made the right decision,” Juarez said of dos Santos, someone he’s known for about 15 years. “He said MLS is growing a lot and Vancouver always has a very good team.”
A team that Juarez had already been supporting from afar – and is now proud to call his own.
“I’m so happy and excited to be there,” he said. “It’s a new step, a new stage in my life. I’m going to put all my effort and all my work into the team.”