By JOSE M. ROMERO
Want a sign that there could be some good will among soon-to-be Northwest MLS rivals Seattle and Vancouver? The Whitecaps are currently training at Oxnard College in Oxnard, Calif.
The Sounders' inaugural out-of-town camp was held at the same place in February 2009, though the club had to move from the school to a public park to nearby Ventura College to get in work because of inclement weather. It stands to reason that perhaps the Sounders helped their northern neighbors with a tip that there's a place in Southern California, amid citrus groves near the shores of the Pacific, with suitable facilities for team training.
The Whitecaps didn't fly off the starting blocks with player signings after their USSF-2 season ended, unlike their expansion counterparts in Portland. Instead they made waves with the signing of defender Jay DeMerit, he of U.S. national team acclaim, earlier this month. When Expansion Draft Week came, the Whitecaps really got down to some business.
Before the day of the draft was over, they shipped their first pick, speedy wing Sanna Nyassi from the Sounders, to Colorado for an international player slot. Then forwards Alan Gordon and Alejandro Moreno were dealt to Chivas USA for another international slot and allocation money. Finally, another pick, forward O'Brian White, was traded to Seattle for more allocation money.
Team president Bob Lenarduzzi and director of soccer operations Tom Soehn weren't done. On U.S. Thanksgiving Day, which is just another day in Canada, they sent Nathan Sturgis, one of their expansion picks from Seattle, to Toronto FC for the eighth overall pick in the Superdraft. Sturgis showed upside in the second half of the season for the Sounders and had value.
And finally, last Friday, the Whitecaps signed three players from the USSF-2 Whitecaps team. Those were midfielder Philippe Davies, defender Wes Knight and goalkeeper Jay Nolly. Also recently, the Vancouver Province reported that Swiss Super League defender Alain Rochat will join the team in January.
Vancouver, like Portland, is a younger team balanced with the age and experience of goalkeepers Nolly and Joe Cannon, midfielder John Thorrington from Chicago and DeMerit. It appears likely that the Whitecaps will use allocation money to bolster the roster with proven players and then add depth through the Superdraft. That strategy — plus the fact that the team's jersey has already been unveiled and is for sale and the club has sold more than 15,000 season ticket deposits for when permanent home BC Place is ready next summer — is cause for plenty of optimism in the Lower Mainland of Canada.
At present, the Whitecaps have an intriguing mix of nationalities on the roster but need strikers. Here's a look at the current roster:
Forward-midfielder Atiba Harris – At 25 will be on his fourth MLS team. Key part of FC Dallas run to MLS Cup final in 2010.
Midfielder Shea Salinas – Speedy player on his third team in three seasons after being an expansion pick by Philadelphia last year, but seems to be a fan favorite wherever he goes.
Midfielder Philippe Davies – Still very young at age 19 but played well for USSF-2 Whitecaps as right wing in 2010. Product of club's residency program will be cost effective – he won't count against the salary cap when signed to developmental contract.
Midfielder John Thorrington – Veteran who is considered a character guy, and Lenarduzzi has said that high character will matter a lot to the club.
Defender Jay DeMerit - Soon to turn 31, but his European experience and leadership qualities should make him a hit in Vancouver among teammates and fans. Plus he can still play.
Defender Wes Knight – Right back who had a solid 2010 season with USSF-2 Whitecaps.
Defender Jonathan Leathers – Former Sporting KC player looking for an opportunity to play more regularly.
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon – Former two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with San Jose is now 35, and might have something to prove this season.
Goalkeeper Jay Nolly – Will push Cannon for the GK spot after a solid 2010 in Vancouver in which he was named USSF-2 GK of the Year.
What do you think of Vancouver's early steps toward building a team? Think the Whitecaps have the early edge over Portland? Still wondering who the team's go-to goal-scorer will be?
Share your thoughts below.