VANCOUVER, B.C –  Please visit Daily Hive for my story on Whitecaps FC’s Ali Adnan who spent his offseason in Iraq giving back to his community.

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VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Pro Soccer USA for my story on Whitecaps FC striker Fredy Montero.

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Vancouver Whitecaps FC training at UBC on Monday, January 20, 2020. Photo: Har Journalist

VANCOUVER, B.C – Excitement and optimism was abound as Vancouver Whitecaps FC had their first on field training session of the season. There is a buzz and an enormous feeling of positivity around the club that finished last in the western conference last season.

The addition of Liga-MX striker, Lucas Cavallini has given the club a massive offensive threat. Cavallini brings a confident swagger about himself that shows that he’s determined, eager, ready to lead the team up top this season.

“Everybody has a positive mentality this year,” Cavallini told reporters following training. “A lot of new faces, everybody trying to get the best out of this club. A positive vibe. We need to improve a lot from last season. It’s a fresh new start and today was a good day.”

Russell Teibert is the longest tenured Whitecaps FC player. The 27-year-old still remembers when the team had to use the Simon Fraser University wrestling teams’ locker room. Now in his 10th season, Teibert and Whitecaps FC have both come a long way. The Niagara Falls native still feels the joy and happiness associated with a new campaign.

“There’s a lot of new faces, yeah,” Teibert said. “There’s going to be an adjustment period, but the biggest thing is the positive atmosphere around this club right now and the organization. Everybody is coming in with this new energy. It’s a real pleasure to come back to work. You just feel happy being here.”

Teibert and his teammates are not looking back on an underwhelming season that was the 2019 campaign. An 8-16-10 record with a goal differential of -22 was shocking to say the least. The 2020 Whitecaps are looking to the future. The team wants no part of re-hashing what went wrong last season. 2019 is in the past and that’s where they want it.

“We don’t want to look too much in the rearview mirror,” Teibert explained. “We want to look through the windshield. 2019 was 2019, but this is 2020. It’s a brand new year and everybody is looking forward.”

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Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Ali Adnan (Left) and Andy Rose (Right) on Monday, January 20, 2020. Photo: Har Journalist

It’s not just the players who are moving forward. The organization as a whole wants to move in a new direction. The hiring of Sporting Director, Axel Schuster, and CEO Mark Pannes signals a new chapter for a club looking to make big moves.

The start of a new preseason offers a new beginning for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

“Finally we can close the chapter on 2019,” Schuster said. “I don’t want to speak about that again. From today on, it’s 2020. There’s a lot of work in front of us and we start today.”

The work for Schuster and Coach Marc Dos Santos will continue as Vancouver looks to add to their roster.

Without making any promises, Schuster could see the club adding one more player before the team departs to San Diego, California on Friday, January 24.

“More optimistic today,” Schuster explained to Har Journalist. “Still no promise because it depends on signature from the other side. I’m more optimistic today.”

“We are missing a few players signed,” Schuster added. “They’re still coming. I expect three to four more faces at the home opener.”

One of those new faces is expected to be centre-back, Érik Godoy. Whitecaps FC would like to complete the transfer of the Argentine defender sooner rather than later. At the minute, the hold up seems to be on the part of his previous holder, Club Atlético Colón.

“It’s only about a signature,” Schuster revealed. “I think there’s no more discussion nothing we can discuss. No more demands from any side. It’s only to get it over the line. We have to wait until the Argentinian club do that. We’re only waiting for them to do that. They never said they wouldn’t do it. I don’t have any concerns that they don’t sign.”

Acquiring players is not as easy as flipping on FIFA Ultimate Team and pushing a few buttons. There’s a long gruelling process that has to end with both sides being comfortable enough to put, pen to paper. Whitecaps FC have been linked to several players this off-season, but until a deal is done. You can never assume that it’s done.

“When you want to sign bad players, it happens really fast,” Dos Santos said. “You call, they sign, you’re in, it’s over. Good players, it’s a harder process. You get to the ninety-nine percent in two days and then it takes two days to get that extra percent. That last percent is hard.”

It’s only the first day of preseason, but Whitecaps FC are a happy, positive group that’s preparing to look ahead through the windshield with the 2020 season on the horizon.

 

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VANCOUVER, B.C – Whitecaps FC have been busy this week with a flurry of activity ahead of the start of the pre-season. Players will report for medical testing on Saturday, with the first on field session taking place on Monday, January 20.

A pair of Cristiáns have joined Whitecaps FC on free transfer. Quebec native, Cristián Gutiérrez signed from Chilean Primera División club Colo-Colo, and winger Cristian Dájome has signed from Colombian club Bogotá FC.

“We want to play a 4-3-3, for this system we need wingers,” Sporting Director, Axel Schuster explained to reporters on Friday. “We signed Cava (Lucas Cavallini) at the top, but then we need some guys to feed him, Dájome is one of those that exactly fits to that.”

The signing of 26-year-old Cristian Dájome has been a hot rumour for quite some time. Getting the deal completed and across the line took some time due to extra issues.

“A lot of paper work had to be done,” Schuster said. “It was really easy to find a solution with the guys. They have been convinced that this is the right place. Then it was up to negotiating with the clubs, finding solutions, and getting all the paper work done. That was not that easy.”

“It was already done since one week,” Schuster continued. “Everything was signed. There had been some small issues that we had to be aware of, like paper work and some things.”

Multiple reports suggested that Brazilian club, Corinthians was in hot pursuit of Dájome.

“Yeah, I don’t don’t know if it delayed,” Schuster explained to Har Journalist. “It was for him to make a decision. It’s good for us to know that there was other clubs that also have good names, and have been interested in him.

We were able to convince him that we maybe are the better next step in his career. He wanted to know about the coach, that he speaks Spanish. He wanted to know about the system where his position is really needed. At the end, maybe it delayed a little bit so he had more security that this is the right decision.”

Ali Adnan 

The acquisition of Gutiérrez provides Whitecaps FC with some insurance at the left-back position. Gutiérrez will hopefully be able to bring competition on the left flank. If Ali Adnan needs a rest or is called up for national team duty, Gutiérrez could jump in and make a seamless transition. The 22-year-old brings much needed depth at full-back.

“In the moment maybe Ali (Adnan) leaves the club,” Schuster said unprompted. “You never know in this business. Things can happen very fast. We have Adnan on our books right now. He’s (Cristián Gutiérrez) absolutely fine with being a challenger for one year to compete for that.”

The left-footed, left-back brought an explosive dimension to the Whitecaps FC attack last season. If Adnan is going to move on, Gutiérrez could be a clever underrated signing.

“No, no, no. I was telling… in this business in one year, a lot of things can happen,” Schuster back-tracked. “You never know. We hadn’t had a player behind Ali, now we have a guy who wants to show up, show that if this situation happens at anytime in the future, we have a guy that can play there. He knows he’s a challenger and he will fight for that. We are prepared for the future. You never know what happens in this business.”

Jon Erice 

The Whitecaps FC captain struggled to adapt to MLS life. As a holding midfielder, Erice had some bright moments early in the season. As the summer progressed he looked a step behind. The Spaniards 33-year-old legs found the bench.

“We had an open conversation,” Schuster said. “He wrote us a WhatsApp message as well. There was nothing negative at the end. Of course this was not a very successful year for him. It was not the year he expected it should be. That happens in football. It’s not the first time and it will not be the last time that things do not work out in the way you hope.”

In 21 matches, Erice earned a pair of assists. Erice provided a brief statement this week.

“Thanks to Vancouver Whitecaps FC for giving me the opportunity to be a part of an incredible project that is sure to earn great results in the near future. Thanks to all the employees who are a part of the family and are essential for everything to work daily. Thanks to the city of Vancouver for receiving me so well. Good luck and the greatest success for the future.”

No Promises 

Whitecaps FC could be in the market for another key addition. The possibility of acquiring a box to box midfielder before the end of the month could be in the cards. Vancouver will continue pre-season camp in San Diego on Friday, January 24.

“I cannot promise anything right now,” Schuster revealed. “As ever we try to find the best solution and that’s never the easiest. I’m very optimistic we will have one more signing before we leave to San Diego, but it’s not a promise this time.”

It’s been a slow off-season in terms of on field additions, but Whitecaps FC look to be making moves to bolster their roster ahead of the season. Vancouver will open the season at home on Saturday, February 29 vs Sporting Kansas City.

Notes: Gutierrez will join the first team in time for training on Monday. Dájome will join Whitecaps FC in San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

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The UBC Thunderbirds at Protrans Community Arena on January 15, 2020. Photo: Har Journalist

VANCOUVER, B.C – A cold arctic blast has gripped Vancouver for much of the week with what feels like a snow apocalypse throughout the city. The picturesque blanket of fluff has snarled transportation, closed schools, and brought bone chilling temperatures.

While many have opted to work from home in cozy confinements, that’s not the case for some. The UBC Thunderbirds have been hard at work getting back to the basics as they look to snap an eight-game losing streak this weekend against the Manitoba Bisons.

The Thunderbirds are coming off a pair of defeats to the Regina Cougars at home last weekend. The feisty visitors earned 1-0 and 3-0 wins over UBC. The Birds (0-7-1) losing skid has seen them score a paltry two goals in the last twenty-five periods of play.

How will the Thunderbirds get back in the win column?

“We have to remember the reasons why we’re here,” Defender, Sarah Thon explained to Har Journalist following practice this week. “Why we came to UBC, and that’s for hockey. We never came here guaranteed to win. We all want to be on the ice and play the game that we love. We just have to bring the basics back, and enjoy the moments that we have here at the rink. I think it starts with fun, and we aren’t having so much fun right now losing.”

UBC’s record of 8-9-3 has them tied with Regina for fifth in the Canada West playoff race with 26 points. The top six teams make the playoffs. The 7th place, Lethbridge Pronghorns have 23 points and trail both teams by three points.

As UBC heads into the final eight games of the season, they’re looking to find momentum.

“It’s been a fall, a funk we’re in,” Coach Graham Thomas explained. “We’re having a hard time finding the back of the net and getting some puck luck. We need to stick together and fight through this. We believe in this group and we have time. We’re committed to turning it around, and we believe we can do that.”

The Thunderbirds 2019 – 2020 season has been all about streaks. After starting the season with three losses, UBC put together an impressive six-game winning streak. The winning mentality is certainly there, and now it’s up the players to find it and take a hold for the stretch drive.

All twenty-five players know they have the confidence and ability to turn the second half of the season around. The playoffs are within sight, and there’s still plenty to play for.

“I can’t say we’ve been in this position before,” Thon admitted. “It definitely shows our character. We have to come to the rink everyday and buy in as a team.

This week has been better than the last couple. I think everyone has just had enough of it. We’re really looking to the left and right, and playing for each other.”

As UBC practiced line rushes and worked on drills this week, you could see a clear sense of how close the Thunderbirds are. Losing eight games in a row might take a toll on most teams, but the Birds had an appearance of a loose, excited, and motivated hockey team.

“I think we’re doing a good job of staying light and having some fun,” Thomas reflected on the confidence of the team. “We know that we have to dig in. It’s going to be hard but we have to push through it. It’s a fine balance, it’s a really fine balance between pushing too hard or them being too hard on themselves.”

The Bisons could be exactly the team to help get UBC back on track. After making the quarterfinals of the USports Nationals last season, the Bisons have fallen on hard times.

A 6-13-1 record has Manitoba last in Canada West.

The Thunderbirds earned 3-0 and 1-0 wins at home against the Bisons in October.

Second-year defender, Rylind MacKinnon isn’t about to take Manitoba lightly. The Bisons eliminated UBC in the semifinals of the Canada West playoffs last season. It’s always a barn burner when UBC and Manitoba tangle.

The Cranbrook native, and her teammates expect another tight weekend series.

“Anything can happen. I think it’s a close league,” MacKinnon said. “You can’t take anyone for granted. You can always expect the best out of your opponent.”

As Vancouverites adapt to what the rest of Canada calls ‘winter’ the Thunderbirds will fittingly travel to the heartland for snowy precipitation, Winterpeg. The Bisons will be tough, but UBC is determined and focused to leave with a W.

 

 

 

 

VANCOUVER, B.C – Please visit Daily Hive for my story on Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s imminent transfer signing of Colombian winger, Cristian Dájome.

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UBC Thunderbirds Shiayli Toni. Photo: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER, B.C – The UBC Thunderbirds will be looking to bump a six game losing streak this weekend when they host the Regina Cougars at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. UBC has fallen on hard times with two goals in their previous six games. UBC will get a boost to their lineup with the home ice return of veteran forward Shiayli Toni, who has been working her way back from a torn ACL.

The Saskatoon native suffered a devastating off ice injury during a Thunderbirds field session in July, 2018. Toni would end up missing the entire 2018 – 2019 season.

“I went to cut around a girl during a sprint session,” Toni described that fateful day. “I fully tore my ACL and messed up some parts of my meniscus. It’s been a long rehab process because it took a while to get in for surgery. They weren’t able to fix my meniscus, which actually sped up the process. They went in and cleaned it up. Rehabbing the ACL, that has been pretty much a one-year deal. I’ve just got back now.”

When the injury first took place, like most hockey players, Toni didn’t think much about what had happened to her left knee. The severity didn’t hit right away. Toni could have had surgery in the fall of 2018, but she wanted to focus on her UBC academics.

Toni went under the knife on December 9, 2018.

“I actually didn’t know it was this bad when it first happened,” Toni explained to Har Journalist. “I fully severed my ACL and really didn’t feel it that much because all the tendons and nerve endings were torn. I honestly just thought it was a sprain until they did the MRI and gave me the diagnosis.”

When you’re sidelined for a significant period of time, you’re mental health can take a toll. Being away from your teammates, missing road trips, and playing hockey can lead any athlete through some ups and downs. Toni knew right away she wanted to continue to play hockey, and a long gruelling recovery process would be her way back to the ice.

“I think you’re always questioning, am I doing enough,” Toni recalled.  “Can I keep up when I’m back, but you can’t think about it too much, you can’t think ahead into the future. You have to focus day to day. It is a long gruelling process, and at times, you’re not always excited and super motivated.”

The fourth-year winger made her return to the Thunderbirds lineup last weekend against the Calgary Dinos. UBC struggled to score, but having Toni back with the team made an instant impact. Coach Graham Thomas knows how important Toni is to a young Thunderbirds team that is struggling with confidence during the current losing streak.

“It’s been a long time coming, too long for sure,” Thomas explained. “She made an immediate impact on our team last weekend. We’re really happy that she’s back. She’s been a really positive influence off the ice for our team when she’s been injured.

She brings energy, she brings leadership, she brings some jump and some intensity, and skill. She’s a super woman.”

A torn ACL can sometimes end the career of a professional athlete. Toni’s positive mindset, and work ethic helped make sure she was able to play hockey again. Having the support from her Thunderbirds family was immense in her recovery.

As UBC gets set to battle an always gritty Regina team, Toni’s confidence, and calm presence on and off the ice, could be what UBC needs to get back in the win column.

“I think it’s always fun to play on home ice,” Toni said. “Definitely a bit of nerves when you’re playing in front of people you love and care about. I’m playing for myself, my team, and the progress we intend to make in the second half.”

The 24-year-old won’t be eased back into the lineup. Thomas wants Toni back at full capacity because of what she brings to the team. It might take some time for her skating power to return to her legs, but she won’t miss out on ice time.

“She’s going to play more this weekend. She’s earning it, it’s not just because she’s a fourth-year player. She’s making an impact right away with her performance and energy.”

The 8-7-3 UBC Thunderbirds first home game of the decade will be long time coming for Shiyali Toni, but it’s one she’s had circled on her calendar and she can’t wait.