With all of the MLS teams now fully into their pre-season training, Russell Teibert is currently hard at work preparing for his second professional campaign under the watchful eye of new Vancouver Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie.
Big things are expected of the 19-year-old from Niagara Falls, who is considered by those in the know to be one of the most promising up and coming players in the country.
With eleven senior team appearances to his name for the Whitecaps in 2011, the prodigiously talented youngster started very strongly before being slowed down by injuries. A mid-season coaching change also limited his appearances in the latter half of the campaign.
As a two time U-17 Canadian Player of the Year and someone who has often been put forward as the role model for the Whitecaps Residency Program, Teibert is certainly a young man who has spoken to the media quite a bit over the last several years of his fledgling career.
At the same time, it is apparent that, while affable and accepting of his media duties as a professional, Teibert is not overly interested so much in talking about his career at this point in time. Rather, he is much more focused on taking care of business on the pitch and in the training room.
Asked about his goals for this season and whether or not he is worried about getting lost in the shuffle of a Whitecaps team that is chock full of talented forwards and attacking players, Teibert is that rare player who can actually make a cliché seem like a genuine reflection on his current state of being.
“I want to let my playing do my talking. If I can do what I am capable of doing, I just want to let my performance dictate (how much I play) and really let my performances do my talking for me. I have never feared competition and it has always kind of pushed me and helped me to become a better player and a better person,” Teibert told sportsnet.ca.
The speedy winger certainly let his play do his talking last March in his MLS debut for the Whitecaps. With his side defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in the first-ever matchup between two Canadian MLS teams, a seemingly tireless Teibert stood out as one of the best players in a match that featured such seasoned veterans as Eric Hassli, Dwayne De Rosario, Jay DeMerit and Stefan Frei.
Former Whitecaps assistant coach Colin Miller, a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, worked closely with Teibert over the last several years and he sees the young winger as a player with the potential to excel at both the professional and international levels.
“Russell is a lad that has terrific potential and has a fabulous attitude. He still has a long way to go and he has missed a lot of time due to his injury. I know he is highly regarded at the club and I think he is a bright prospect for both Vancouver and the Canadian national team as well,” Miller said.
Asked what he learned in his first season as a teenager playing in MLS, Teibert explained that rather than there being a single moment or match when the light bulb went off and everything came together for him as a professional, his first season was a natural progression in which he learned a number of things over the course of the year.
“I don’t know if I could summarize them into one sentence, but I think the little things are the big things for me. Just learning from mistakes and not being afraid to fail. I think that is probably the biggest lesson I learned from last season,” Teibert said.
According to Miller, the talent that Teibert possesses can’t be questioned. But with the history of soccer littered with stories of unfulfilled potential at clubs all around the world, attitude and patience are the key words to take into account when considering how he can best progress towards achieving his full potential.
“He is similar to an Omar Salgado, if you like. Omar looks like a young man, but is still immature in certain ways and is still inexperienced. I think Russell is going to have to pay his dues a little bit for sure, like we all had to when we were at that stage of our career. But Russell’s attitude will surely carry him through this learning process that he is going through at the moment,” Miller said.
While continuing to work hard and having the right attitude on a team with a number of talented offensive options at its disposal will be vital for Teibert, staying on the pitch and away from the Whitecaps medical staff will be crucial as well.
Injuries caused Teibert to miss significant time in his rookie year and he believes that just staying healthy for this upcoming season will place him in good stead towards enabling him to both continue his development and help the team succeed in reaching its goals.
“I think that is the key thing for me. Just staying healthy. That seems to be what has been causing me some problems. So I think if I can take care of my body and manage the things off the field, I think I will be able to produce on the field. I had a great off-season program that the club provided me with and I followed it to a T,” said Teibert, who suffered from a rib injury for much of the second half of the 2011 campaign.
Anyone that has been in a job interview has probably had to deal with that difficult question in which they have to describe their greatest weakness to the interviewer. Most people usually answer that question by stating that their biggest drawback is that they sometimes work too hard. In Teibert’s case that clichéd answer would once again come off as purely genuine, given his reputation a relentless hard worker with an almost obsessive dedication to being supremely fit.
“I first worked with Russell when I was asked to take the residency group down to the Dallas Cup. And Russell was a player who I had watched warming up and he would do four or five laps of the football field before we had even started training,” Miller said.
“So I knew right away that he was a real keen young man with a terrific attitude. And it actually probably worked against him because he was so fit that he ended up becoming a little injury prone. However, after the injuries cleared up, he went through a spell where you could see the real potential in the young man.
That potential coupled with the fact that young Teibert is a naturally left-footed wide player could conceivably see him playing a key role on the 2012 Whitecaps squad, even with players such as Hassli, Camilo, Atiba Harris, Sebastian Le Toux, Long Tan, Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks all vying for minutes.
According to Teibert, Rennie currently has him and the rest of the squad focused on the team’s overarching tactics and philosophy rather than individual positions and who will start where.
“None of that has been set in stone and nothing has been talked about in specifics. I think we are just looking to make a plan for the team and the individual stuff will come later. It looks really exciting. We have a bunch of offensive power coming into this season. Our defence is looking fantastic as well, along with our midfielders. So the team looks great thus far and we’re just looking to keep building,” Teibert said.
That said, with all of those talented finishers prowling around the opposition box, Hassli et al. are certainly going to need supporting players who can deliver dangerous balls in order to make the offense really purr. According to Miller, Teibert does have that X-Factor that a player needs to stand out from the crowd.
“There is just something different about a left-sided player with a bit of pace and quality. They just seem to stand out just that little bit more than a right footed player,” Miller offered.
With Vancouver having an even deeper pool of talent than the team had last season, it’s also entirely possible that Teibert could make his impact this year on the back line, rather than farther up the field, where he has played for the majority of his career. To his credit, he is open to playing anywhere that he can help the team and earn him minutes on the pitch.
“I feel my qualities are in going forward and I do feel a lot more comfortable being up the field because it has been the position that I have played in the past. But it is also an asset that I can have if I can learn the left back position,” Teibert stated.
In Miller’s estimation, Teibert can only benefit from learning another position and he sees the teenager as someone who has both the athleticism and technical ability to more than hold his own at fullback.
“He has the right tools and could play at left back. He did play there a few times for me with the reserves last season and did very well. It was another string in his bow if you like, not just being able to play at left forward, but also at left fullback, because you see the game differently from a fullback’s point of view,” Miller said.
“And he is quick enough and has good balance to be a sort of modern fullback, if you like. If you look at a player like Patrice Evra — he is strong, but not a particularly big guy and he is very quick and good at joining in going forward. It is just another area that can help Russell with his development.”
Regardless of whether he plays up front or at left back, with the senior team or finds himself with reserve team for stretches, you would be hard pressed to find a soccer person who does not believe that it is only a matter of time before Teibert takes his place as one of the top Canadian players for both club and country.
Canadian coach Stephen Hart has previously stated that he is keeping a regular eye on Teibert’s progress and, with the U-23 team soon to embark upon an Olympic Qualifying campaign, the Whitecaps’ rising young talent could find himself pulling on the Canadian jersey again very soon and even possibly adding the title of Olympian to a resume that is already quite impressive for someone so young.
Whether he makes his impact at the international level, in the MLS or in both, Russell Teibert is undoubtedly someone whose best days are still ahead of him and he is a player that Canadian soccer fans will be watching with interest in 2012.
Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.