VANCOUVER—Getting to soccer practice wasn’t always easy for Cole Seiler while growing up in Anderson, South Carolina.
Seiler, picked 16th overall by the Vancouver Whitecaps in this month’s MLS SuperDraft, would finish school, his mother Lori would drop him off at the library to get his schoolwork done, and then they’d grab some dinner before driving for an hour to the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy in neighbouring Greenville.
His mother would then wait around until practice was done before the hour-long trip back to Anderson. This started at age 11, and went on until Seiler turned 18.
Ten years on from when that routine odyssey began, another journey is just beginning for the 21-year-old central defender as he seeks to make it as a pro.
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When the Whitecaps selected Seiler, who played four years at Georgetown, it likely came as a surprise to some.
Vancouver coach Carl Robinson talked ahead of the draft of adding firepower, and if there was an obvious hole in the squad in need of filling it was at right fullback, after Steven Beitashour’s off-season move to Toronto FC.
In the heart of defence, the Whitecaps had the towering Kendall Waston, the experienced Pa Modou Kah and Tim Parker—the rookie who won a starting place last season by the time the playoffs came around and after that, even a call up to the U.S. national team.
Behind Parker, the Whitecaps had Christian Dean, a third overall draft pick in 2014 who at age 22 still has plenty of upside despite his limited playing time to date (just nine league appearances over two seasons).
There are two ways to look at this. The first is where does Seiler fit in? The alternative is Robinson must think highly of the player if he selected him in a position where there would appear to be some level of depth.
Robinson spoke highly of Seiler immediately after the draft, suggesting he fell further than he had predicted—two of his fellow Georgetown starting defenders, Joshua Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry, went No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.
Now as pre-season begins, Robinson acknowledges there are aspects of the game where Seiler will need to improve as he transitions to the professional level and away from a U.S. college system which MLS coaches regularly criticize on and off the record as providing insufficient training and match time.
“College soccer, and say what you want about it—it’s very good and very strong—they work for only a few months of the season,” Robinson told reporters this week during pre-season camp. “It’s totally different from professional soccer. It’s about how quickly these boys, when they step out of college can settle. It’s difficult sometimes.”
The player himself acknowledges the transition ahead will have its challenges. Living on campus at the University of British Columbia not far from the club’s training facilities, he’s already fallen in love with Vancouver’s natural beauty. But he knows it’s not going to be a holiday.
Just a couple of days in to pre-season he’s noticing the increased physical demands, and the ease with which veteran players seem to be able to handle it.
“The biggest thing is the speed of play,” said Seiler about the most significant difference between college and the pro game. “And, honestly, something I wasn’t expecting at all is how fit these guys are. It’s ridiculous how much their motors can go on and on and on, and that’s something I need to work on as well.”
It will be interesting to see how Seiler fits in. By the standards of central defenders, he’s slight at a listed six-feet-one and 180 pounds. But while Seiler may not be a physical goliath, he believes he compensates with strong positional play and poise on the ball.
He likes the fact the Whitecaps have a USL club and feels if an immediate leap into the first team doesn’t happen, that could be a good bridge to get to where he wants to be.
Robinson described the player as level headed after drafting him, and in talking with Seiler he comes across as a confident but humble guy who knows while he has a shot at establishing himself as a professional, nothing is a given.
But if he has one thing that gives him extra motivation, it’s all that time his mother put in during those long South Carolina car rides.
“The amount of time she sacrificed for me when she’s a fairly athletic woman—she does triathlons and she used to play tennis—she’s a very social woman,” Seiler saif. “She could have been either working or hanging out with friends or training for some sort of activity, but the fact she drove me to soccer seven, eight years of my life…when I tell her this, she always says, ‘no, you need to do this for yourself.’
“But I feel some sort of incentive, personal incentive, inside of me, to push this as far as I can for her as well.”