Whitecaps open soggy camp at Empire Field

January 25, 2011, 1:23 AM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER — Homegrown product Terry Dunfield is thrilled to be a part of the next chapter in Vancouver Whitecaps’ history.

Dunfield was one of 31 players who sloshed onto a wet turf at Empire Field on Monday as the Whitecaps opened their first Major League Soccer training camp.

A steady rain soaked their snow-white jerseys but it didn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the players looking to be in the Vancouver lineup when the club opens its inaugural MLS season March 19 against Canadian rival Toronto FC.

"This is something I never quite dreamed of," said the 28-year-old midfielder. "It’s brilliant.

"I understand what the Vancouver Whitecaps mean to the city. I grew up watching the Whitecaps. It’s an honour to be part of it and to be part of Whitecaps history."

The Whitecaps will have a roster of 20 senior players and 10 developmental spots.

Tom Soehn, Vancouver’s director of soccer operations, said he’s looking to add more players as the team prepares to head to Arizona later this week to train and play exhibition games against other MLS clubs.

"We’re still active in the foreign market to make sure we get the right pieces to set us off running when the season opens," said Soehn, who spent three season as head coach of D.C. United.

So far Soehn has brought together a group that includes young prospects like 17-year-old Omar Salgado, who Vancouver took first overall in the MLS SuperDraft, and U.S. international Jay DeMerit, 31, the first player the Whitecaps signed to an MLS contract.

"It’s a mix of a lot of guys," said Soehn. "We get to see some young talent out there that can potentially define our organization for years to come.

"The next few weeks are going to be the time to decide who stands out. It’s up to the players. They are given the opportunity. What they do with it now is up to them."

If Salgado was nervous, the forward from El Paso, Texas, covered it well. A large grin was splashed across the teenager’s face as he did some dribbling drills with players a decade older than him.

"I hope I can play a lot of minutes and score goals and make an impact the first season," he said.

Asked about the rain, Salgado shrugged.

"It’s different from where I am from, but you can always adapt," he said.

DeMerit, who started all four games for the U.S. at last summer’s World Cup, said the camp will be a chance for the players to mesh on the field and in the locker-room.

"There’s a wide range of players here based on experience, based on where they came from, based on the type of soccer they are used to," said the Green Bay, Wis., native who played six seasons with English club Watford FC.

"It’s down to the coaching staff, and also down to the attitude of the players, to make sure we are doing the right things to come together. Some guys are on trial and it’s their time to shine. It’s important that everyone starts to realize what their roles will be."

The Whitecaps have a long history in Vancouver, dating back to the team that won the 1979 North American Soccer League championship. The club has also won titles in the Canadian Soccer League and United Soccer Leagues.

Season ticket demand for MLS has been high. Vancouver has reconsidered its original plan to cap season tickets at 16,500.

The Whitecaps will be battling for space in a Vancouver market where the NHL’s Canucks are the dominate franchise and the CFL’s B.C. Lions have a strong following.

Coach Teitur Thordarson hopes to grab fans with an exciting side that scores goals.

"I’ve always been very attacking minded myself and I hope we can make the team play attacking-minded soccer that everyone will like," said Thordarson (pronounced Thor-dar-son).

MLS teams operate on a US$2.6 million salary cap and are allowed to have two designated players above the cap.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said he isn’t interested in signing a player for his name alone.

"What we don’t want to do is sign a DP (designated player) just to get that name recognition," said Lenarduzzi. "What we would like to do is sign a DP and have that player, even if he doesn’t have the name recognition, be a player that is going to make us a better team and the players around him be better players."

One player who will not be joining the Whitecaps is Derby County midfielder Robbie Savage.

Savage, whose contract with Derby is over at the end of the season, had shown interest in the jump to Vancouver and MLS. This weekend the former Wales international decided against the move.

"I’m going to stay here," Savage wrote on Twitter. "Canada was a great option but it was too big a move for my family."

The Whitecaps will start the season at Empire Field, a 27,500-seat temporary facility located on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in East Vancouver. The team will move to B.C. Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver once the $565 million in renovations are completed on the building.

The soccer configuration at B.C. Place is for 20,000 seats.

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