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Everywhere I Turn There’s Thierry Henry and Bizarrely Enough – Icelanders
It’s Hats off to the Caps – as Vancouver are Crowned Champions

By Steve MacClare
October 14, 2008

 


Sounders FC General Manager Adrian Hanauer:"'I’ll do whatever’s necessary for the team to succeed."
Photo Joe Armand

      Hallo again readers. It’s been a busy weekend of World Cup action and the results are beginning to have consequences for qualification. It seems almost habitual that we lead with the travails of the French national team. Raymond Domenech was rumored to be facing the chop after France’s dismal performance in Euro 2008. Somehow he survived. Then France opened their World Cup campaign with a shock defeat in Austria. And once more ‘les couteaux’ were out for him. He seemed to be over the worst after France beat Serbia 2-1 at home. However by 17 minutes after kick off in Bucharest last Saturday, the pendulum had swung against him again as France were trailing 2-0 to goals from Florentin Petre and Dorin Goian. France recovered to draw 2-2 but this may not be enough to save Domenech’s job.  

     The French Football Federation meets on Wednesday to decide his future. To be fair, it was always explicitly stated before the start of the campaign that the situation would be reviewed after the first three qualifiers. They lie fourth in Group Seven, two points adrift of Lithuania and Serbia, although that is slightly better than it seems as three of their rivals have already played the Faroe Islands. France’s plight may have been slightly alleviated by Austria failing to win in the Faroes and there is still every likelihood of France winning the group if rivals carry on faltering. There are further games on Wednesday and we’ll look at how the various qualification groups stand next week before the tournament enters a five month break. France have no game but may be making the headlines anyway.

     Domenech received some support from Thierry Henry. He told reporters at France's training camp, "There is a point when things need to be clear. We must end this debate. If the coach is confirmed, then he is confirmed. You can't confirm someone with conditions. If things were clear, it would be easier."

     And why does it matter what Monsieur Henry has to say? Henry has been the subject of fervent internet speculation about joining the Seattle Sounders as their designated player. His willingness to go in front of the press and defend a beleaguered manager may not have gone unnoticed in the Pacific Northwest where, as I found out last week, character matters.

     This acts beautifully as a segue into an interview I had with Sounders FC General Manager Adrian Hanauer last Friday where among other things, he spoke of the character he expects in players who will play for him. For those of you who don’t know Mr Hanauer, he is a football nut who owns the recently departed USL Seattle Sounders and is now a minority shareholder and the GM of Sounders FC, the club about to enter Major League Soccer. Whereas the Seahawks are lending their considerable expertise to the marketing side of promoting soccer in the city, Hanauer, assisted by former USA international Chris Henderson, is building a football club, including scouting for players and selecting a manager. Now how often do you get to talk to a guy who’s playing ‘Fantasy Football’ for real, with real money and real players?

     What is interesting about him is that he combines two characteristics that many of us cynics reared on the Ken Bates of this world thought incompatible. He is passionate about his football AND he is passionate about the business side of it. Despite this I’m delighted to say that he hasn’t lost his sense of humour, and in his praise for how helpful the NFL Seattle Seahawks have been to the new arrivals in town, he told me of his success in getting them to call the sport ‘football’, not soccer.

     “Seahawks are American football and we’re football but I imagined being here and using ‘football’ for soccer and having them scowl at me a little bit or something but they’re completely enthusiastic and they’ll use football for soccer interchangeably as well.”

 I would hazard a guess that Qwest is the first NFL citadel where they refer to ‘football’ as ‘football’ and probably still one of the few where they talk about it at all.

     Adrian also had some kind words for the USL clubs and some of the football people he’d see less regularly next year. Which brings me, by way of another contrived segue, to the Vancouver Whitecaps and its Icelandic manager, Teitur Thordarson. In his first season at the helm at Swangard Stadium, Thordarson lead the Whitecaps to only their second USL Championship in 17 years.

     The Caps played the Puerto Rico Islanders on Sunday in the USL Championship game emerging victorious 2-1 in a pulsating encounter where the sides shared three headed second half goals. Charles Gbeke, a recent acquisition from the Montreal Impact, scored twice as over 5000 spectators in suburban Burnaby ran the full gamut of sporting emotions. The Icelander told the Whitecaps website "I knew it would take time for this team to get used to our style of playing, but as the season went on, things came together. I'm very pleased with the way we have won it, as we have been trying to play an attacking style of soccer all season. … When the season started, I didn't know what to expect of this season, but the guys here have done a tremendous job all throughout the campaign. I'm delighted for the players, the supporters, and everyone at the club. It's a fantastic feeling right now!"

     Everything is indeed very rosy for the club. Apart from winning the title, they have developed a residency scheme which is bringing on some great young players. Randy Edwini-Bonsu has made four substitute appearances. The name on everyone's lips, however, is 17-year-old Alvertan Ethan Gage. Gage has played seven games this season, including starting berths in the Championship final and semi-final, and looks to be a great prospect both for Vancouver and the Canadian national team.
These Teitur-tots seem to be a guarantee of Vancouver's future success at least on the field. Furthermore, applications to become the latest entrant into MLS close this week and the extensive youth, development and scouting network the Whitecaps have developed would seem to strengthen their application, as would Seattle’s need by 2011 for a local rival to give a fresh impetus to them in their third year.

     Probably Vancouver’s greatest impediments will be the lack of a soccer specific stadium although plans were afoot to build one in Gastown on Vancouver’s waterfront. That seemed to get bogged down a little in bureaucracy so this May Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced their intention to pursue a lease agreement in the renovated BC Place Stadium, which is scheduled to open in early 2011. As well as being the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, BC Place is expected to continue as the home of the Canadian Football league B.C. Lions.

     The second likely obstacle is the rival claims of Portland and Montreal. MLS are unlikely to award both available slots to the Pacific Northwest – though it would be great if they did - or indeed to Canada. So Vancouver would have to produce a better bid than their Quebecois rivals and the City of Portland. I did ask Hanauer if he would be using his new found seat at the MLS table to push for a local bid, but he insisted that he would do what was best for the league. That’s for 2011. Right now he has his hands full doing his best for Seattle.

     And I have had my hands full this week bringing you all the latest news with my usual spin. I’ll bring you more on that Hanauer interview and on the Whitecaps hoped for progress to the MLS over the coming weeks. Next week, we’ll look at the internationals played midweek and after that, I fully expect Sounders FC will be giving us plenty to talk about. 

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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited