As the Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp continues to progress, we take a look at the longest-tenured Whitecap, midfielder Russell Teibert, and his importance to this ever-changing Vancouver squad.
Teitur Thordarson. Tom Soehn. Martin Rennie. Carl Robinson. Craig Dalrymple. Marc Dos Santos.
The list of all-time Vancouver Whitecaps MLS coaches isn’t that long, but only one player has had the chance to work under each of the aforementioned names; midfielder Russell Teibert.
As both he and the club prepare for their 10th MLS season, it’s crazy to think back and look amidst the up and downs, he has remained the only constant. From kicking thing off at Empire Field, to lifting the Voyageurs Cup at home, and all sorts of other and triumph and heartbreak thrown in between, #31 has remained as a pillar of this Whitecaps squad.
“There’s a lot of new faces, there’s going to be an adjustment period here,” Teibert said to the media on day 1 of training camp. “But this biggest thing is the positive atmosphere around this club right now, around the organization, everybody’s coming in with this new energy, and it’s a real pleasure to come back to work. You just feel happy being here.”
It would have been hard to look back and predict that of the 14 players that played in that famed opening match against Toronto FC on March 19th, 2011, Teibert would be the last one standing, but in a way, it’s a sign of his evolution as a player. He’s gone from a winger, to a full back, to now a central midfielder, picking up new tricks and skills along the way.
And, most impressively, despite having lived through the several coaching changes, he’s not only managed to stick around, but also grow and improve as a player, making at least 10 appearances in all but 1 of his seasons (2012 was the lone year he missed out on the mark). In an ever-changing MLS landscape, one that seems to push the needle each year in terms of the salaries splashed out and the calibre of player brought in, Teibert has found a way to make himself a valuable member of the Whitecaps squad.
Every year, despite a new arrival of players, or the hiring of a new head coach, or even sometimes both, he gets written off, with people saying that this is the year that he finally steps back into more of a secondary role. Yet each time, he works his way into the manager’s plans, either as a starter or as a super-sub, with his work ethic and ever-improving technique making it hard for him to get completely written off.
Once again this preseason, the debate has resumed surrounding the Canadian international with 25 caps to his name, as the Whitecaps look to take yet another step forward this year. With improvements coming to the Vancouver midfield in the form of Ghanian Leonard Owusu, along with an impending new #6 and other talented offensive pieces on the wing and up front, space is going to be at a premium for Teibert, who is coming off a career-high 26 starts in 2019.
But despite the tightened competition for spots around him, Teibert has come out of the gates strong in 2020, starting with Canada Soccer’s ‘Camp Poutine’ this past January. With a younger and less experienced roster for their triple-header of friendlies, Teibert took advantage of an opportunity to shine, picking up a goal and an assist in a strong performance against Barbados, showing off his latest offensive improvement from the offseason.
And he’s continued that into Whitecaps camp, making waves with his victorious performance in the famed ‘beep test’, a gruelling test of stamina, in week 1, before putting up a strong showing in the first two games of camp, even scoring a 25-yard rocket in the 2nd of the two matches.
Once again, despite talk of Teibert taking a diminished role, he’s kept his head straight and focused on the task ahead of him, much like the ‘Caps as a team have promised to do this season.
“Yeah I think one of the first things that was addressed from Axel was that we don’t want to look too much in the rearview mirror,” Teibert said on day 1. “We want to look through the windshield, and 2019 was 2019, but this is 2020. It’s a brand new year, and everyone’s looking forward.”
While the mass arrival of new players over these past 2 years is hoped to yield positive results on pitch, one noticeable shift has been an uptick in Canadians, with the Whitecaps now having over a half-dozen of quality Canadian players in the squad.
From the days where it felt like Teibert was the only Canadian really even getting minutes, to now, with the Whitecaps having 6 capped Canadian internationals on their roster, it’s a sign of the recent positive growth of the sport in the country.
There will be a never-ending debate of how good it truly is to have all these Canadians, especially until we see them play together in competitive games, but it has been a positive development to see this contingent of domestic players in the lineup.
For Teibert, it’s been especially great, as it has meant that he hasn’t had to skip much of a beat in terms of adjusting to some of the new arrivals to the West Coast.
“It’s always nice to have guys that you’ve played with in the national team,” Teibert said. “Especially with the younger guys coming through that represent at the U17 levels and so on, you see how far Canada Soccer has come.”
“I’ve read things (saying) that this is the Golden Age for Canadian soccer, and we can always allude to Alphonso Davies and what he’s done, and how he’s put Canadian soccer back on the map globally, but there’s a lot of great, young Canadian talent coming up, and we see that anytime these teenagers step into the national team and they don’t disappoint.”
Now for Teibert, with the increased competition at both the club and international level, he’s ready to bring his game to the next level. He took a step forward last year, with his 3 assists being his highest total since 2013, back when he used to play as a winger, as he’s grown into his role as a solid passing midfielder with a high workrate.
He typically averages a pass percentage of around 90%, with an increasing amount of those passes becoming progressive, and his work rate is definitely not diminishing, as suggested by his average of around 1.5 tackles and 1.5 interceptions over his time in MLS. He can retain possession nicely, but he can also get it back with intent, which will be valuable in Marc Dos Santos’s revamped 2020 defensive pressing system, one that has already paid dividends in the first 2 games of this training camp.
And there is definitely room for him to play, without a doubt. He might not be a 34-game man, but the Whitecaps could end up playing 40 or more games if their quests for the Voyageurs Cup and the MLS Cup playoffs prove to be positive, which would open up the room for more minutes. As we know on the West Coast, injuries also seem to be prevalent here, so having depth is also key.
So even if he’s coming off the bench as a substitute, or continuing to plug away as a starter, expect hard work from Vancouver’s #31. For a team that has seen so much change, having constant reminders of their humble beginnings is important, especially on a younger side, one that doesn’t yet have much of a leadership core built up.
Having come from the USL days, to the beginning of their time in MLS, where the ‘Caps had their training camp at Simon Fraser University up on Burnaby Mountain, Teibert has basically seen it all, and he knows nothing is a guarantee in this sport. As he’s shown so far in 2020, he’s going to play with that idea in mind, so no matter his role in this side, it’ll be an important one, as he aims to use his stability to help smooth out the rockiness that change brings.
“It’s a new decade, and that’s super exciting,” Teibert said. “The past decade was a lot of fun, I’ve been wearing this badge year after year, and I still get this excitement coming back into work.”
“The way this club has grown over the past decade, I remember being at SFU Locker Room, in the Wrestling team locker room, and not many people know how far this club has come over that period, but I can tell you that this club is growing, and it’s a really exciting time for fans, for players, for staff, for the entire organization.”
“There’s so many little stories that I have,” he later continued. “(At the time), you didn’t even have your own training kit, it was communal training kit at the time, just laid out and you grabbed a pair of shorts and grabbed a shirt. Now, we have amazing chefs that cook for us after training, we have breakfast, we have lunch.”
“Back then, it was just a big jar of Nutella, Peanut Butter and some bagels, and that was the recovery, so we’ve come such a long way, and I’m so proud to be here and to see how much this club has grown, because I’ve grown with this club.”