Rookies shining for Vancouver in midst of tough stretch

VANCOUVER, B.C. — After training, rookies are expected to collect the balls and carry the equipment back to the locker room. It’s a dreary task, and part of the initiation to the ranks of professional athletes.

It’s been no big deal for Vancouver’s first-year players though; they usually stick around to get some extra touches in anyhow.

That hard work has been paying off for Vancouver’s draft class this season, as each of them have earned playing time early in their MLS careers.

The spotlight has, of course, been on the No. 1 overall selection from the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, Omar Salgado. The 17-year-old has been in the opening lineup on two occasions, scoring a goal in his first career start against Columbus on April 30. The Whitecaps have been pleased to see Salgado’s improvement, especially since he was initially not expected to be available until September.

Salgado, though, hasn’t been the only youngster to make his mark in Vancouver. Fellow SuperDraft picks Jeb Brovsky and Bilal Duckett have also had breakthroughs, with Brovsky having made five starts in midfield and Duckett starting the past two matches at right back.

“It’s been great, personally,” said Duckett. “It’s been a dream of mine to play professionally and to get these first couple games in is obviously a great thrill.”

Though they’re inexperienced, head coach Tom Soehn has made it clear to each of his rookies that they’ve merited their time on the field.

“He’s told me that I’ve done well over the course of the preseason and throughout training, and he felt that I earned an opportunity,” said Duckett. “He just told me to go out and do all the things that I did back in college and that I’ve done throughout my time here in Vancouver, and just said to relax and play well.”

Another pleasant surprise for the ‘Caps has been center back Michael Boxall. After being passed over in the SuperDraft, Vancouver jumped on the opportunity acquire Boxall, picking him first overall in the MLS Supplemental Draft. He’s proven to be a capable option on the backline, making six starts while also spending time playing with the New Zealand national team.

On Saturday, the final rookie of the group saw the field as Michael Nanchoff played the final 16 minutes of the match. Nanchoff — the eighth overall pick in the SuperDraft — was expected to compete for a starting position heading into the season, but a groin strain had kept him on the sidelines. Now he’s back and looking to match the achievements of his peers.

“I’ve waited so long to get on the pitch, but from my standpoint it was great,” said Nanchoff. “Like anyone else, [Soehn] just asked me to come in and make as great an impact as possible.”