Reo-Coker explains why he chose 'Caps over NY, Timbers
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nigel Reo-Coker has yet to even play a minute in MLS, but he's already one of its staunchest proponents.
In his first meeting with the media since formally joining the Vancouver Whitecaps for preseason training camp on Friday here, he admitted he has received calls from people wondering about the move announced on Thursday, which sees the English Premier League veteran emigrating to MLS at the ripe age of 28.
"For me, I'm doing it fort the right reasons, for the footballing reasons," he said at the Whitecaps team hotel on Friday afternoon. "And I feel that it is the right time to come over here to change the mindset of people [about MLS]. … It's a fantastic league, it's growing every year.
"I've always been an admirer of [MLS] and I've always been someone to follow the MLS from afar even at my time in the Premiership," he said. "For me, I thought it would be something unique for me to do at my age … and I thought It was the right time and the right place and I'm looking forward to it."
WATCH: Reo-Coker speaks to media
And he's not blowing smoke. Reo-Coker rattled off a lengthy list of names he's tapped into to find out about MLS over the years and ahead of this move, including Shaka Hislop, Robbie Earle, his former youth coach Carlton Fairweather (who played in the USA), to the likes of recent US internationals Stuart Holden and Tim Ream at Bolton, and Aston Villa's American goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who Reo-Coker took under his wing at the club and counts as one of his closest friends.
But arguably the critical conversation came with his childhood buddy Chris Nurse, a former player for Vancouver coach Martin Rennie with the Carolina RailHawks. Nurse spoke highly of his former coach, while also promising to "rattle" Reo-Coker if his new club FC Edmonton and Vancouver meet during the Canadian Championship.
The MLS move was also helped by the fact that Reo-Coker is an American in the making. He has had a home in Orlando for nearly a decade, he has visited for the last five summers and his wife is an American from New Rochelle, N.Y. The two were married on June 2 last year in Manhattan and he admits family played into his decision.
And so why not move to the New York Red Bulls to be near family as was once rumored?
He says Vancouver's Rennie was simply more persistent — "great conversations" as Reo-Coker characterized them. Although Portland deny it, Reo-Coker said that Portland and New York were also interested in his services.
And after meeting Rennie in person for the first time on Friday, it "reassured me that I made the right decision from the start" — even though his former manager Gérard Houllier is the sporting director with RBNY.
Now that he's with Vancouver, there is curiosity as to how Rennie will use him on the field. No clue was offered on Friday after the 'Caps scratched an afternoon practice and opted for a gym session instead. But Reo-Coker says he's been a student of the game and has learned to play multiple positions, leaving himself open to whatever spot the manager has in store, which may include a stint at right back.
"I'm known for being a box-to-box midfielder," Reo-Coker said. "I can do the box-to-box role, but some managers have seen me fit to call me the so-called 'Makelélé' role [after former Chelsea and Real Madrid holding mid Claude Makelélé], more in the sitting role and dictating from the back four which is another position I'm comfortable doing. But I prefer the box-to-box role."
Whatever the position, Vancouver gives him the chance to experience the Cascadia rivalry, which he's already witnessed over the web. In fact, he says it was a "no-brainer" that he'd join a club in the Pacific Northwest because of how closely soccer there resembled the European atmosphere. He gets his chance with the Whitecaps, a club he calls "on the rise."
"It's a long-term thing for me. I said that to the manager from the start that it's definitely a long-term commitment," Reo-Coker said. "It's trying to win championships here and trying to continue to develop the club and help the club grow. It has a fantastic fan base and everything is in place for it and so now if we start winning some championships, we'll make a lot more people take notice."