VANCOUVER, B.C. — Major League Soccer’s first African Designated Player could play a part when the Vancouver Whitecaps host Real Salt Lake at Empire Field on Saturday (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Gambian striker Mustapha Jarju received his international transfer certificate on Friday, meaning he’s available for selection if head coach Tom Soehn feels he’s ready to start.
“He’s got a very good soccer brain and adapts very well to the guys we have,” Soehn told MLSsoccer.com after training on Friday. “Personality-wise, he’s fit in, so I think he’s going to be a good addition. Obviously there’s an adjustment period for our league with it being so athletic and the travel aspect.”
When asked specifically about whether the Gambian international would make his debut, Soehn simply said, “He’s going to be under consideration.”
Pete Vagenas has played with a lot of players since making his MLS debut in 2000, and understands it often takes time for foreign players to fit in with the rigors and style of North America’s top league.
“I anticipate he’ll need an adjustment period because MLS is unique,” Vagenas explained. “It’s important that as a group, as a city, that we’re patient, but at the same time on him to deliver. He’s been brought in as a DP and with that comes responsibility. There’ll be a learning curve as he learns to play with us, and we learn to play with him, but hopefully we can get out to a flying start.”
If Jarju is to get off to a flying start, he’ll have to do it against one of the top sides in MLS over the past couple of seasons. Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009, before following that up with a second-place showing for the Supporters' Shield in 2010, and in April just fell short of winning the CONCACAF Champions League title.
“For the last 24 months, two-and-a-half years, they’ve been the toast of this league, not only with their results, but the way in which they’re doing it, which separates them from the rest of the group,” Vagenas said. “They play that attractive brand of possession-oriented type of football that everybody wants to be a part of and wants to watch.”
The Whitecaps prepared for the match by doing some video work on Friday, going over the tendencies and habits of their opposition ahead of the match, before taking the field for a brief training session.
“The group that they’ll field tomorrow has thousands of minutes playing together at this point and so many games played together, so we’re up against an experienced group,” Vagenas concluded. “For us, we’re nowhere near a finished product, but that shouldn’t stop us being competitive and getting a result.”