VANCOUVER, B.C. — It was a relaxed atmosphere on Wednesday as the Vancouver Whitecaps unveiled their latest signing, former South Korean international Lee Young-Pyo.
“I like rain,” Lee joked with reporters, speaking in English, at BC Place when describing his reasons for coming to Vancouver. “For the last two years, I lived in Saudi Arabia, so I’ve never seen rain in Saudia Arabia.”
Head coach Martin Rennie followed that up with a description of one of his first conversations with the 34-year-old fullback.
“Yesterday he told me can play anywhere,” Rennie said. “Centerback, goalkeeper, anywhere.”
But once the laughs subsided, it was clear that Lee is coming to Vancouver for a new experience and to continue his growth as a professional.
“He's experienced many leagues previously in Europe and the Middle East,” said a translator, relaying Lee's comments. “It was another chance to experience a new culture, a new league for football as well. It’s a new experience for him and he feels he can learn many things from a football side of things from MLS.”
Lee, who most recently played with Saudi club Al-Hilal, told reporters he had contract offers from five to seven clubs, so Vancouver’s signing of the three-time World Cup veteran will be seen as a coup.
And, to be clear, club president Bob Lenarduzzi and Rennie both emphasized that Lee is here to address the club’s need for a right fullback and to help build a winning culture.
“One of the things I asked him about was why his teams were so successful in Korea, Holland and so on,” Rennie said, "and he said in those teams, players respected one another and the coaches so much, that even if they weren’t starting they were 100 percent behind the team and 100 percent ready to play. And he brings that kind of respect and culture that I want to instil in my whole team.”
The player, who made his name with the South Korean national team, PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham Hotspur, is up for the rigors of Major League Soccer, according to Rennie.
“Some of the best players in MLS are over 30,” Rennie said. “He’s very, very fit. He’s been a guy who’s lived well, who’s been free of injuries, and sometimes that number of 34 can be misleading. You can get guys who are maybe 28, 29 who’ve had injuries and haven’t lived right, and don’t have the fitness or athleticism that he does, so I’m not worried about that one bit.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.