BURNABY, B.C. – Student vs. teacher.
When the Vancouver Whitecaps take on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Saturday (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live), the battle in the center of the park will largely take place between ‘Caps youngster Gershon Koffie and his former mentor Pete Vagenas.
The 34-year-old Vagenas didn’t spend much time in Vancouver, joining just before the halfway mark in 2011 before moving on to Chivas USA in the offseason, but he still played a significant part in Koffie’s development as one of Major League Soccer’s most promising young midfielders.
“Pete used to say to me, ‘You can play a five-meter pass,’” Koffie told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday’s training session at Burnaby Lake field. “I used to play long passes, but he said, ‘Gersh, when I’m five meters away from you, we can play short to change the direction of the opening.’ Things like that I learned from him.
“This is my first experience playing [against a mentor].”
Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit has been in similar situations before, but said it’s a bit different in his case since center backs aren’t in direct competition throughout a match apart from set-piece situations.
“It’s part of the game,” DeMerit said of coming up against former senior teammates. “I’m hoping Gersh can go and put a stamp on the game, because for the game on Saturday, winning balls and winning the matches in the midfield is going to be a huge key for us.”
Head coach Martin Rennie sees this as an opportunity for Koffie to demonstrate that he’s kicked his game onto another level, and who better against than Vagenas, who has shown his quality over the years by helping the LA Galaxy to two MLS Cups?
“Gershon keeps getting better, and keeps working on his game,” Rennie said. “Pete Vagenas seems to have helped him a lot last season, so I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to seeing him. I’m sure he appreciates the help he got and he’ll be up to work hard against him and show everything he’s been learning, and hopefully show the ability he’s got so he comes out on top in that battle.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com