VANCOUVER, B.C. — Kendall Waston is heading to his first World Cup this summer and he's planning to savor every moment of his time in Russia.
The Vancouver Whitecaps captain just missed out going to Brazil with Costa Rica four years ago, but this time around the 30-year-old center back heads to the grandest stage of them all after writing himself into his country's footballing history books in World Cup qualifying.
Can he add to those tales? We'll find out soon. In the meantime, here's 10 things to know about the '"Towering Tico."
A signing for the ages
Kendall Waston joined the Whitecaps in the summer of 2014 from perennial Costa Rican contenders Deportivo Saprissa. He has gone on to make 113 MLS appearances for Vancouver, scoring 13 goals, and was named club captain last season, a role he has embraced to the full.
There's been a lot of turnover on the Whitecaps roster these past five seasons, especially on the backline, but Waston has remained one of the few constants. He's now the fourth longest tenured player on the 'Caps MLS roster behind Russell Teibert, Erik Hurtado, and Nicolas Mezquida.
A key physical presence on the Whitecaps backline, Waston was named Vancouver's Player of the Year in 2015, becoming the first Whitecap to make the MLS Best XI the same year. He was also named to the MLS Best XI last season and was selected for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game.
Canada was where it all began
Canada has always held fond memories for Waston. His international debut with the senior Costa Rican national team actually came in, and against, the country. Waston came on as a 76th minute sub for the Ticos in their 1-0 win over Canada in a friendly at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on May 28, 2013. On the opposite side that match was his new center back teammate at the Whitecaps, Doneil Henry.
His Canadian memories stretch back even further
Signing for the Whitecaps was not Waston's first experience of Vancouver. The central defender was part of Costa Rica's squad for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup which was held in Canada. The then-19-year-old played in Costa Rica's three group matches, two of which were in Victoria, with the final game, a 2-1 win over Scotland, played at what was then the USL Whitecaps' home — Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. And he nearly scored with a header:
Earliest Costa Rican World Cup memory
This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup. Waston was only two when the Ticos made their first appearance in 1990, so the first one he remembers watching Costa Rica play in was South Korea in 2002. He was 14 when the finals took place that year and remembers how early he had to wake up to watch his country and his dream of one day being at one himself.
"I remember waking up really, really, really early, before going to school, to watch the games," Waston said. "The games were around 3 or 4 am in Costa Rica. So I used to go to sleep and put my alarm on to watch the games."
As seen on TV
Waston remembers his excitement at watching Christian Bolanos playing at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The pair were both at Saprissa at that time, Bolanos in the first team and Waston in the club's residency program. Ten years later, the pair reunited as teammates in Vancouver with the Whitecaps. Although Bolanos headed back to Saprissa this past offseason, they will be teammates once again with Costa Rica in Russia.
Waston's World Cup hero
As a young defender turning professional, Waston looked up to center back Gilberto Martinez as an inspiration. After impressing at the 2002 World Cup, Martinez headed to Europe and spent more than 15 years in Italy before recently retiring, and was also part of Costa Rica's 2006 World Cup squad. If Waston has a good finals this summer in Russia who knows what lies in store for his future?
"It's always in your mind," Waston admitted in an interview with AFTN in February. "It's football, right? Playing in the World Cup, everybody is watching you and you want to perform well. First of all because you want to win and you're representing your country, but it's not a secret that people are watching you and never know what's going to happen. But my main focus when I'm there is to give it all, as always, and if something happens, it happens."
Cut to the core
Waston was on the cusp of the Costa Rican squad for the World Cup in Brazil four years ago, just missing out after being named to the provisional 30-man roster. The Ticos had their best World Cup showing in 2014, reaching the quarterfinals, leaving Waston with mixed emotions.
"At the moment, I remember I was feeling happy for them, but at the same time I was feeling kind of jealous," Waston admits. "I was feeling, ‘Oh man, I could have been there. I could have been doing that moment with them in Brazil.’ But on the other side, I was happy, so it was a strange feeling."
Down in folklore
Missing out in 2014 spurred Waston on in this latest qualifying campaign and, on October 8, he became a national hero when he headed home a 95th-minute equalizer against Honduras to secure Costa Rica's spot in Russia this summer. The goal will go down in Ticos folklore and Waston admits every time he sees he still gets the tingles.
Waston will be a player known to millions of fans around the world this summer before even taking to the pitch in Russia. The 30-year-old is one of 10 players whose stickers come free in Panini's cult sticker album for this year's finals. You can also still get him inside sticker packs as well, and Waston's son Keysack couldn't hide his excitement when he did just that.
"My son and I are collecting the Russia album," Waston revealed. "My son went all excited when he saw my sticker come out. It's a nice feeling because you have great memories. It's not always you can enjoy these things."
He's number 399 in the North American version, in case you were wondering!