VANCOUVER, B.C. — Bringing in a specialist in the soccer world often means looking abroad. But the latest addition to the Vancouver Whitecaps staff is a local boy with a world-class reputation.
Following a series of recurring injuries to veterans Jay DeMerit and John Thorrington, the Whitecaps formally brought in Vancouver native Rick Celebrini last week as a physiotherapist consultant.
Celebrini has a reputation for getting the best out of veteran athletes, including Whitecaps co-owner and NBA star Steve Nash, and the hope is that his innovative physiotherapy methods will ensure greater durability for the likes of 31-year-old DeMerit.
The Whitecaps captain has been restricted to 10 MLS matches this season due to a series of recurring groin and adductor issues, but he feels Celebrini’s methods are making a difference.
“This whole changing of mechanics isn’t easy, but working with Rick is already showing huge benefits,” DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com during a phone interview last week. “He’s teaching me how to change my hip mechanics and naturally rotate my hips back into place. It takes time. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m trying.
“Already in two-and-a-half weeks, my mechanics are showing major improvement. So hopefully in the next couple of weeks when I start playing again, I can see the back of this injury.”
Celebrini’s methods focus on retraining athletes to move in ways that reduce injury, and when it comes to players like DeMerit, who have played at the highest levels for club and country, age shouldn’t be a major obstacle.
“What we know about human movement is that it’s a plastic system,” Celebrini explained after training on Tuesday. “With elite athletes like Jay, there’s such a potential to learn and relearn, and that’s what the process involves.
“With anything that has been recurring or chronic, what happens, either as a cause of the breakdown or certainly as an effect, they change how they move,” the trainer continued. “What [my] process does, in essence, is break down the fundamental movement patterns and re-teach them so that each movement and combination of movements is safe, and then we work from there to make them more explosive.”
Local soccer fans will remember Celebrini from his time as a defender with the Vancouver 86ers from 1992-96, when he made 31 appearances for the team.
The Vancouver 86ers were a previous incarnation of the Whitecaps that played under that name from 1986-2001, and many of the faces from that era remain, like current president Bob Lenarduzzi, who coached the team in Celebrini’s first season with the club.
“I was chief therapist for VANOC during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics, and it was the same sort of sense of pride in the city,” Celebrini said of his time with the city's organizing committee. “But when it’s extended to the club that you actually played for and now working with a lot of the guys [that were with the club then], it’s even more special.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon