VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Whitecaps square up against the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Empire Field (7 pm ET, Galavisión), but they’re going to have to do it without recently signed Designated Player Mustapha Jarju.
The forward has received a call-up to play for Gambia in an international friendly with the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Aug. 10 as his country prepares for September’s qualifying match for the African Cup of Nations against Namibia.
“It’s a bit difficult,” Jarju told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Friday. “I tried everything to play Sunday’s game and then after to go back. But they couldn’t find a flight. If I stayed, then I would arrive in Banjul [Gambia’s capital] on Wednesday, the day of the game. They didn’t want to take that risk, and yesterday I talked with the coach about it, and it was decided he would let me go and then I will play against D.C. [United when I return].”
With only two MLS matches under his belt, the timing isn’t ideal for a player trying to become more familiar with a new country, a new team and a new league.
“Everybody loves to play for their nation,” Jarju said. “I love my country, but I love playing for the Whitecaps. I want to be present. Any player wants to be settled before playing for the national team, but I don’t have a choice; I need to play for my national team.”
As for the rest of the team, their focus now turns to the Chicago Fire, currently languishing in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 19 points. Last time the teams met, they played to a 0-0 draw at Toyota Park in May.
“It was kind of a boring game,” said starting goalkeeper Joe Cannon. “I think they had a couple of early chances they squandered — they hit the post and then went over [the net with a close shot].
"In the second, we had a nice breakaway with Eric [Hassli], and our whole city thought he would put the game away, but he hit it at the goalie. It was a game of very few chances, so they’re going to come in and probably do the same thing. Both teams need three points, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
For midfielder John Thorrington, it’s a clash with a club where he played six seasons. He’s back training with the full team for certain drills now after a series of injuries, and is also going through specialized treatment with newly hired physiotherapist consultant Rick Celebrini.
“It’s a very different team from when I was there,” Thorrington said about his former club. “It’s a lot of new blood. They’ve brought in [Sebastián Grazzini] and then [Pável] Pardo, who we’ve seen for Mexico many times. For me, on your home field especially, you evaluate teams, you analyze them, but you really just have to go out and play and impose yourselves on the visitors, and that’s what I think we’ll try to do.”
Thorrington looks close to a return in training, but said, “It’s totally up to the coaches, but we have to be wary of the injury cycle I’ve been on. But now I’m in a position where they’re more and more confident each day in my body holding up, and that’s the key. It’s up to the coaches now and I’ll push the guys who are playing and compete for my spot.”
• Captain Jay DeMerit told reporters on Friday that it’s “not very likely” he’ll play on Sunday as he continues his recovery from a series of groin injuries.
• When informed by one reporter that he hasn’t scored a goal yet for the Whitecaps, Jarju replied, “Next week when I go up against DC, I’ll start scoring, OK? That’s a promise!”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon