VANCOUVER, B.C. – It's been a long inaugural season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and even longer for players who have been on the fringes of the first-year MLS squad.
But for Tanzanian winger Nizar Khalfan and Chinese striker Long Tan, sulking was never an option, even as their minutes have been few as the 'Caps have clung to the basement of the Western Conference for most of the year.
When they got their opportunity last week against Real Salt Lake, they took it with both hands, helping the ‘Caps to a 3-0 win.
“[Khalfan and I] played good, because we don’t have many chances playing from the start,” Tan told MLSsoccer.com. “So if a chance comes, we must work hard to show fans and the coach that we can play.”
For Tan, it was his first start since May 14, and his first under Soehn. For Khalfan, it was his first appearance in nine matches and his first start since July 9.
Tan proved his worth with a workmanlike performance up front, winning balls in the air and putting the Salt Lake defense under pressure throughout the match.
Khalfan, for his part, had a tenacious match on the wing which he capped off with a tremendous long-range goal, his first at MLS level.
“I was waiting for a chance like this,” Khalfan said following last week’s win. “All the time I tried to do my best, and then the other guys took their chance. We have a lot of good players, so today when the coach said you are going to start, I said I will do everything.”
Soehn had promised changes were coming after the team’s lackluster performance against the Portland Timbers at BC Place on the opening weekend at the new stadium, and he felt the renewed energy brought to the team by Tan and Khalfan sent a clear message to his squad.
“The teams that work hard and fight win games,” Soehn said. “If you do that, nine out of 10 times, you put yourself in a good spot to win games and that group did a good job and you want to reward guys for hard work.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.