VANCOUVER, B.C. — Nizar Khalfan isn’t always the loudest guy on the training field, but his smile says a lot.
And after a lengthy spell outside the starting lineup, Khalfan spread that smile to thousands of Whitecaps fans by scoring one of the best goals you’ll see this season against Real Salt Lake in Vancouver’s first win at BC Place on Oct. 6.
“Sometimes you feel bad [when you’re not playing],” Khalfan told MLSsoccer.com. “But you have to work hard. Everybody gets a chance. I said to myself, ‘One day I’ll get a chance, let’s do this.’”
The Tanzanian international has now started three matches in a row, adding an assist in the club’s 2-1 victory over D.C. United last week.
“He’s energetic and he’s got a lot of pace,” veteran John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s brought that energy which has made a difference, particularly in those home games.
“He seems to get stronger as games go on — you see times in the 90th minute when everyone’s dogging it, he’s flying past people,” Thorrington continued. “The coaches have shown that if you’re prepared to do the work in training and in games, you’ll be rewarded, and he’s an example of that.”
The 23-year-old’s speed and shooting skills have been regularly on display during training sessions. But he needed to increase his defensive work before he earned more minutes.
“What we’re excited about with him is how he’s progressed through the year,” interim head coach Tom Soehn said. “Defensively, one of the issues we had, was of him tucking in and making sure he’s killing passing lanes and pressuring at the right time. The last two games he’s shown a lot of growth in that area and he’s a handful going forward with his pace which he’s always had, but the defensive side has been a lot better.”
The potential is clear to see for Khalfan’s senior teammates. Now the aim seems to be honing and focusing his skills to get the best out of the winger.
“You just need to direct him in certain areas and get him in the right spot, and then he does his job,” captain Jay DeMerit said. “Another [young player] that’s come in when called upon and done his job, but the more they can come into their own and start to learn things themselves, the better off they’ll be.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.