One year ago Kyle Greig was preparing for a USL Western Conference semi-final.
His OKC Energy side were set to host Colorado Springs Switchbacks. It was a game that finished 2-2, with the Energy going through 4-3 on penalties before going on to lose 2-1 to LA Galaxy II in the Conference final.
Fast forward 12 months, and Greig is preparing for another Western semi-final, this time for WFC2 against his former team.
It’s been a strong season for Greig, his first as a Whitecap. Alan Koch brought the 26-year-old striker to the ‘Caps for both his on and off the pitch attributes, and his experience has been a vital part of Vancouver’s turnaround and progression in their second year in USL.
His goals have helped too. He’s hit 12 of them this year, the latest of which came in last Friday’s first round playoff win in Colorado Springs. But Greig is disappointed that his goal tally doesn’t number more.
The striker came out all guns blazing, scoring 10 goals over WFC2’s first 12 matches. But then something of a drought set in, with only one more goal added over the rest of the season. It wasn’t for a lack of chances or effort, the woodwork and goal-line clearances kept him at bay a number of times, it’s just one of those things that happen to even the world’s best forwards at some stage.
“I wanted to score a lot more goals in that stretch,” Greig is the first to admit. “We dropped a lot of games in that period of time and I started to put a lot of pressure on myself that when I score, it’s very likely that we’re going to get a result and some points at least.
“But there’s no excuses. I was on the field, giving my all, and I had plenty of opportunities. It definitely was big for me, a big confidence booster to be able to get that goal in the playoff game. To be able to put my stamp and say, I’m still here.”
Greig still has a lot of friends at OKC and a lot of happy memories from his time at the club, but he’d like nothing more than to pop one or two away on the road to securing a ‘Caps victory against his old side on Saturday.
WFC2 saw off OKC 2-1 in their last game of the regular season, and with back to back wins under their belt, they’ve got a little bit of momentum going again following a late season dip. But Greig stresses it’s not about him or any other individual player. If they’re going to get the job done, it’s going to need to be a team effort.
“In this game, we’re going to need to perform the way we performed a couple of weeks ago,” Greig feels. “Really just having a lot of confidence. That was one of the biggest team wins that we had all season when we beat Oklahoma City two weeks ago.
“We just need to focus on putting we before me. There’s a lot of times in this team that sometimes you’re thinking I’ve got to look out for myself. None of us can do that because we’re only going to achieve our individual goals by achieving our team goals and pushing as far as we can.
“That’s a huge point for us. To emphasise that we want to come together as a team and know that if we’re helping each other out, then we’re going to have success on the field.”
Heading into last week’s playoff game, Greig was the only WFC2 player with any senior playoff experience. Now the whole squad have it. But another experience that has been helping the ‘Caps these past few weeks is the time a number of players have spent training with the first team and playing in the Champions League matches.
Greig was one of the players called up to the Champions League squads, along with Sem De Wit, Spencer Richey, and Brett Levis, before he got his MLS deal. The experience for all the guys, and what they can bring back to share with the rest of the team, has been invaluable.
“It’s been a really good experience for some of us guys to go up there and train,” Greig said. “And then get some minutes in games as well like the Crystal Palace game and the CONCACAF games. It’s given us a lot of confidence in our team.
“When you see that some of us are getting those opportunities, they think if I keep succeeding, some others guys will get that opportunity as well. Us going up and having a good experience, and gaining confidence and kind of bringing that back and making that confidence contagious within the group.”
Greig featured in three of the Whitecaps CCL games, getting the assist on Alphonso Davies’ winning goal in KC that clinched a quarter-final spot. He also came ever so close to getting on the scoresheet himself in the ‘Caps final game, thwarted by a good save from Central FC’s keeper.
So has he played that chance at his first first team goal over and over?
“Oh yeah,” Greig admits with a smile. “For the rest of that night I was definitely thinking about it but luckily we had our playoff game two days later, so I was more focused on that the next day.
“But yeah, I’m always critical of myself and know what I could have done in certain scenarios to have more success. That was one that I lingered on for the rest of that night.”
It’s that kind of hunger and self-challenging that has made an impression on Carl Robinson. Greig’s spent a few sessions now up with the first team, and Robbo wants to have a closer look at the striker in preseason camp, so what’s been the biggest differences he’s found between training with the MLS guys and the USL team?
“The decision making from all the players is a little bit quicker,” Greig revealed. “Technical skills are a little bit quicker. I think all around the board, technique, speed of play, decision making is all a little bit quicker but I think some of us guys fit right in when we go up there. So it’s good.”
But that’s all for the future. Right now, Greig’s sole focus is bringing success to WFC2 and going than one step further than last year’s Western Conference final experience with OKC.
The ‘Caps struggled down the stretch. There were a number of factors behind that, but with the MLS postseason no longer attainable, the one thing on the mind of everyone at the club is on bringing success to the USL team. Everyone that will be involved in Saturday’s game has been training with the USL squad all week, building that chemistry that hasn’t always been there this year.
WFC2 have certainly looked more like the team that started the season with a ten-game unbeaten run these past couple of matches. So is their swagger back?
“I hope so,” Greig said with a laugh. “It’s tough when you start off so hot because we expect from ourselves that we need to get the results that we were getting in the first third to half of the season. But we can’t put pressure on ourselves, I know that.
“Things like fatigue, and guys coming in and out, and injuries that people are getting throughout the middle of the season, kind of hindered consistency at some point. We also put targets on our backs, individually and as a team, saying this is the team to beat right now.
“Earlier in the season we were the underdogs, maybe, because last year the team didn’t do so well. We’ve learned from both those phases of the season and towards the end of the season I think we’ve turned it around and really have some good momentum going into this next playoff game.”
With the Western Conference bracket now wide open after last weekend’s upsets that sent the top three seeds packing, WFC2 have a real shot at a run to the USL Championship. The path is clear, and it must be hard not to dare to dream and see what is on the horizon.
“Yeah, I can see it,” Greig is honest enough to admit. “It’s tough to look and see that if we win and OC Blues wins then we could host the Western Conference final. Those are things that we see, but you can’t, you can’t focus on the game past the one that’s in front of us. Our full focus is on Saturday afternoon and getting that result.”