Preseason. The time of year that sees the excitement building. The new faces are coming in to the squad, the players are back on the training pitch, there’s friendlies, and you can feel the new season being just weeks away. It’s definitely a time many of us enjoy.
But not Marcel de Jong.
The veteran Whitecaps defender has been through a lot of preseasons over the years around the world. It’s not that the feeling gets old, it’s just not something he’s really enjoyed to begin with! It’s a necessary evil for the 31-year-old. Something that simply has to be done. But he’s just itching for the real action to get underway again in March.
“I always hate preseasons,” de Jong revealed with a grin. “I just want it to get started. It is what it is. It’s my 14th or 15th preseason, but it’s part of the job. Some don’t like it, especially me. But no, it’s good to be back and get going.”
The Whitecaps flew out to Hawaii this evening after an intense first ten days of training camp in Vancouver. It’s been wet, cold, and miserable, but the players seem to have come into camp in great shape, with a real fire in their belly and competitive spirit. The battle for places already looks fierce and ratcheting up by the day.
There’s been a lot of change in the squad this offseason. A number of veterans have moved on, especially on the defensive side, leaving de Jong as one of the older heads in the locker room.
It’s a lot of transition, but de Jong feels the Whitecaps are stronger for it and he’s been impressed with how the new additions have already added to the group.
“Yeah, a lot of players left,” de Jong said. “Good players left but a lot of good players came in here as well. You just have to take it for what it is. I’m happy with the squad right now and I think everybody else should also be happy. Everybody’s motivated and everybody’s hungry. It’s new competition and new players in the team. It makes it hard for the other players too, but it’s a good thing.”
With the additions of Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell up top, Efrain Juarez in the middle, and a couple of exciting draft prospects at the back, along with some other new faces in the squad, the potential is certainly there for a much changed side at times as the season plays out.
So from those coming in, is there’s anything about the new look ‘Caps that’s exciting him the most?
“It’s hard to say,” de Jong mused. “You’ve got two new strikers, which is really important to us. I think it’s going to be a different style of play this year. Definitely with the two, three big guys up front we have now instead of some smaller size strikers. I think that’s good for us too.
“Especially for a full back like me. If you come up to play and you can cross higher balls, that’s good for us. I’m happy with those two. Let’s see how they fit into the group, but I’m pretty sure they’re okay.”
And part of the change of course has been the much talked about potential system switch. A move away from Carl Robinson’s tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation to something a bit new, with three at the back.
We’ve talked about it before. It’s both an exciting proposition for the team and a potential defensive disaster waiting to happen. Do the Whitecaps have the right players to pull it off? Can they make it effective against some of the most potent offensives in the league? Only time will tell, and we will get the first idea of just how easily the players adapt to it in the three preseason games in Hawaii next week.
For de Jong, it’s a system he’s had some limited experience with in the past, and one that he is a self confessed admirer of. Whether he lines up in it as one of the defensive three or as a straight up and down the wings back, he’s looking forward to see how it plays out in Vancouver.
“When I played in Holland we played a couple of times with three at the back,” de Jong revealed. “I used to love the system as well, because it gets more players in their half, so I think that’s good for us. I don’t mind it all, but I have to see how it is with other guys, to see if it fits and if the picture’s perfect. If it’s not, then we’re going to have to switch it to the old system. It’s up to the coaches.”