There’s something about USSDA playoff time that seems to bring the best out of Theo Bair.
The Vancouver Whitecaps striker hit a hat-trick for the U19s yesterday in a 5-1 trouncing of New England Revolution in their first group game of this year’s playoffs. A year ago he was a spark for the U18s, grabbing a goal and an assist.
It’s been a fantastic few weeks for the 18-year-old, who has just returned from playing with Canada’s U23s at the Toulon Tournament over in France, scoring in the 1-1 draw with Japan.
He’s also coming off his best ever season in the Residency Program, following up his 12 goals in the 2015/16 season, and 11 last season, with 19 goals and counting now this current campaign.
Bair has always looked to be a great prospect, with natural pace, skills, and the ability to play as a winger or an out and out striker. He previously trained regularly with WFC2 and was an academy call up on a couple of occasions. This season we’re seeing him fulfill some of that potential, and you feel this is just the beginning.
“It was all about confidence,” Bair told AFTN when we spoke with him at Whitecaps Residency training last week. “The coaches believing in me and just telling me what to do and me executing it. As long as I kept doing that, I just kept improving and it’s got me all the way to this point.”
This will be Bair’s third playoff campaign with the ‘Caps. After having a taste of the Championship game with the U18s two years ago, Bair feels the current crop of talent has all the capabilities to reach that level again, and he’s keen to play his part.
“We didn’t start out the best,” Bair feels. “We had a little bit of trouble at the beginning of the season, but I think we’ve grown a lot as a group. We’ve grown bonds and we’ve grown closer together, which has made our football better.
“We haven’t felt as good in a while so I think we’re looking great going into the playoffs. We’re looking at our group and we’re thinking we can dominate most of those games. We’re going in confidently.”
Monday’s 5-1 win over New England got them off to the perfect start. Next up are Crew SC Academy Wolves on Wednesday. The Missouri based side are the third lowest ranked team in the playoffs, but nearly pulled off a shock win against the group’s top seeds Pateadores yesterday, drawing 3-3 after conceding a 90th minute equaliser.
It’s still likely that who advances from the group will go down to the wire, with the 5th ranked overall Pateadores set for a collision course with the ‘Caps on Friday. The pair have already met once this season, with the Whitecaps on the wrong end of a stoppage time penalty in a 3-2 loss, but Bair feels he saw enough of them in that match to know that the ‘Caps certainly have the beating of them and the capabilities to reach the knockout stages of the postseason.
“Against Pateadores we got really unlucky,” Bair said. “We a miss from the six yard box and then a penalty in the last second. So I think we’re going in really confident.”
This is Bair’s third season in the Residency program after making the move east from Ottawa in August 2015. It’s also his final one, but where the future lies for him is by no means certain and is still very much up in the air.
For us, he’d always looked a certainty to get a WFC2 contract, but of course that all suddenly changed when the ‘Caps scrapped their USL side to affiliate with Fresno instead. A move to California could still be on the cards, as could taking a scholarship and going down the college route.
But all of these young Whitecaps players also now have the lure of the Canadian Premier League and the chance to be a professional footballer in their own country, and for many of them, their own hometown. Ottawa aren’t confirmed yet to be in the CPL come 2019, but moving back home and playing in his home town in front of family and friends would surely be a tempting option for Bair.
Right now though, even he doesn’t know where his future will take him and he’s keeping all his options open.
“I want to be a pro, but my future’s undecided still to this day,” Bair revealed. “I wish I could tell you what I’m doing, but I still have no clue. I’ve verbally committed to the University of Vermont, but I’d like to say I’m just keeping my options open just due to the fact that there’s so much happening in the world of football in Canada right now. It’s exciting and I don’t think I want to cut anything off until I really have to.”