“What I do is play soccer, which is what I like.- Lionel Messi”
Sometimes it is as simple as that when you ask any aspiring, rec league or professional soccer player why they play the game. Vancouver Whitecaps U18 player Eric de Graaf is no different.
It started at age five, playing for the Surrey United FC’s youth system, and it has lead him on a journey that has taken him all over North America and he will end his youth career in Vancouver before moving on to the University of Portland Pilots.
The one thing de Graaf knows is winning, He has been a part of the Whitecaps U16s and U18s the past four seasons and has helped build them into one of the top teams in the USSDA standings season in and season out.
The University of Portland team was 3W-3D-12L last season, so joining them for the upcoming campaign will be a change of pace for de Graaf and an excellent challenge. One of de Graaf’s main selling points was the potential for improvement and he believes they have a bright future ahead of them.
Before he can pack his bags for university and head down the I5 to Portland, he still has his last season with the U18s to see out, with the USSDA playoffs ahead of him later on in June and hopefully into July. We had a chance to talk all things Whitecaps Residency with Eric and what the future may bring in the latest instalment of AFTN`s continuing Residency piece “Ten Count”…
AFTN: You recently committed to the University of Portland to continue playing soccer after the end of this current U18 Residency season. How did you come to the decision to choose Portland as the place you wanted to play your college soccer at?
EDG: The University of Portland seemed like a perfect fit for me. Staying on the west coast is ideal as family and friends aren’t too far away. Portland is a sleeping giant of a program and I believe that we will be a top team in the coming years, which will further my development playing with top players. As far as schooling goes, Portland being a private school, has small class sizes and great support, which will help me stay on top of my schoolwork while focusing on football.
Being a local Surrey kid, how has the experience of playing for your home team Residency program been for you and your family?
Being a local to the club has been a big honour for me as every kid dreams of playing for their hometown team. It has made it comfortable for me living at home with the support of my parents to push me onwards and upwards. I feel privileged to not have had to move far away from home to follow my dreams.
As your Residency career comes to a close what are some of the best moments you have had with your U16 & U18 teams?
I’ve had many positive experiences throughout my four years with the Whitecaps. One moment that really stands out to me was scoring the winning goal for the U16s in the playoffs to push us through to the quarter-finals. It is a moment I will never forget!
What part of your game do you need to improve on to make the jump from Residency to University football?
I’m always looking for ways to improve my game and my development will never stop, but the most important thing for me to improve transitioning into the university game would be the physical side of the game. I am dedicating a lot of time to the gym to improve my overall strength and that will help my game immensely going into the university.
Who is the most talented player you have had the opportunity to play with as a teammate?
The most talented player i have had the opportunity of playing with is current USL defender Kadin Chung. Even when Chung isn’t at his best he always maintains a consistent level of play and I believe that is what separates him from a lot of other players. I hope to see him go far in the game and have full faith that he will.
And who is the most skilled player you have had the chance to play against?
One of the most skillful players I have had the opportunity to play against through inter squads with the club is Noah Verhoeven. His shifty movement and quick change of direction gives defenders nightmares.
You are a huge basketball fan when you are not playing soccer. Is your basketball game more like Stephen Curry or Lebron James and who is your favourite player in the NBA?
I would say I’m more of a Steph curry type of player. I’m always looking to draw defenders in and find the open man, but have the ability to create my own shot. My favourite player would have to be the point guard of my favourite team, Chris Paul from the LA Clippers. The guy is a floor general and I love the way he dictates the flow and rhythm of the game.
If you could play at any stadium in the world for one game, but it would be the last game you ever played, where would you play, and why?
For sure it would have to be the Etihad Stadium in front of the Cityzens. It’s the home stadium of my favourite club Manchester City and would be a dream come true to play for or against them there.
What are your goals this upcoming year at the University of Portland, both on pitch and personal?
My goal for this year on the field would definitely be to become a regular starter in the team. I believe I have the quality to be on the team sheet week in and week out and will be working hard to achieve this. As hard as I will be working on the field it will be equally important for my grades to stay up while I work towards my business major. I would like to maintain a high GPA while balancing football this year.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
In five years time I hope to be playing professional football either with the Vancouver Whitecaps or another club. I will have obtained my major in business with a minor in sustainability, which I can always resort too if football doesn’t work out. My main focus is to play professional football and that will never change.
Thanks to Eric for taking time to chat with AFTN. Make sure you give him a follow on Twitter – @e_degraaf4.
We’ll have another “Ten Count” soon. In the meantime, you can catch up with the others in the series: