Theo Bair had an excellent final season in Vancouver Whitecaps’ Residency program. One which was rewarded with a multi-year MLS Homegrown contract commencing with the 2019 season.
It was a deserved recognition for the 18-year-old forward after a year which has really seen him come into his own.
Bair was faced with the dilemma many have faced in recent years – sign a pro deal with the Whitecaps or elsewhere, or take a scholarship and head down the college route. A verbal commitment had been given to the University of Vermont, but Bair’s long held dream was to be a professional footballer, so when the Whitecaps came in to offer him a deal, even if it meant waiting till next year to be able to play, there was only ever going to be one answer.
“I feel good because I get into the environment,” Bair told AFTN. “I get to see what the next level is and I get to experience it first hand. I think that’s good for me to develop and excel my career.”
Bair has long been on the first team radar. He’s trained with the MLS squad before, and the USL one before that, even featuring on the bench as an academy call up with WFC2 on a couple of occasions.
Coming off his best ever Residency regular season, where he hit 16 goals, Bair excelled in the USSDA playoffs adding another seven, including a hat-trick in the group games and the winner in the U19s quarter-final. He was a player brimming with self-belief and it came across on the pitch, and he plans to now bring that form into the first team environment.
“It was all about confidence, I think,” Bair mused. “We came into the season a little iffy and everyone wasn’t together and that sort of thing. Once we got that unified confidence it started going well, especially for myself. I started scoring goals and once you get onto a roll it just doesn’t stop, and I think as long I get on to that and I keep my streak going, I’ll get my chance here. Then I just keep going.”
This year’s academy playoffs certainly weren’t the first time Bair has raised his game when it matters the most, as previous playoff campaigns bear witness.
“I like the pressure,” Bair admits. “I don’t like playing in little games, I like big games because that’s when the competition’s really tough and that’s when I can rise above whatever level the opponent brings to me. I like being better than the opponent.”
Another key aspect of Bair’s development this year also came on the national team side.
Bair was part of John Herdman’s U21 squad for the Toulon Tournament in May and June, scoring against Japan, and putting in a string of solid performances. Playing so well against some of the best young players around the world certainly helped add to his own confidence and belief in his abilities, and it really lit a fire under him.
“I think that’s what put me in the streak I got in for the playoffs,” Bair feels. “It was the fact that I realized that these were guys playing at top clubs around the world that I can compete with, and if I can do that there, I can do that anywhere. Once I came back for the playoffs I just kept that mindset and I chose to dominate who I played against. It didn’t matter who.”
Bair comes into the Whitecaps MLS squad with fellow U19 standout Michael Baldisimo. They’re joining a squad full of familiar faces and players they’ve been used to playing with in the ‘Caps Residency these past couple of seasons like Simon Colyn, David Norman Jr, and Alphonso Davies.
Bair and Baldisimo were both in the U16 side when Davies made his Whitecaps Residency debut in August 2015. Having people around them that they know so well, both on and off the pitch, should certainly make the move up to the first team all the smoother.
“A little bit, I’d say,” Bair agrees. “Simon and Dave have been in it a little bit longer than us, so they help us out with the things that we don’t know and we need to know. Also in training it maybe makes it a little bit easier and we know how each other plays, so when we’re on the same team it still flows and we’re not really adjusting too much, so we’re already ready.”
Although Bair won’t be available for any first team minutes until next season, the winger now has the advantage of having the next four months to get used to the first team environment, training with his new teammates, building chemistry, and getting used to the higher level, better players, and faster, stronger action.
It also gives him the chance to work on the thing required to help take his game up to that next, professional level.
“It’s just about adjusting to the pace of play,” Bair said. “It’s a different level and obviously there’s higher demands. It’s all about adjusting to that just as quickly as possible and not taking any breaks, because you don’t get them.”