Sports

Hassli, Whitecaps back at it 0

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

Call it a bittersweet return.

On one hand, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC had to brave the wind and rain at Tuesday's training camp session; on the other, the team is clearly thrilled for a fresh season - their second one in the MLS.

Under the new direction of head coach Martin Rennie, the Whitecaps began camp earlier this week at Burnaby Lake West. Besides seeming revitalized, the club is a better one than from a year ago, according to striker Eric Hassli.

"I'm really confident for the next season," Hassli said. "The guys who left last season was good players too but I think now it's different. We have great quality in the practice. I'm really excited."

The new year also gives the hulking Frenchman an opportunity to show off his improved English vocabulary - while providing some innocent humour along the way Tuesday. When asked what he did differently to prepare for the 2012 campaign, he responded, "I riding horse. Play guitar. Go to (former Whitecap) Greg Janicki's wedding. It was really good."

Then with his teammates in the background shivering from the chilly weather, Hassli sported a giant grin and said, "I miss the rain."

His lax and somewhat-mischievous personality aside, the 30-year-old is ready to get serious and help his team redeem themselves from a poor inaugural season.

"I feel bad over the last two months for last year," said Hassli, who had a team second-best 10 goals in 2011. "I have to push myself and I want to win, I want to go to playoffs, and then win MLS Cup."

To do so, the Whitecaps will have to see plenty of production from their much deeper attack - with eight forwards listed among the 34 players at the first week of camp. That includes Omar Salgado, another returning player looking to make a bigger mark this season.

The first overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft knows he's not at the top of the depth chart on the team. It just means he'll have to work harder to stand out.

"It's going to be hard to take spots from the older guys like Hassli, Camilo, Davide (Chiumiento)," Salgado said. "It'll be frustrating but I have to be patient. In order for me to grow as a player and to get better, I'm going to need to play games. And hopefully that happens this season."

The 18-year-old put on about 20 lbs in a busy offseason, where he trained briefly with English Premier League's Fulham, and now weighs 192 lbs. While his additional size will help on the pitch, it's the year MLS experience under his belt that will be most vital.

"I came in a little nervous last year and now I'm just more confident," he said. "I've been here and done that already. It'll be a better season for me."

Note

The Whitecaps have 25 roster players at camp - 17 returning signed players and 8 newly signed players. There are also three residency players, four whom are drafted but unsigned, and two trailists.

The team will train in Burnaby until Jan. 30 before heading to Casa Grande, Ariz. for 10 days.


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