Thursday, June 16, 2011
Posted: 2:01 p.m.
By Dave ZeitlinCSNPhilly.com Contributor
Shea Salinas was certain hed retire in San Jose. He expected to settle in Philadelphia. And now that hes in Vancouver, hes prepared to help build his new club from the ground up.
But for a player whos already played on three expansion teams in just four MLS seasons, Salinas has come to the realization that its probably not smart to get attached to any one city.
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I dont want to jinx it, the young midfielder said with a laugh. I know Montreals coming into the league next year.
On Saturday, Salinass new teamthe expansion Vancouver Whitecapshosts one of his old teamsthe second-year Philadelphia Unionin a 10 p.m. contest at Empire Field.
Salinas, who also played for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008 when the franchise returned to the league after a two-year hiatus, has a unique perspective on what life is like on an expansion team.
Just dont ask him to explain why its so difficult for first-year clubs to get wins, because he doesnt have an answer.
So far this season, the Whitecaps are dead last in the Western Conference with a dismal 1-6-8 record and have already fired the franchises first head coach, Teitur Thordarson. Meanwhile, last year, in their inaugural season, Salinas and the Union sputtered to an overall record of 8-15-7, but have since turned the tables and currently sit in a first-place tie atop the Eastern Conference.
I dont know what it is about that expansion label, Salinas said. All three expansion teams Ive been on have been talented, probably progressively more talented with every team Ive been on. This is definitely the most skilled group of players Ive ever played with. But its the same result. We just cant seem to get wins, which is super frustrating. I just dont know what it is about that expansion tag. The ball doesnt bounce your way I guess.
Well, it could be that. It could also be the simple fact that players on expansion teams, while talented, need time to adjust to each other, their new coach and their new city, all while getting their lives organized away from the soccer field.
A new group of players playing together for the first time is always gonna be difficult, Salinas conceded. But at the same time, weve been together now for six, seven months. That should be plenty of time to know guys habits. I guess from the past three expansion teams, it takes at least a year to get it done.
Salinas doesnt want to be in the position to explain expansion team woes because he doesnt want to be Mr. Expansion.
It was hard for him to leave San Jose, the team that drafted him out of Furman University in 2008, and just as hard to leave Philadelphia, where he said Union manager Peter Nowak promised him he would be protected for the expansion draft.
Hes happy now in Vancouver, calling it an awesome city (riots, presumably, aside), but there are certainly undercurrents of bitterness when he talks about being left unprotected by every team hes ever played for. He also resents the notion that injuries played a role in making the speedy midfielder expendable.
For some reason, some people have tabbed me as someone who is injured a lot, which isnt the case at all, Salinas said. I had a stress fracture last year, which left me out for a while. And then in the beginning of this season, I just had a sprained MCL. Ive had two injuries in four years, which Id say is pretty good. Im definitely healthy now and playing 100 percent.
Salinas, who scored one goal in 17 appearances with the Union last season while quickly becoming a fan favorite because of his speed on the flank, will need to be at 100 percent this weekend against a Union team that is cooking.
After replacing Salinas and many other franchise originals with a new influx of talent and veteran leadership, the Union have skyrocketed to the top of the Eastern Conference table this year, and even on the road, should be the favorite to knock off Vancouver on Saturday.
But Salinas believes his new club has a lot of talent too, and could be poised for a similar turnaround, perhaps even beginning this weekend.
I think we will win 3-1, predicted Salinas, who didnt get to travel to Philly when the Union hosted the Whitecaps in March because of his MCL injury. Were gonna win. We know theyre in first place, are great defensively and, as of late, are able to score a lot of goals. We know theyre a great team but we do have homefield advantage. We know eventually were gonna get the results that we deserve. My prediction is that it happens this weekend.
Salinas, after all, desperately wants Vancouver to win now because, as the past has taught him, he doesnt know where hell be in the future.
I dont want to take anything for granted, the expansion king said. I want to win while Im here.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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