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Better Know a Whitecap: Teibert Time is Earlier Than We Thought

Russell Teibert jukes out a disembodied leg. HELLS YES! (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Russell Teibert jukes out a disembodied leg. HELLS YES! (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
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Five-foot-two! Eyes of blue! Russell Teibert's after you!

This is Russell Teibert, Canada's latest soccer god.

What, you think I'm kidding? Did you see this kid against Toronto FC on Saturday? I realize that knocking balls past the Toronto midfielders and defenders isn't the hardest thing in the world, but Russell Teibert was a master. In fact, out of the Vancouver Whitecaps wingers, I'd rank him ahead of Davide Chiumiento on the day in spite of Chiumiento's assist on Terry Dunfield's goal and his obvious hops. Teibert was less flashy but more effective thanks to superior passing.

Also, Teibert was still plenty flashy.

Of course, young Russell has only one MLS game under his belt, magnificent though it was. What makes Teibert more special than the countless other would-be starlets who've embarrassed the schmucks of Toronto FC in the past? I mean, Will Hesmer knocked a goal by them last year but we don't think he's Leo Messi.

Russell Teibert was in the Whitecaps residency program for three years. In those three years, he was named Canada's U-17 player of the year twice and nominated for U-20 player of the year in the third. He's been called up to the U-17 and U-20 national teams and already scored for his country. He's been constantly called one of, if not the best prospect in the country, praised for his athleticism and his ball skills. He came into the pre-season and, playing almost every friendly with the Whitecaps, stunned everyone with his poise and ability against men. He's the real deal. But that doesn't mean his stunning ascent isn't a surprise.

International Caps and Goals
Name Date of Birth Nationality Position U-17 Goals U-20 Goals Senior Goals
Russell Teibert December 22, 1992 Canadian Midfield 8 3 2 0 0 0
Individual Honours
  Winner, Canadian U-17 Player of the Year, 2008 Winner, Canadian U-17 Player of the Year, 2009  
  Fourth, Canadian U-20 Player of the Year, 2010 Canadian U-17 captain, 2009
  Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency captain, 2010

Russell Teibert has been a closely tracked prospect for most of his teenage career. Born in Niagara Falls, Teibert was a leading player in the local associations and achieved a milestone when he was briefly added to the roster of the Toronto FC Academy's U-17 program in 2008, one of the first and most promising players added to the nascent Academy system. That crop of U-17s has already yielded MLS players such as Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson. It was a good group. But they may have let the best of the bunch get away. Teibert and current Residency midfielder Kevin Cobby were the first parts of what's become a minor tradition for the Whitecaps: poaching TFC Academy prospects for the Whitecaps Residency. Teibert and Cobby signed with the Whitecaps system on September 10, 2008. The news was maybe worth the bottom line in the Whitecaps column of a local daily. Not even four months later, Teibert took his first Canadian U-17 Player of the Year award.

Why did Teibert slip from Toronto's grip even though the Whitecaps were a USL-1 team at the time? The main reason was probably that Toronto's academy has only recently started to rise to the same levels as Vancouver's: if you wanted very good professional training you went to Toronto, but if you wanted the best professional training in Canada you went to Vancouver. Then-Residency boss Thomas Niendorf brought in many names now well known of whom Teibert is just the most recent to become prominence. Moreover, Teibert was a small, shifty player; don't let the chant fool you, he's not 5'2", but I can see why you'd think that. There have been plenty of small, skilled players who looked great in their early teenage years but just couldn't cope when the defenders got bigger and more talented. Maybe TFC Academy thought Teibert was one of them. It's not like Toronto FC has been merrily telling reporters why they screwed up losing that Teibert kid.

They definitely screwed up, though. He looked tremendous while the Whitecaps Residency toured the world in 2008 and 2009 and played well in the USL PDL. His club form was complemented by an explosion onto the junior international scene. Teibert appeared for his country for the first time in February 2009, where he scored a twenty-yard rocket and assisted on a Coulton Jackson marker in a 5-2 win over the United States. Teibert picked up another goal and another assist in an April 3-2 loss in Costa Rica. In the 2009 CONCACAF U-17 tournament Canada had a miserable team but Teibert was a rare bright spot. Serving as captain, Teibert scored Canada's only goal from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw with Honduras while picking up some of the few plaudits handed out after disappointing losses to the United States and Cuba.

When the 2010 season began, it wasn't Teibert's talent that let him down but his body. Teibert suffered a leg injury four minutes into his Canadian U-20 debut against Japan on May 18, and the injury dogged him. A quadriceps strain wound up ruling Teibert out for much of the 2010 campaign at both the senior and Residency levels. Teibert wound up playing an uninspiring 45 minutes with the senior Whitecaps that year and his fourth-place finish in Canadian U-20 player of the year balloting came on reputation as much as achievement.

Teibert may have been hurried back into action after his first leg injury in the Canada match, but they did it right the second time. To both Teibert and the club's credit, they took their time rehabilitating the injury. Teibert even missed the Whitecaps' November training camp trying to get back into shape. When camp reconvened in 2011, Teibert was healthy. Teitur Thordarson gave the injured midfielder a chance to show what he could do. He seized the chance and didn't let go, and as a result an 18-year-old left winger started Vancouver's first ever Major League Soccer match.

And played exceptionally. Matched up against against 28-year-old Dan Gargan, veteran of 89 professional games in North America, Teibert made Gargan look out of place.

We saw much of what makes Russell Teibert special in that game. I've only seen him a few times with the Residency and occasionally with the senior team, but in each case it's the same ingredients of his game that stand out. His speed, of course, underpins everything he does. He's not the quickest player in the world but he accelerates in a hurry and is almost as agile flat-out as he is standing still. In addition to that, he has a very shifty left foot. I seldom see him hit balls with real venom: what he does is dance around guys with the ball at his foot and try to hit hard but relatively lofty crosses, or cut into the middle and take the shot himself. Right now, in the professional game he tries to pass much more than score: it works for him, though, as Teibert has great vision and good timing meaning he hits the passing lanes very well.

Of course has some kinks to work out; he's just eighteen. Teibert's defending is more-or-less non-existent in the run of open play. Part of this is skill (I've never seen him make a good challenge to win the ball) and part of it is mentality (he just wants to score goals more than he wants to prevent them). That'll doubtless cut down on the amount of time he gets in games, and against better opponents than Toronto he will get scorched by opposing midfielders from time to time. I fear the sight of a good team starting a break down the right-hand side with Teibert nowhere to be seen might become a common one.

He also has the obvious mental improvements every player his age has needed: he sometimes plays himself into difficult situations with the ball and overestimates how well he can get out, leading to needless turnovers. He passes when he should shoot, and while it's fantastic to see a confident offensive midfielder who's willing to defer to his teammates at some point he has to return to going for goal himself. He sometimes does the wrong thing at the wrong time. But that's true for every player his age that's ever lived.

It doesn't change the fact that, long-term, Russell Teibert is one of the Vancouver Whitecaps in whom I have the most confidence.