The question asked of Vancouver Whitecaps forward Omar Salgado was succinct and to the point, the result of what was seen by millions of soccer fans in June and July during the World Cup in Brazil:
Do you ever fake an injury on the pitch?
After a chuckle from both Salgado and longtime Whitecaps player-turned-goodwill ambassador Carl Valentine, Salgado looked directly at the relatively young, strawberry blond question asker – one of many attending the week-long Vancouver Whitecaps Play Like A Pro camp at Marshall Field – and gave an honest, sincere answer.
“When I was your age, I maybe did,” smiled the 20-year-old native of El Paso, Tex. “But not anymore.”
Salgado attended day one of the camp for kids aged six to 14 and answered all kinds of questions from favourite player (James Rodriguez, star for Uruguay and now Real Madrid) to favourite friend on the Whitecaps (Nico Mezquida) to pre-game meal (pasta and chicken) to favourite video game (“I don’t really play video games but when I do, it’s FIFA and I’m not very good at it”).
The Whitecaps’ first round pick as a 16-year-old in the 2011 Major League Soccer Super Draft, Salgado has appeared in eight games for Vancouver this season, starting twice.
He grew up watching and learning the game from the United Soccer League’s El Paso Patriots, and was a regular attendee at summer soccer camps.
“I started playing when I was three, and began going to the camps when I was about five,” said Salgado. “My dad loved soccer and he pushed me into the game.
“Being here today brings back a lot of memories, about being nervous on the first day of camp then being happy by the end of camp.”
While Monday was his first-ever stop in Vernon, Salgado has appeared at numerous camps in the Lower Mainland. He was impressed by what he saw at Marshall Field.
“The skill levels are quite good,” he said. “I feel like there are couple of kids here who could play in a residency program in Vancouver.”
Valentine, meanwhile, is no stranger to Vernon.
Arguably one of the most popular players in team franchise history, the Manchester, England native has been to Vernon many times over the years, and says these kind of camps keep him young at age 56.
“I got up this morning at 4:30 and I was hurting but I knew what it meant to the kids,” smiled Valentine. “It excites me to be able to do this for all of these kids.
“The camp promotes dreams. I’ll ask the kids who wants to be a professional player and most of their hands go up. That’s not realistic. But it’s realistic to have goals and dreams. To see someone like Omar drafted at the age of 16 and is now a pro helps them on their journey.”
Like most of the players on the team, Mondays are the only day off for Salgado, and the only time the Whitecaps can send a player to a camp like the one in Vernon. Valentine calls it a ‘win-win situation’ for everybody.
“The players are asked if they would come up, and they’re thankful to give back something to the community,” he said.
“It’s important as a club, as a legacy. We try to teach our players it’s important we grow the game, that we’re in the community. If you do that, you’ll create fans for life. The players have been fantastic. They have really engaged and become involved in these type of camps.”
Valentine has been in B.C. and Canada for more than 30 years, helping the Whitecaps win the Soccer Bowl in the old North American Soccer League in 1979, the Vancouver 86ers capture four straight Canadian Soccer League titles in the 1980s and played 31 times for Canada, helping the national squad qualify for its only World Cup appearance in 1986.
Around the province, he said, the love for soccer continues to grow.
“The Whitecaps brand is growing and, more important, it generates that passion for the game,” said Valentine. “You see the kids out here playing, there’s a great coaching staff we have here.
“It does encourage the kids to go out and play the game on their own, the way I grew up, just getting a ball, kicking it around and having fun.”
The Whitecaps camp wraps up today.