Home from his loan, Nor­man looks to his fu­ture with the White­caps

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - J.J. ADAMS [email protected]­media.com

We al­ready know he’s used to hear­ing Scot­tish ac­cents at home. And we al­ready know he loves those highland, um, “del­i­ca­cies” of minced lamb guts and pigs’ blood — and we pass no judg­ment upon him for some­how en­joy­ing hag­gis and black pud­ding.

But there were a few mo­ments dur­ing David Nor­man Jr.’s loan to Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship side Queen of the South that he felt dis­tinctly Cana­dian.

“It wasn’t too bad,” the White­caps mid­fielder mused this week, “but there were still times when some of the boys, when they got go­ing with their thick Scot­tish ac­cents, I was strug­gling to keep up.”

But that was pretty much the only time he couldn’t keep pace dur­ing his three-month loan. Most of the time, op­po­si­tion teams saw more of his ba­hookie than the ball as he pa­trolled the cen­tre mid­field as a No. 6, mak­ing seven starts in 10 ap­pear­ances.

Doon­hamers as­sis­tant man­ager Dougie An­der­son, who helped bro­ker the move through his con­nec­tion with for­mer White­caps as­sis­tant Gor­don For­rest, was im­pressed by Nor­man.

“Af­ter a few matches in the re­serves, David cer­tainly as­serted him­self,” he told white­capsfc.com. “And af­ter mak­ing the step up to the first team, he has dealt with the pace no prob­lem.

“His at­ti­tude in first-team games and in train­ing is first class, he works tire­lessly. He’s very keen to learn and has a fan­tas­tic at­ti­tude to his foot­ball devel­op­ment.”

The loan move was Nor­man’s only chance for devel­op­ment, with the pre­vi­ous demise of WFC2, rapid de­gen­er­a­tion of the Caps’ af­fil­i­a­tion with USL Fresno FC and the for­ma­tion of the trav­el­ling U23 team still months away. And the 20-year-old, who signed a con­tract un­der the Home­grown Player Rule with the team early in 2018, is de­ter­mined not to fol­low the paths of Caps alumni like Marco Bus­tos, Sam Adekugbe and Kianz Froese, who left on devel­op­ment loans but never re­turned to Van­cou­ver’s first-team ros­ter.

The gap­ing chasm be­tween the academy to the first team has meant a black hole for tal­ents who age out of the res­i­dency sys­tem but are not ready to step into the first team. Ex­hibit A: Nor­man saw just 71 min­utes of ac­tion in 2018 — all of it in the Cana­dian Cham­pi­onship semi­fi­nal against Mon­treal in July. The rest of the time he was stashed on the prac­tice field.

The WFC2 player of the year in 2017 — af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in team tack­les and record­ing teamhighs in as­sists (three), chances cre­ated (38) and du­els won (144) — had been rel­e­gated to prac­ticesquad sta­tus.

With Queen of the South, he got what he needed most: game time. And in a serendip­i­tous turn, it was in an ag­gres­sive, ver­ti­cal struc­ture that just hap­pens to be sim­i­lar to new Caps coach Marc Dos San­tos’s

phi­los­o­phy.

“It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence … some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent for me,” said the lanky six-foot-three, 180-pounder. “(What I needed most) was play­ing first­team foot­ball at that level. I had a good year with the USL, but play­ing in the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship is some­thing that is to­tally dif­fer­ent than that. It def­i­nitely helped me with my speed of play, just by play­ing in games on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

“(It’s) very fast-paced, ev­ery­one’s press­ing the en­tire game, so you don’t have much time to think on the ball,” Nor­man said of Cham­pi­onship foot­ball. “I think the word I would use would be ‘hec­tic.’ In MLS, you see there’s rhythm to games; you keep the ball for a bit, teams drop back — but you don’t see that there. Ev­ery­one’s just down your throat the en­tire time.”

How he’ll fit into the pic­ture with the White­caps won’t be clear — as it is with nearly ev­ery po­si­tion on the team — un­til more play­ers are added to the ros­ter. Felipe and Rus­sell Teib­ert will likely bat­tle head-to-head for min­utes, but the de­par­ture of Aly Ghazal to Por­tu­gal’s Primeira Liga side Feirense does leave an op­por­tu­nity for Nor­man.

Then there’s the new coach, who is known for help­ing ad­vance young do­mes­tic tal­ent. Nor­man is one of 10 Cana­di­ans on the team’s ros­ter, four of those be­ing Homegrowns who are 20 or un­der.

Dos San­tos and Nor­man still haven’t met face to face, as the new man­ager and his as­sis­tants have spent the past month fly­ing around the globe search­ing for tal­ent, but they have spo­ken by phone.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about him, but I think the first thing that stuck out to me is that ev­ery team he’s been with, he’s been suc­cess­ful. He’s won things with them, whether it’s in the USL with the Fury, Kansas or in the NASL, and then last year he did a great job, ob­vi­ously, with Bob Bradley at LAFC,” said Nor­man.

“I’ve lis­tened to ev­ery­thing he’s been say­ing over the past cou­ple months — play­ing for­ward quickly, he wants play­ers who re­act quickly when los­ing the ball — all these things I think are strengths in my game.

“But with a Cana­dian coach com­ing in, who has a track record of youth (play­ing) com­ing through, it’s def­i­nitely an ex­cit­ing time for me.”

PETER MCCABE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

David Nor­man Jr., right, is hop­ing to earn his spot in the Van­cou­ver White­caps lineup this MLS sea­son.

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