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. In fact, 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 what he saw in 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 Homegrown contract 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 had aged out of the residency system but weren’t 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 player who had been the WFC2 Player-of-the-Year in 2017 after finishing second in team tackles, and recording team-highs in assists (three), chances created (38) and duels won (144) had been relegated to practice-squad 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 Marc Dos Santos’s philosophy.
“It was a great experience … something completely different for me,” said the lanky 6-foot-3, 180-pounder. “(What I needed most) was playing first-team 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 on 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 him.
And then there’s the new head coach, who’s known for helping advance young domestic talent. Norman is one of 10 Canadian players currently 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.”
Feb. 7: MLS transfer window opens.
Jan. 21: Whitecaps take player medicals.
Jan. 31-Feb. 10: Training camp/Pacific Rim Cup (Hawaii).
Feb. 16: Pre-season game versus L.A. Galaxy.
March 2: Whitecaps home-opener vs. Minnesota United FC.
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