They’re coming from far and near to play pro soccer in Langley.
During recent days, the new-to-Langley Vancouver Football Club (Vancouver FC) has announced the signing of several new players to the team ahea of its May kickoff.
Among the farthest afield players are a 20-year-old centre-back and a 19-year-old winger coming from England. And the closest is a right-back who hails from Port Coquitlam. The fourth to join is from South Korea via California.
The most recent signing was announced Friday, for Ibrahim Bakare, “an exciting young talent” out of England who joins the club for its inaugural season, said head coach Afshin Ghotbi.
“I am really pleased to be joining Vancouver, to have the opportunity to settle here and experience playing professional soccer in Canada,” said the 20-year-old centre-back.
“I want to show what I can do and share my experience and leadership with the team. I am excited to put my head down and get to work for the club.”
He stands at six-foot-one and has considerable experience for his age.
Bakare’s stops in English professional soccer to date include with then League Two side Morecambe FC, where he signed with the club’s under-18 squad in August 2018 and remained until October 2020, and with Cardiff City FC, where he captained the Bluebird’s under-23 side on numerous occasions during more than a year with the club from 2021 to 2022.
Bakare has also spent time with Cheshunt FC in the sixth tier of English soccer, Macclesfield FC in England’s Northern Premier League Division One West, and National League North side Kettering Town.
“We are thrilled to introduce a fantastic defender in Ibrahim, who possesses personality, quality and experience beyond his young age,” said Ghotbi. “His power, athleticism and versatility will make him a valuable addition to our squad.”
Defenders Kadin Chung returns to CPL
Earlier in the week, Vancouver FC’s head coach announced the addition of Kadin Chung, bringing the right-back home to compete for his local team in the club’s inaugural Canadian Premier League (CPL) season.
“I am proud to sign with my hometown club,” said Chung.
“It means a lot to me to be back playing professionally where I grew up and where my love of the game began. The staff here at Vancouver FC is bringing fresh new ideas and experience to the League, and I am excited to play my part not only in launching this club but in making it successful on the field in its first season.”
Chung, 24, most recently represented Toronto FC, where he signed ahead of the 2022 Major League Soccer season after a successful pre-season trial. He made eight MLS appearances for the Reds, starting five matches, and logging 451 minutes. Chung was also part of the Toronto squad that won the postponed 2020 Canadian Championship final last year.
Prior to joining Toronto, Chung spent three seasons at Pacific FC. He was the first player to be signed by the club in late 2018 as a 20-year-old, and he went on to become the third player to sign in MLS out of the CPL, following Toronto’s Lukas MacNaughton and Joel Waterman of CF Montréal. At the time of his move to Toronto, Chung had logged more minutes than any other Pacific player in the club’s short history.
Chung made 63 total appearances for the Tridents between 2019 and 2021, playing a key role in the club’s run to the Canadian Championship semi-finals and its first CPL title in 2021. He consistently rated among the League’s elite defenders in defensive actions and duels won, while contributing to Pacific’s attack with his overlapping runs and crisp passing.
Chung will now look to bring his skills as a two-way fullback, who predominantly plays on the right but can also slot in on the left, to the other side of the League’s new west coast rivalry.
“It is important to build a competitive team right from the start,” said Chung.
“There are a lot of young guys on the squad who are hungry, and others who have experience that will be key to immediate success. Being a new team is not an excuse. Winning the League in 2021 has only made me hungrier to do it again, and I want to bring Vancouver to the playoffs and win it all. I think we have a group that can push for that.”
Internationally, Chung has represented his country at several youth levels, including at the 2017 Concacaf U-20 Championship. In 2015, he was named Canada Soccer’s U-17 male player of the year, an award won the following two years by Chung’s then-Whitecaps teammate Alphonso Davies.
Most recently, Chung was named to the provisional roster for the 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in February 2020 and on the revised list in February 2021, following the postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am personally thrilled to bring Kadin, a fan favourite in the Canadian Premier League, back to his hometown with Vancouver,” said Ghotbi.
“His ability to get forward, combine and provide service into danger areas will add an exciting dimension to our attack. We will also count on Kadin to provide leadership both on and off the field to our young squad.”
Fresh from the English soccer system
Nicky Gyimah, 19, will lean on his experience from the English game as he begins his first season in the CPL.
The teenage native of London, England, who also played for Ghana as a youth international, previously represented storied club Sunderland AFC at the under-23 level, where he scored one goal in 10 games. Gyimah has also appeared for Peterborough United and Slough Town FC in the English soccer system.
“I am ready to officially get underway with Vancouver FC,” said Gyimah. “I am grateful for the chance Vancouver is taking on me and I am eager to get going for the team.”
The opportunity with Vancouver marks Gyimah’s first time playing professionally overseas, and he is expected to bring his pace, his direct, attacking style of play and his leadership to the right side of coach Ghotbi’s squad.
“We are thrilled to introduce to the CPL an exciting winger with pace, creativity and precision in the danger area,” said Ghotbi. “He definitely will be a fan favourite with his ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
Korean-born midfielder spent 2 years in U.S.
Min-jae Kwak, 22, becomes the second Korean-born player to play in the CPL, after midfielder Son Yong-Chan represented FC Edmonton in 2019 and 2020.
Kwak, a native of Suwon in South Korea’s Gyeonggi-do province, has spent the past two years playing in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), the third tier of professional soccer in the United States.
He scored four goals and added an assist for AC Syracuse Pulse in 2022, following a 2021 season when he scored four goals for California United Strikers FC.
Kwak grew up in the California soccer academy system as a youth player, after moving from South Korea to the United States at a young age. He made a stop in Croatia as a 19-year-old with HNK Gorica, before returning to the United States and the NISA.
“I am happy and thankful to be joining Vancouver,” said Kwak. “I grew up on the West Coast and am looking forward to continuing my career here, if a little further north. I am committed to doing everything I can to help my new team win right away.”
A left winger, Kwak was named to the 2022 NISA Best XI.
He was honoured in part for his contributions to the scoresheet, but it was his ability to start scoring plays from deeper-lying positions on the field that made Kwak stand out most amongst his peers. His pace, versatility and dynamic style are just a few of the traits that contribute to Kwak’s touted potential.
“South Korean football produces great footballers, and Min-jae embodies most of the qualities South Korean players are famous for: industrial, explosive and technical,” said Ghotbi. “Min-jae is capable with both feet and can both score and put his teammates in scoring positions.”
These new players joins strikers Mamadou Kane, Nathanial St. Louis and Shaan Hundal, midfielders Gael Sandoval, Elliot Simmons, Gabriel Bitar, Maël Henry, Cristian Mares and Nima Moazeni Zadeh, Pele Martinez, Rocco Romeo, Marcus Simmons, Kahlil John-Wentworth and Tyler Crawford and goalkeepers Callum Irving, and Jeremy Zielinski on Vancouver’s roster.
Vancouver is scheduled to kick off its home schedule at Willoughby Community Park at the Langley Events Centre on Sunday, May 7 against Cavalry FC. Media interested in cover Vancouver FC that didn’t apply for full-season credentials will be able to request single-match credentials throughout the season.
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