Whitecaps' ‘top guy' Marcus Godinho defying odds to stick with club

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Marvin Emnes. Michael Chirinos. Roberto Dominguez. Tiago Ulisses. Even Nosa Igiebor.

Whitecaps’ ‘top guy’ Marcus Godinho defying odds to stick with club
© Provided by The Province Marcus Godinho was brought back by the Vancouver Whitecaps after 2021, one of the few players in team history to be signed late in a season and return for the next.

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These are names relegated to Vancouver Whitecaps history, ghosts or trivia answers, notable only for their fleeting appearances on the team’s transaction list. They were players brought in late in the year for depth purposes or to increase the team’s competition level.

None, for varying reasons, survived until the following season.

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Before this year, the last non-academy player signed by the team in the late summer months to stick with the Caps the following season was Tosaint Ricketts, the supersub dynamo who came to the team as a 32-year-old in August of 2019.

A few other players in the Caps’ Major League Soccer tenure have turned the trick; Aly Ghazal did it in 2017, Jordan Smith lasted 1.5 seasons in 2015, Kendall Waston’s memorable tenure began as a forward in 2014, and Carlyle Mitchell made 28 appearances over four years after joining the team late in its inaugural campaign.

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The odds are stacked against any player sticking around after joining the club late in the year. And if they had an injury history and had been without a team for months? To quote the Princess Bride Sicilian Vizzini, “it’s inconceivable.”

But don’t tell Marcus Godinho the odds. They’ve gone against him most of his career.

The road that led the Whitecaps to sign him in 2021, then pick up the first of two option years to bring the 5-foot-10 defender back this season, has been a long, winding and challenging one.

A product of Toronto FC’s academy, he could never break through to the first team and was playing with Ontario League1 side Vaughan Azzurri to stay fit when Canada’s under-20 team came calling. He joined the Reds for a U.K. tour in 2016 that saw Canada beat Marcus Rashford and England, with Whitecaps products Marco Bustos and Kadin Chung scoring the goals in a 2-1 victory.

The exposure from the game led Scottish Premier League side Hearts of Midlothian to offer Godinho a trial and subsequent contract, and his European soccer journey began as a right back/wingback.

Whitecaps’ ‘top guy’ Marcus Godinho defying odds to stick with club
© Jon Hair/Whitecaps FC Toronto native Marcus Godinho training with the Vancouver Whitecaps at their UBC practice facility on Wednesday.

“With TFC not offering me anything concrete, it was a no-brainer to go,” said the Toronto native. “At that point in time, my dream was always to give it a try overseas. And that was a really, really good experience. I think I learned a lot as a player and as a person. I really matured moving away from home at 18. Everything changes.”

The start was a good one, but a knee injury that needed three separate surgeries and cost Godinho 14 months of playing time derailed his career. Fear and doubt that he might never play again crept into his thoughts as his swollen, fluid-filled knee wouldn’t heal properly.

“I never just felt the same there,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but it took maybe a year and a half, two years after my last operation to feel like myself again.”

When Godinho returned, Canada had called him up for the Gold Cup, but Hearts manager Craig Levein gave him an ultimatum: If you leave, kiss your shot at starting goodbye. Godinho chose country over club, and found himself next playing in the German third division with FSV Zwickau.

“At that point … I did want to kind of get out of there, just because of the way my knee was reacting,” he said. “Mentally, I was in a tough place. I felt like I needed a change.”

The first season in Zwickau, a small Saxony city (pop: 89,000) nestled in the eastern part of Germany, went well. Then COVID hit. And he injured his ankle, and injured it again. He didn’t speak German, and few around him spoke English. He felt stuck in limbo, and alone.

A call from Canada proved to be his salvation again, as the Whitecaps spotted him as he made four starts in the under-23 team’s Olympic qualifying run, and talks began in early 2021 to bring him to Vancouver.

“I’m not gonna go anywhere where I don’t believe I can do well,” said the 24-year-old. “If you come in not thinking positively, you’ve got no chance already. For me, it was to come in, prove myself, show I could play at this level, and then progress as quickly as I can.”

Godinho hadn’t been training with a club for at least three months when he joined the Whitecaps at the end of August, and took a while to catch up to the Top Fuel Dragster the team had transformed into at the start of their historic ascent.

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With coach Vanni Sartini needing several fit and fast wingbacks in his high-pressing and vertically minded 3-4-1-2 formation, Godinho made three appearances off the bench and one start in the regular season. He also got the nod to start in the playoff game against Sporting Kansas City.

“Marcus is a top guy first,” Sartini said at training camp this week.

“And then he’s a player that even if he’s not your flashy player, he’s the guy that keeps the level of training always at 100 per cent. Even if he’s not your main guy, he is always in the mix, and even the quote-unquote ‘main guys,’ they need to be at a top level, because if not, they’re gonna be beaten and overshadowed by him.

“He did what we asked him to do with 100 per cent intent. He is very good technically, and the way that he improved last year in the last three months …. the way that he improved and his dedication, he earned the spot in the team for this year.”

Knowing he had a club to play for this year, Godinho kept his off-season training at top intensity, both under the Portuguese sun (he has family there) and in the minus-20 C deep freeze of the GTA (where his dad watched in disbelief as he went for jogs). The “magic” of 2021 had also infused him with fresh energy

“It was all worth it, though,” he said. “I’m feeling good. Happy to be back.

“(Last season) was magical and I think that the belief has carried over to this year. I think honestly we think we can do even better.”

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

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