VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Winless in 11 games across all competitions, it has been a frustrating two months for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Perhaps the only silver lining during the latest stretch of results has been the emergence of 19-year-old striker Theo Bair.
This week the native of Ottawa, Ontario, will represent the Whitecaps during the MLS All-Star game festivities in Orlando. The striker will participate in the MLS Homegrown Game on Tuesday against Chivas de Guadalajara’s under-20 team.
In what has been a difficult season for the Whitecaps, who are second from the bottom in the Western Conference, Bair will be the only ‘Caps player present in Florida.
After playing one minute in Vancouver’s 1-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders and 24 minutes in the Whitecaps’ 6-1 loss to LAFC, the 19-year-old started against Sporting Kansas City on July 14. Playing up front with Yordy Reyna in an unorthodox 3-5-2 formation, Bair’s athleticism and strength caused Sporting difficulty at times.
At 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds, one would assume Bair is a typical center-forward. But despite his height and weight, Bair is fast. As a result, he is also dangerous when deployed out wide in a 4-3-3.
There were signs that the teenager could be the next young star to emerge from the Whitecaps’ academy system — the same system that produced Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies. But it almost felt like head coach Marc Dos Santos threw the dice against SKC by starting the young striker, who at times seemed nervous when breaking into the final third and was ultimately kept of the scoresheet in Vancouver’s 3-0 defeat.
“It’s a completely different level, the demands are a lot more,” Bair admitted after his first full 90 minutes in the league. “The guys are a lot more serious, and, although it is still a lot of fun, this is a job, and you have to take it seriously.”
With that in mind, the call to represent the Whitecaps during the MLS All-Star week seemed almost secondary for Bair. “I am trying not to think about it too much,” he said. “Obviously, I just spent my first 90 minutes with the team. So I just want to focus on that input and help them as much as I can.”
Dos Santos has since stuck with Bair and given the young star plenty of time to develop with the first team. Bair featured 68 minutes in Whitecaps’ 4-0 defeat against the New England Revolution, then came on to play 14 minutes in Vancouver’s 3-1 loss to San Jose Earthquakes before playing 74 minutes in its 0-0 draw against Minnesota United Saturday.
For a young player, the time has been positive. The results and Bair’s own inability to help the team with goals can be frustrating, but he has remained positive.
During that run of games, Bair was fourth among Whitecaps players with 1.96 shots on goal and first among strikers with 43% of his shots on target.
“It is moving towards something,” he said when asked about getting more comfortable with the first team after the draw against Minnesota. “Every game gets better and every half gets better. It is just a matter of time.”
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 28, 2019
“We have to keep the mentality that we have and just grind, grind, grind,” Bair said.
But before he continues on the grind to get the Whitecaps back on track, Bair is taking in the festivities in Florida.
“This is me living out my dream,” he said before departing for this week’s MLS Homegrown Game in Orlando, in an interview published on the on the team’s website. “This is me living out goals that I set for myself, so this is really exciting for me. It’s everything that I want.”
Bair is living the dream and enjoying a welcome distraction for a striker who has the talent to become the latest Whitecaps product to make a name for himself beyond Canada.