Juggling Act: Chris Serban Balances School with Whitecaps FC 2 While Keeping Eye on MLS
How would you fare at one of the country's top business schools, while also playing on one of the country's best varsity soccer teams? Now consider adding a spot on one of the USL's youngest and most energetic sides: Whitecaps FC 2. Could you balance that work load?
Having just finished his second year at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business and his second season with UBC's varsity soccer team, while also continuing to play with Whitecaps FC 2, fullback Chris Serban has the rare task of balancing those exact three programs on a daily basis. This year, the 20-year-old Calgary native took a full course load at the Vancouver-based university, on top of an intense training schedule with both the UBC Thunderbirds and the 'Caps.
"My primary goal is trying to push on and make the MLS team."
"It's definitely tough when you get to midterms and finals. Just with the training schedule we have, I have to miss a lot of classes. Learning the content on my own, that's definitely the hardest part. It's mentally exhausting and, especially after a long day when we have a tough practice, the last thing I want to do is study. You kind of have to just grind through it," Serban said.
Though school is a priority, Serban's summers are dominated by training and matches with WFC2. This season, Serban has been a continuous presence in the squads back line, making an appearance in six of their nine matches. His consistent style of play and versatility has helped the 'Caps defence keep their opponents at bay, proven by WFC2's current goals-against tally of just 11 goals.
A product of the Whitecaps FC Residency program, Serban joined the newly-founded USL team after making the commitment to UBC's varsity side and starting his degree at the school in September 2014.
"With the Whitecaps being in Vancouver, it gave me a great opportunity to study business and get my degree," Serban said. "You never know if I'll need it after, so I think it's good to have."
While waiting for his first USL season to start in 2015, Serban had the rare opportunity to work through a CIS Championship run with his university side before making the step up to the professional leagues. Though UBC ultimately ended its playoff run early with a loss in the Canada West semifinals, Serban proved a valuable asset to the side. In his rookie year, Serban earned a start in 11 of UBC's 12 regular season matches, with his strong first impression earning him the Lou Bilek Award for CIS rookie of the year.
"Playing with UBC was a good stepping stone because I went away from the youth level of soccer and got to prepare myself for the USL. You have to play a lot quicker, and have a lot less time on the ball."
Playing for UBC also provided Serban the chance to play outside of his comfort zone, switching from his well-known right back position to left back. With the change of position, Serban got to work on using his left foot more often in matches, in turn giving him an advantage on the field.
"I felt more confident with using my left foot after playing with UBC, and now I feel more comfortable; if a coach wants to put me in at left back or right back, I have no problem playing either."
His skills haven't gone unnoticed at the national level either, with Serban earning a selection for both the Canadian U-20 tour of Europe in late 2014 and the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championships in Jamaica last year, and most recently the U-23 national team.
One setback through his whirlwind two seasons with the Thunderbirds, WFC2, and his string of selections with the national program? A broken jaw midway through the season last summer, which set Serban back both in his training and his growth with the 'Caps.
"It was tough at first, getting back; I lost a lot of weight from the jaw injury, trying to manage what I would eat and trying to gain my weight back," Serban said about the struggles of his injury. "On the field, it was more getting back into going into challenges and not being fearful. I think that was probably the biggest thing I had to overcome, just going back into challenges and going in hard. I was weary of that for the first couple of months."
Serban would rise to the challenge though, finding himself with a recurring fullback position on the 'Caps side this season, and playing in all sixteen games with the UBC Thunderbirds in their 2015 season just a couple of months after his injury.
Though it seems he may not be eligible to play for UBC this coming season, Serban plans to continue working towards his degree while also playing for WFC2 and improving his already dangerous skill set on the pitch.
"What I hope to improve on is being more of a match changer," Serban said when asked what his goals were for this season with Whitecaps FC 2. "Start being in more decisive moments like maybe getting an assist or making a goal saving tackle."
And further than this season?
"My primary goal is trying to push on and make the MLS team, that's what I'm focusing on," Serban said.
Serban made his return to the WFC2 roster this past Wednesday after attending training camp and a Caribbean tour with the Canadian U-23 national side. Catch the fullback and WFC2 this Sunday, May 29 when they return home to Thunderbird Stadium for the Kids and 'Caps Children's Festival against Real Monarchs SLC. Tickets can be purchased or redeemed at whitecapsfc2.com.
This year, every Tier 1 'Caps Club MLS membership includes three open tickets to WFC2 matches. Members can select their matches and theme days online through Account Manager. Information on theme days is available at whitecapsfc.com/wfc2/themedays.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-484-7862.
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