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Whitecaps talk importance of 'big brother' Ricketts in national player signings

Tosaint Ricketts Whitecaps Tosaint Ricketts - The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — When the Vancouver Whitecaps approached Canadian internationals Sam Adekugbe, Junior Hoillett and Richie Laryea about signing, the trio turned to a friend for advice.

That friend? Former Major League Soccer player Tosaint Ricketts.

Ricketts, a former Canadian international, played for Toronto FC as well as the Vancouver Whitecaps during his 13 year career in professional soccer.

Ricketts now works for the Whitecaps as a liaison with the club and player engagement department.

"I'm going to be honest with them to a default, trust is a big part of it," Ricketts said. "Explaining to the players what they will expect here, the direction the team is taking, how they will fit in, how they will help the team.

"The other part is they're humans. They're humans that need certain things off the pitch so explaining to them the transition for their family, the support they'll have off the pitch. The things if you're not a footballer, the things you won't think of."

He acted as a mentor to the pair during his time on the Canadian national team and had an insider's perspective when they asked him about joining the Whitecaps, describing the club as "family first" and where they could play with little stress off the field.

"I've known Tos maybe 10 years now, and he was a big brother for me when I stepped into the national team program," said Adekugbe. "He's always been someone I've been able to speak to."

Both Adekugbe and Laryea cited their mutual respect for Ricketts' views and feedback as factors in asking him about what the Whitecaps were like as a team under head coach Vanni Sartini.

In their opening press conferences, both players mentioned calling Ricketts and calling each other.

"For him to give his vote of confidence to come back to the club was something that made me go with the decision to come back," said Adekugbe.

Ricketts' dual role with the Whitecaps front office and its playing squad means he splits his time between the training centre and the corporate office.

He recently completed his MBA, and says his desire for more education comes from his playing career.

Ricketts played in Finland, Turkey, Lithuania, Romania, Israel as well as Canada, and encountered unpaid wages and transfer disputes at some of his clubs.

"I encountered many situations where the soccer was fine but the business side let me down," he said. "It made me realize how important the other side is, how important a good culture is."

Sartini laughed when trying to explain Ricketts' role, but emphasized his importance.

"Tos has been instrumental", said Sartini. "He's kind of a conduit between the team and the club.

"He helped a lot in these deals because he knows these guys, but he helps a lot in the day to day with the players because having been a player, he knows their life, their needs, their quirks. It helps a lot to make the club work with them and make them work with the club."

Ricketts says he is there to provide support for players, whatever happens on the pitch.

"I've been in Turkey where I didn't have much support, I've been in Lithuania where my coach spoke Russian," he said. "I went to Israel in 2014 where I didn't know what to expect. In all those moments and situations, it would've helped to have someone tell me 'It's going to be OK, we'll help you.' That's what I provide for these players."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2023.