Fresh off of his first professional appearance, the newest member of the Whitecaps 2 approached the tiny cohort of local media with a grin as wide as his 6’4, 200 lbs frame. Despite only playing the last ten minutes of the team’s 1-0 over Portland on Sunday, the taste of action was a long time coming for the Thomas Sanner.
“Dreams come true,” said the Indianapolis native following his debut. “You think about it since you were a kid, and being able to do get the chance, on Father's’ Day, you just think about everyone that has been apart of your journey to that moment and it’s a pretty awesome.”
The Whitecaps were impressed enough by the big striker to select him 36th overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft after a prolific career at Princeton. The striker scored 32 times during his four years with the Tigers, including 15 in his senior year, enroute to being named the unanimous Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. However the route to the world of professional soccer meant confronting a difficult decision.
Needing to complete one more semester to earn his degree in politics, Sanner had to weigh the temptations of signing his first pro contract with the opportunity to finish his degree from a prestigious Ivy League school.
“Well my dad will say it was the money,” laughed Sanner regarding what went into his eventual decision to return to school. “I obviously came out to try and do the best I could [to make it as a pro], but as it went on, I felt like if there was a time to go back [to Princeton], it was going to be right away.”
“It was a hard decision for sure but it made the most sense to get it out of the way now.”
Despite the desire to get such an exciting prospect into the system as soon as possible, the Whitecaps understood that the chance to complete a university degree was something not to be discouraged.
“We wanted to sign him [after the preseason],” said Alan Koch of his newest arrival. “He’s obviously a very very smart guy, he went to Princeton, and he came and spoke and you could tell the weight was on him because he felt like he owed it to myself and my family to go back to Princeton and finish his degree.
“Having come from the academic environment, I completely see that, we supported it,” said Koch who had most recently been coaching in the college ranks with SFU before joining the ‘Caps. “He went back, we stayed in touch the whole time, got him signed up and we’re excited to have him here now.”
Where he fits in with the team remains to be seen as the captain, and USL leading goal scorer Kyle Grieg, remains a fixture as the lone striker in Koch’s starting lineup. However a skill with the unique physical tools at his disposal, the 22 year-old will surely get his opportunities.
“Big, strong, athlete, great attitude, great mentality,” was Koch’s description of Sanner. “He’s obviously got to get sharp, you could see his touch wasn’t the greatest at times but for a big man he’s got a very very good touch.
Since he had used up his four years of eligibility prior to this season, Sanner was confined training with his former team at Princeton, to go along with a minor coaching role. Because of this it may take longer than most to get up to game speed, but once there, he could be a major addition for the 1st place ‘Caps.
“There’s nowhere to go for [WFC2] when I get here but down, because they’re already on top” cracked the amiable big man. “Hopefully we can keep that going, and whatever the team needs from me I’ll do.”