‘That’s the kind of player we want’: Vancouver FC midfielder Vasco Fry raising the bar in second CPL campaign

Vasco Fry waited outside the press conference room at Willoughby Community Park. And he waited. And he waited some more. Inside was Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi, sharing his thoughts with the media after a win over the Halifax Wanderers in July 2023. The sun had disappeared and most people had already gone home, but Fry knew that if he was patient he’d get his moment.

The then-22-year-old made the trip to Langley that night, hoping to speak with the Eagles boss about joining the club. He had made his Vancouver Whitecaps first team debut earlier that year in the Concacaf Champions League, 15 minutes off the bench in relief of Pedro Vite, but that would be his only opportunity to step on the field with the first team after working his way through the club’s development program and reserve team in MLS Next Pro.

First team football is what he wanted, and what he needed to further his development.

“I wasn’t getting the minutes I wanted at the Whitecaps, so I contacted Afshin,” Fry said in an interview with this week. “He was in a press conference, he took a while as always,” he added with a laugh. “By then it was dark, it was I think 9:30. I just waited for him and then had a little chat and then everything went well, and then I ended up here at Vancouver FC.”

Less than a month after that meeting, Fry was unveiled as a Vancouver FC player, on loan from their MLS neighbours, and would make ten appearances at the end of the season. The highlight might have been a venomous strike at the end of the season to beat Salish Sea Derby rivals Pacific FC on the road at Starlight Stadium, and running straight to the visiting fans in the corner.

“There’s so many times, and so many different ways he tried to contact me,” Ghotbi recalled on Saturday, minutes after Fry scored another game-winning goal against the Tridents. “He stood out there, watched the game, it was dark outside, everybody was gone. I came out and he was standing there and he looked at me and said ‘I want to play here.’

“I was so impressed with that comment and the fact that he showed so much persistence to want to join this club, and I thought ‘That’s the kind of player we want.’ I of course knew about his qualities.”

As mentioned, Fry scored the winning goal against the Tridents again this past weekend, this time a tidy finish from close range that found the top corner, winning the game for the Eagles at home. As he wheeled away in celebration, he made sure to wave goodbye to Pacific’s travelling fans as his side won the Salish Sea Derby for the third time in a row.

The week before Fry was on the scoresheet as well, and again provided the winning goal — this time an Olimpico at Tim Hortons Field to beat the reigning CPL champion Forge FC.

“Winning at Forge is not for everyone, I think,” Fry said with a smile. “That was for sure a booster and I think we showed it in the Pacific game.”

But did Fry mean to curl it into the back of the net? “Afshin told us to put it close to the keeper,” he said. “I tried to put it on the back post and obviously I got a little bit of help from the wind, but I meant to put it on the back post.”

Goalscoring isn’t what has seen him start all seven of the club’s matches this season, however. Fry, who has played 610 of 630 possible minutes so far this season, is good at building out plays from the midfield and picking out his teammates to work the ball up the pitch. Wanting to be a leader and lead by example, he runs tirelessly to press opponents and break up opposition attacks, and doesn’t shy away from mixing it up with his opponents either.

He has built a strong partnership with Renan Garcia, who Fry says is the ultimate professional on and off the pitch. With Gaby Bitar, Moses Dyer, Alejandro Diaz and Miki Cantave among the players usually in front of him, the Eagles are building a deep squad that can go head-to-head with anyone.

An outstanding few weeks have seen Fry feature in the CPL’s Team of the Week twice now in a row.

This red-hot stretch for the Eagles midfielder comes after an offseason that began with uncertainty, but ended confidently. Fry wasn’t sure at the end of the CPL campaign if he’d stick around with the Whitecaps or not, but after discussions in November and December, they parted ways after a five-year association.

When the opportunity presented itself to return to the CPL with VFC, Fry didn’t think twice and signed through the end of the 2025 season, with a club option for 2026.

“I enjoyed my time last year at Vancouver FC, so I think I could develop my soccer over here, have more minutes,” Fry said. “I’m happy here at Vancouver FC, I’m signed here two years, and just being at Vancouver FC is a privilege. Last year on loan it was just coming in to know the league, see if it was what I wanted, and it was for sure.

“The exposure the league has, the level’s going up leading up to the World Cup for sure, so I think these upcoming years are the best for the league because everyone’s looking forward to the World Cup. I think we’ve got to take advantage of that. It meets all my expectations, and [I’m] just trying to improve with the league going forward.”

Another factor in returning to the club was the fact that Fry is currently finishing a psychology degree at the University of British Columbia, with a minor in commerce. He keeping one eye on life after football, but at 23, he has a lot of football still to play.

“Psychology I think is a broad area which can help in every way,” Fry said, connecting it to his football career. “To do every transaction, anything, you’ve got to know the person so I think psychology was an area I wanted to explore more.

“Right now I’m actually taking sports psychology. Last week I was doing a personality and stress coping lecture – stuff like that helps me inside the field and outside, I guess, relating to every other player and just having situations, having a different perspective.”

A different footballing situation Fry would love to find him in is a call up to the national team — of which he is eligible for two, Peru and Canada. He represented Peru at the under-17s level, but is also eligible for Canada as a Canadian citizen. Fry laughed when asked about the Vancouver FC social media pages regularly tagging the official accounts of the Peruvian national team.

“I think every soccer player, they dream about it, it’s playing for a national team, it’s everything,” he said. “I have the opportunity and the privilege to have two nationalities, Canada and Peru. I’m very happy here in Canada, so [hopefully] either opportunity will come.”

Vasco Fry and Gaby Bitar high five each other during a match. (Photo: VFC/BChevalier)

Fry’s rise to one of the better midfielders in the CPL so far in 2024 coincides with Vancouver’s rise to one of the league’s best clubs through a quarter of the season. VFC is sitting second in the table with a 4-1-2 record and thirteen points from seven matches, four back of high-flying, unbeaten Atlético Ottawa.

After a disappointing inaugural season for the club in 2023, Ghotbi and his staff added players that they believe are better and more experienced, and that has been showing on the pitch. There’s a renewed drive to be successful, move on from last year, and challenge for the club’s first trophy already.

“We always want to be champions, I think that’s every team’s goal,’ Fry said confidently. “We also have to remember our last season, we’re a second-year team too so we’ve got to be realistic. Obviously we’re going forward for that championship, but things are going well. I believe that what we do off the field is shown on the field in the games.

“Training is more intense for sure, and I think you can see that in the games on the weekends,” he added. “Professionalism is a big thing here too, last year we could lack a bit of that, but I think this year with all the new guys that came in, they brought that for sure, we’re an older group too. I think all those factors have come together and are showing what we can do on the weekend.”

The Eagles have another big match this weekend, when they travel to Winnipeg for Valour FC’s long-awaited home opener at the newly-renamed Princess Auto Stadium on Sunday. Vancouver won the season-opener 4-1 on their home turf, and will be looking to add three more points in that match to stay in the pack near the top of the table.