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Former EPL star says he must adjust quickly to Major League Soccer

VANCOUVER - As Nigel Reo-Coker began what he described as a North American "adventure" on Friday, he was still getting to know his Vancouver Whitecaps. But after playing in England for more than a decade, Reo-Coker already recognized a key issue.
Bolton's Nigel Reo-Coker celebrates after scoring against Tottenham during their English Premier League soccer match at The Reebok Stadium, Bolton, England, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. As Nigel Reo-Coker began what he described as a North American ``adventure'' on Friday, he was still getting to know his Vancouver Whitecaps. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jon Super

VANCOUVER - As Nigel Reo-Coker began what he described as a North American "adventure" on Friday, he was still getting to know his Vancouver Whitecaps.

But after playing in England for more than a decade, Reo-Coker already recognized a key issue. He faces an adjustment as he prepares for his first Major League Soccer season.

"I need to be, obviously, coming in knowing it's a completely different culture," said Reo-Coker in a conference call with reporters from Charleston, S.C., following a practice.

"It's a completely different approach to how it is in Europe, and that's something I have to learn very quickly. I've already been made aware of it. I've made myself aware of it."

The Whitecaps acquired Reo-Coker's MLS rights a day earlier in a trade for a pair of draft picks from the Portland Timbers. The 28-year-old London native has appeared in more than 200 English Premier League matches and last played for English Championship side Ipswich Town on a three-month stint that ended in January.

While the EPL is widely regarded as the best league in the world, a pair of notable Whitecaps have struggled after moving from there to Vancouver midway through last season. Midfielder Barry Robson parted ways with the Caps in January after he did not provide the expected offence and struggled to adjust to MLS officials' interpretations of fouls.

Fellow Scotsman Kenny Miller, another EPL alumnus, has yet to live up to his billing since moving to the Caps last season. But the striker remains with the club.

In addition to the MLS game, which often comes across as being more physical than the English version, Reo-Coker must get used to an onerous travel schedule that will require him to crisscross North America at times. But Reo-Coker, who has captained EPL squads West Ham United, Aston Villa, and Bolton Wanderers and also wore the arm band for Wimbledon, said he is prepared for the long trips.

"I've been made aware of the travelling situation," he said. "I know there's travelling in this league, but it's not something that really scares me or fazes me.

"When I first started playing and made my professional debut at an age of 19, we weren't really flying that much in teams. We used to be on coach rides for five, six, seven hours. ... It's about being professional. That's something about I've always learned, and been taught, from a young age.

"It's about being professional and making sure you prepare yourself properly for a full week."

Reo-Coker said he is also prepared to play regularly at home on the B.C. Place Stadium artificial turf. He will also have road games on fake grass in Portland and Seattle.

EPL clubs play their games on grass, but he has practised on artificial turf and does not feel that he will have to adjust to it again.

But he will likely have to adapt to playing a couple of different positions. Coach Martin Rennie has said Reo-Coker could play central-midfielder and defender roles.

"I'm best known for being a box-to-box midfielder," Reo-Coker said. "It's something I've done for most of my career. That's something I really see myself (as.)

"Being somebody that's always studied the game from a young age, I've been able to play in different positions also. I've studied the game. I can play at right back. I've played at right midfield, and I know what's expected of me."

Before joining Ipswich Town, where he started nine of 11 games, Reo-Coker scored four goals in 42 appearances with Bolton in 2011-12, helping the Wanderers reach 2012 FA Cup quarter-finals.

During four seasons at Aston Villa from 2007 to 2011, he made 102 appearances and scored two goals. He also helped West Ham United reach the 2006 FA Cup final against Liverpool only to lose on penalty kicks.

After starting as a 12-year-old in Wimbledon's system, he toiled for England’s under-21 national team, serving as captain during the age group's 2007 UEFA Championship. He has also played for England's under-20 squad and served as a standby player for its 2006 World Cup side.

Reo-Coker said he had several offers, including a number of English teams and a Russian side that strongly pursued him. But he wanted to start a new "adventure" with the Whitecaps.

"I just felt it was the right time and the right opportunity for me to come at this age," he said.

During a conference call with Rennie on Thursday, it was suggested that Reo-Coker has lacked intensity. Reo-Coker, who has had squabbles with rivals in the past, described himself as laid-back but questioned how he could be considered lethargic when he has captained every team for which he has played.

"I'd probably say I've my matured as I'm going into my late-20s," he said. "I do still have that fiery passion, just that winning mentality. It's not something that should be mistaken or taken out of context for something as being an angry man or anything in that type of way."

Reo-Coker has had squabbles with opponents in the past, but he chalked up the situation to the "fiery" nature of English football.

His wife is from New York, and he has spent most of his recent off-seasons in the U.S., a factor that could help his adjustment to MLS. The time spent on American soil, and a U.S. green card, could also enable him to be classified as a domestic player and free up an international roster spot for the Caps in the future, according to Rennie.

But Reo-Coker is not paying too much attention to how MLS classifies him.

"I'll be taking care of business on the field," he said. "Everything else off the field takes care of itself."

Notes_Reo-Coker played against Whitecaps defenders Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien in England. ... Vancouver will face the Chicago Fire in a pre-season match Saturday in Charleston and then close the exhibition campaign Sunday against Rennie's former lower-tier Carolina RailHawks team in Cary, N.C.