DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- The Vancouver Whitecaps' soccer safari kicked off Friday under sunny skies by the Indian Ocean.
The United Soccer Leagues' First Division champions arrived in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in the East Africa nation, after travelling almost 24 hours from Vancouver, via London, England.
Not since the original 1974-1984 North American Soccer League franchise has a Vancouver soccer squad travelled abroad to train. It's the first trip to Africa for the team, but several players boast connections to the continent.
Montreal-raised striker Charles Gbeke, who scored both goals in last October's championship victory, was born in Ivory Coast.
"We're here to just have a great time, build a chemistry as a team, try to play good football," Gbeke told a news conference attended by more than 40 local journalists. "We're excited, we saw the way you guys welcomed us."
Forward Ansu Toure, who was acquired in the off-season from Miami FC, is from Liberia and now holds United States citizenship.
"I'm happy to be here, happy to be back in Africa," Toure said. "I told a lot of my friends and teammates that Africa is a great continent. I'm very, very happy to be home."
The Whitecaps' 20-man roster will stay in the land of Mount Kilimanjaro until March 18 and play two of the country's top clubs on March 9 and 12. Besides the games and training sessions, the Whitecaps will hold youth soccer clinics and make goodwill visits to schools. The trip also includes a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Tanzania Football Federation general secretary Frederick Mwakalebela said the Whitecaps' visit is part of a long-term strategy to develop the game and capitalize on South Africa's hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.