CHARLIE O’CONNOR-CLARKE, DIGITAL CONTENT EDITOR (@CHARLIEJCLARKE)
The parade of local talent returning to the Lower Mainland continues unabated, as Vancouver FC announced on Tuesday that defender Paris Gee is the latest newcomer to join the club ahead of 2024.
The 29-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C. is making his hometown VFC his third stop in the Canadian Premier League, having played the last year and a half at York United FC following a one-year stint with FC Edmonton.
Gee’s 2023 season was perhaps the best of his career, leading the Nine Stripes in minutes played (2,325) and finishing fifth in the league in possession won (145), all while slotting in at all four positions in the backline, as well as defensive midfield on one occasion.
At the end of the year, though, Gee knew he had to come home.
Shortly after the 2022 season, Gee and his father embarked on a road trip vacation across the United States. It was around that point that his dad began to run into health issues.
“There was always the thought in my head, I want to try and be in Vancouver and close to family, play at home,” Gee said. “This past year the family’s been thinking about [my dad]; his kidneys were failing all year. Once the summer came, it started to get a little worse and obviously closer to the end of the season, so there was a thought in my mind that I just wanted to be close to home, close to my dad, close to family.
“For York to agree to terms with Vancouver to try and get me back home, I was super grateful for them. I’m super happy to be home and close with them, and to help my family go through what my dad’s struggling with.”
The circumstances thankfully worked out for Gee to make the move to Vancouver, who have recently become a destination of choice for B.C. players to return home. Gee’s the latest addition to a group that includes fellow 2024 newcomer Ben Fisk, plus key parts of the 2023 squad like Callum Irving and Kadin Chung.
“Seeing the players that I knew back in my youth come to the club, seeing them play for it, honestly I was a little jealous,” Gee said. “Seeing Callum come back, seeing Kadin come back, this was a place I wanted to be. To play with them, to be a part of a club in your hometown it feels different. It feels different, when you step on a field you’re playing for something — you’re playing for your family, you’re playing for your city. That’s what drives you to perform for the crowd, for the community that comes out and supports you.”
Over the course of a 10-year professional career, Gee has played in such places as Croatia and Oklahoma. What he hasn’t done, though, is played a pro game for his hometown. He left around 2014, after playing youth football at clubs including Coquitlam Metro-Ford and the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, plus university soccer for Simon Fraser, but now he returns with almost 200 pro appearances under his belt — including 63 for CPL clubs.
Not to be dismissed, either, is that Gee’s move to Langley is an important move for VFC on the pitch, as the Eagles continue their off-season roster build in an effort to contend for the playoffs in 2024.
Gee had arguably the best season of his career in 2023 with York, missing just three games in a year where it seemed like every other defender at the club missed significant time with injuries. He finished with 100 successful long balls, 22 chances created, and 72 clearances, earning himself a spot in the Gatorade Team of the Week three times.
He was a critical part of York’s late-season push toward the fifth playoff spot, playing every minute of the club’s last five games — including their heartbreaking playoff defeat at Pacific FC. Some may remember Gee’s near-heroics in the final second of that match, though his would-be bicycle kick equalizer was disallowed for offside.
POST-GAME SHOW 🚨@YorkUtdFC's Paris Gee gives us an INCREDIBLE bicycle-kick goal in the last second of this match… but it's OFFSIDE 🥲@PacificFCCPL takes the opening round of the #CanPL playoffs!
For a very young Vancouver defensive core that includes under-21s like James Cameron, Tyler Crawford and Anthony White, Gee’s experience could be a massive boost. His versatility alone could’ve been useful to Afshin Ghotbi even last year; although a natural right-back, Gee proved at York that he’s just as comfortable playing either left-back or centre-back.
In fact, Gee played exactly eight regular season games at each of the three defensive positions last season, plus one in midfield.
Gee hadn’t necessarily expected to be York’s Swiss Army Knife in 2023, but with such an avalanche of injuries elsewhere he became the first name on head coach Martin Nash’s team sheet — in whichever position the situation demanded.
“I think it was a game against Forge where I had to slide into centre-back, and Nashy was looking at me like, ‘You can play centre-back, right?’,” Gee recalled. “I was like, ‘I guess so, I guess if I have to I’ll do it.’ Naturally I play as a right-back or a left-back.
“It was definitely a year of growth. You see the game differently as a centre-back, and for Nashy to trust me to play those roles, even step into a defensive midfield role for one game, it was definitely a year of growth and new challenges. I’m actually really grateful for Nash to throw me into those positions, because I don’t think I would’ve stepped into those if it wasn’t for him.”
Vancouver had their own share of injuries at the back in 2023. One of Ghotbi’s earliest tactical surprises with the team was deploying Kadin Chung in defensive midfield the first few games, until Chung broke his collarbone in May. Upon his return, he was deployed at his natural right-back position for the final seven games of the year to make his transition back to fitness easier.This year, if Ghotbi plans to continue developing Chung’s midfield ability, then Gee might be the perfect addition to fill in at fullback.
The pitch at Willoughby Community Park won’t be completely new to Gee, who played all 90 minutes for York in both of their visits to Langley in 2023 — helping secure wins for the Nine Stripes in each.
At both matches, Gee had — by his reckoning — 20 to 30 friends and family in the stands to watch him play. Now, he’ll get to replicate that feeling at least 14 times in Vancouver.
“It means so much,” Gee said. “You just play so much better. You’re happy, you see your family and friends smiling in the stands if you do something well; you feel so good, you can’t even explain it. To know that there’s 14 to 15 home games in the season and your friends and family are going to be there, it means so much to me.”
Gee’s first chance to represent his hometown will be Sunday, April 14 at 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET), when Vancouver host Valour FC to kick off their 2024 season.
To learn more about becoming a kidney donor, head to www.transplant.bc.ca. Anybody interested in becoming a donor is encouraged to contact the donor nurse coordinator at Vancouver General Hospital (Tel: 604 875-5182/1- 855-875-5182 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org), or register on the B.C. Transplant website (www.transplant.bc.ca).