- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2011

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (AP) - American striker Omar Salgado was granted an early transfer by FIFA and is eligible to join the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The 17-year-old Salgado was a surprise first overall pick in this year’s Major League Soccer draft, but wasn’t expected to join the expansion Whitecaps until he turned 18 on Sept. 10.

FIFA doesn’t typically grant international transfer certificates, required for anyone playing outside their home country, until a player is 18. But soccer’s governing body made an exception after lobbying from MLS, the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation.

“To have the news that he will be able to play from this point on is great for us,” Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson said in a statement. “Omar has already showed us that he can play on this level. I’m delighted for him and the club.”

Salgado, a 6-foot-4 striker, is currently in camp with the American under-20 preparing for the 2011 CONACAF U-20 Championship in Guatemala, and isn’t expected to join the Whitecaps until that tournament wraps up on April 10.

He won’t be the only key player missing from the Whitecaps’ roster for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia.

Captain Jay Demerit is with the U.S. team for international exhibitions against Argentina on Saturday in New Jersey and Paraguay on Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn., and fellow defender Michael Boxall is playing for New Zealand.

Vancouver also has injury issues.

Playmaking midfielder Davide Chiumiento, who set up two first-half goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto FC last Saturday, isn’t with the Whitecaps in Philadelphia after leaving his MLS debut at half time with a hamstring injury.

Midfielder Russell Tiebert left the win over Toronto early with an injury, but is expected to play Saturday before leaving Sunday to join Canada’s under-20 team to prepare for the CONACAF U-20 Championships in Guatemala.