Blink and you'll miss Lyle Martin - The Province

Marc Weber

With speed to burn, defender's potential is 'unlimited', says coach 

Watching the blur that is defender Lyle Martin streaking down the right flank on one of his overlapping runs, it's easy to forget the Vancouver Whitecaps are hosting a soccer game.

In those moments, when his powerful legs are churning in overdrive, a trip to Swangard Stadium seems more like a day at Hastings Park or a visit to Mission Raceway.

The way he makes opponents stand still, it's like someone laid down a strip of the autobahn next to a school zone.

And while those afterburners haven't brought the Bakersfield, Calif., native a cool nickname -- "I wish it was like 'Slash' or 'Nitro,'" he says -- they do have Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson salivating.

"Oh, he has fantastic potential to become a great player," says Thordarson, who has kept the versatile Martin -- a college goal-scoring champion -- at right fullback, where his predecessor Bob Lilley used him.

"With his speed and his strength, the potential is unlimited."

Martin, 23, has always been fast, though he didn't run track until his senior year of high school, when he helped the 4x400-metre relay team qualify for the state championships.

"In college [CSU-Bakersfield] I ran sophomore and junior years," says Martin, who once clocked a 47-second 400 metres (the Canadian record is 44.44). "I think I was pretty good but there were so many good runners. On the soccer field I'm the fastest; on the track I'm the slowest.

"It helped my soccer for sure, running every day. Learning how to run and getting the technique and getting the strides down."

Now the task left for the coaching staff and the veterans is to help Martin continue to make strides in the technical and mental side of the game. It's about learning when to use that speed and refining the end product of those breathtaking dashes into space.

"When you see that [speed], you want to see more of it because it works so effectively," says midfielder Steve Kindel, also noting that Martin's pace can erase an otherwise critical defensive blunder.

"He gets a head start and jumps into the attack more consistently now. In the past, he'd be more reactive -- 'I've got to get involved now.' The fact that he's reading these situations earlier shows that he's improved and I'm sure there's even more there as long as he continues to work hard."

That's not a concern for Martin, who was named the Whitecaps' newcomer of the year in 2007, after landing in Vancouver thanks, in part, to CSUB teammate and then-Caps goalie Josh Wicks. Martin impressed by filling fellow speedster Geordie Lyall's vacated spot, the veteran off in England at the time trying to catch on with Walsall FC.

This season, Martin practises his crosses before and after training sessions, routinely keeping his ride waiting. It's the aspect of his game most preventing him from being a lethal weapon, especially in Thordarson's system.

"For me it's not about being famous or being the richest out there," says Martin, whose drive seems to match his overdrive.

"It's about being the best. I don't want to just be in the league. When people think of soccer, I want them to think of Lyle Martin. I'm trying to put my mark down and put Bakersfield on the map."

© The Vancouver Province 2008