Defence-last pays dividend - The Province

Marc Weber

'Most teams ... have had trouble to create chances'

A funny thing happened on the way to the goal-fest.

In their aim to become a more watchable, offensively-minded squad, the Vancouver Whitecaps have become the best defensive team in the United Soccer League's First Division.

Coming off a perfect three-game roadtrip and heading into Saturday's home tilt against the Portland Timbers (4-3-4), Vancouver (6-2-1) sits first in the league with just three goals against.

Two of those came during a sloppy opening seven minutes against Seattle on May 23; the other on a penalty kick.

Yes, these Whitecaps -- like the previous two incarnations under Bob Lilley -- are stingy sorts. Yet how they are doing it is different.

"There are many ways of keeping the opposition away from your goal," says coach Teitur Thordarson, whose attacking leanings have yet to bear fruit in the goal column -- seven for, though not wanting for chances.

"We've been pressing people in their own half and most of the teams we've played have had trouble to create chances on us."

Consider him a subscriber to the theory that the best defence is a good offence.

Gazelle-like defender Lyle Martin, who makes overlapping runs down the right, says: "We're getting a lot of pressure around the whole field and that's making it a lot easier on the back four. We have those front six running around ... forcing teams to turn the ball over."

The goalie tandem of Srdjan Djekanovic and Jay Nolly has been solid, an element lacking last season after starter Tony Caig bolted and the team went 3-5-9 without him. And some credit must go to the veteran core, who learned a lot about prevention under Lilley.

"We've developed a good mentality around team defending," said veteran midfielder Steve Kindel. "It's rubbed off on the new guys."

Most impressive is that five combinations of players have made up the starting back line. Jeff Clarke and Takashi Hirano have missed considerable time, captain Adrian Cann is off with the senior national team and Chris Pozniak joined the squad midstream.

"As long as we're communicating we should be able to get the job done," said Martin.

If they get the job done in the opponent's box, too, there could be some lopsided scores.

SHORT STINT

The Whitecaps women will have a welcome addition Saturday afternoon against Seattle in a W-League game at Swangard.

Christine Sinclair, in Vancouver with the women's national team prepping for the Olympics, is expected to suit up. Paperwork allowing one of the top female strikers in the world to play one game was to be completed today. Sinclair has 115 senior caps.

The game will also recognize Canadian international Andrea Neil, who'll make retirement official.

© The Vancouver Province 2008