Making the most of opportunities - The Province

Marc Weber

Speedy Uganda native learning to love his left foot this season

Diaz Kambere has been in this movie before.

And while there is little hope for an alternate ending this season, the Vancouver Whitecaps defender is happy to again play his part.

Kambere, the 22-year-old from Surrey, has seen his role grow from supporting cast to leading man for a second consecutive season. In the same manner too.

In 2007, it was injuries to Steve Klein and Adrian Cann that vaulted the athletic Uganda native into the spotlight. Having made just four appearances in all of 2006, he started 10 games down the stretch.

This season, Kambere again began on the bench before injuries to veteran Jeff Clarke (thigh then calf) and big-splash signing Takashi Hirano (knee) in mid-May opened the stage door for Kambere to start the last five games.

Cann is also absent, playing for Canada's national team.

"Basically, this year, it's been the same thing. Experienced players have gone out and I've come in and coach says I'm doing well," said Kambere, who has helped the Whitecaps (7-2-1) to a first-place USL-1 record and league-low mark of four goals against.

Vancouver is at the Rochester Rhinos tonight and plays its first of four Nutrilite Canadian Championship games (CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers) Tuesday in Montreal.

"I came to battle for a spot like always," Kambere said. "I proved myself and it's worked out for the better for me right now."

Whereas last year the 5-foot-9 former Trinity Western University star was challenged to fill an unfamiliar role in central defence -- normally home to bigger bodies -- this year has been about learning to love his left foot, filling in for Hirano at left outside fullback.

"It's my off-foot, but I've just got to concentrate more when I pass the ball," said Kambere. "That's my focus. I'm a wing player and I'm liking the left side."

"That is a big challenge and that's one of the things that he has to develop," head coach Teitur Thordarson said of Kambere's left foot. "We want the fullbacks to overlap and come a lot in the last third of the pitch and that means you have to cross the ball a lot.

"He has fantastic speed and that helps him a lot. The games he has played, he has been very good and he's been improving the whole way."

Like last year, though, Kambere will likely earn kudos for a cameo, not a starring role, when it's all said and done.

Hirano is on the trip and close to 100 per cent healthy, while Clarke will dress for the residency program this week and Cann will be back soon after World Cup qualifiers against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

"All I can do is keep competing," Kambere said.

© The Vancouver Province 2008