Centre-back debate heats up with Parke departure - The Province


Defender's days as Cap over, close to trial deal in Europe

BY MARC WEBER

The centre-back position is again the centre of discussion for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Defender Jeff Parke did not travel with the team to Rochester where they open up a critical three-game road trip against the Rhinos on Friday. He could well have played his last game as a Whitecap.

Parke, who turned down an offer from the MLS Seattle Sounders to join Vancouver on a flexible deal that would allow him to test European options, is doing just that.

Whitecaps director of professional teams Greg Anderson didn't know the team Parke was close to a trial deal with, but he did confirm that, for now at least, Parke's days as a Whitecap are over. Parke could not be reached for comment at press time.

"It was part of our agreement that we would let him go to explore his options and he could potentially come back if things don't work out for him," said Anderson. "We haven't closed the door on him coming back."

Parke's departure was expected, but his loss is magnified because the centre-back scenario that's played out over the past two months certainly wasn't anticipated.

Justin Thompson quit the team in early June to pursue business interests and Wesley Charles was released a week ago after a second confrontation with a teammate -- coincidentally, the final straw was a practice skirmish with Parke.

That leaves Marco Reda and Mason Trafford as the likely starters in Rochester, and Geordie Lyall and Luca Bellisomo as reserves. Head coach Teitur Thordarson prefers to use Lyall, Trafford and Bellisomo on the outside, so none are long-term solutions.

Two centre-backs remain on trial -- Tanzanian national team member Nadir Harouba and Nigerian Michael Ndubuisi Onwuatuegwu -- but neither are seen as fixes for 2009.

Anderson said the club is making headway on some international options. The North American transfer window closes Aug. 14.

"There's not a lot I can say other than we're exploring a number of options and we're pretty close on a couple of things," he said. "We have a guy who looks like he'll be coming in on trial from England."

Parke's been struggling with a turf toe injury for two months, but his skill and experience -- five years with MLS's New York franchise -- were valuable to Vancouver, as was his leadership.

Goals-against is a big area of concern for the Whitecaps (6-7-3) and Thordarson agreed that defensive stability is difficult to achieve without a consistent

back four. mweber@theprovince.com

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