Talent, not tresses, endures - The Province


Luca Bellisomo didn't need a crazy hairdo, just patience

By Marc Weber

Luca Bellisomo didn't have to bleach his hair, after all. He just had to wait for a few strands of grey.

The Whitecaps' second-year defender played his first minutes at centreback under Teitur Thordarson in last Friday's 2-1 win over the Cleveland City Stars. He could start there in Thursday's playoff opener against the Carolina RailHawks, too, as the Caps are riddled with injuries at the back.

"It's been a frustrating two years, but most guys go through this at the beginning," says Bellisomo, a 22-year-old SFU graduate from Coquitlam. "You have to deal with it and when your chance comes, make a good impression. But you can't take it personally."

Disheartened by an absence of opportunity to prove himself at his natural position -- he'd been used sparingly at right back -- Bellisomo was chatting with Whitecaps women's coach Alan Koch, a family friend, after a training session in early August.

Koch told him a story from his days in South Africa when he was desperate for a professional contract. On a friend's advice, Koch bleached his hair bright white for a televised game of regional rep teams. The commentators couldn't stop talking about him and his phone started ringing.

"I was thinking of shaving

my head, or dyeing it fiery red," Bellisomo says, half-joking.

But he kept his brown locks, and his belief that his chance would eventually come.

All it took in the end was for Justin Thompson to quit the team, Jeff Parke to leave for Europe, Wesley Charles to get involved in a pair of scuffles and earn his release, Marco Reda to hurt his calf, Geordie Lyall to hurt his everything, Chris Pozniak and Shaun Pejic to pull their groins, and Mason Trafford and Michael Onwatuegwu to falter in a first-half partnership against Cleveland City.

"I'm glad the transfer window closed," quips Bellisomo.

Sense of humour still intact, Bellisomo came on for the second half against Cleveland City and performed well alongside Trafford. English-born Pejic, picked up at the transfer deadline, is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday, but likely not Pozniak, who didn't participate in a full session Tuesday.

Pozniak, who's earned 24 senior caps for Canada, says he was "cautiously optimistic" for the playoff opener, but Thordarson's assessment differs.

"No, I don't think so," the coach offers. "There is a hope for him for Sunday's game [the return leg in Carolina]."

Reda, another veteran, could start instead of Bellisomo, though he is coming off a calf injury. Thordarson tried every possible combination in Tuesday's practice.

"I just want to use today [Tuesday] to think about it," he says.

"Luca will be in the 18, that's for sure. He played a good half when he came on and he's been training well for a long period of time. This year, just as last, he's given us a bunch of games and he's never let me down. He's very clever and he does things simply. No complications around him and I like that."

In terms of Vancouver's championship hopes, much rests on the state of their defence, which has been a concern all season. Bellisomo is, amazingly, the 10th player to suit up this season at centre back -- a position that usually serves to stabilize a team.

And in 30 league games, the Whitecaps started 19 different combinations in their back four.

"It's been the merry-go-round for us," goalkeeper Jay Nolly says of central defence. "It's tough switching around so much, but Luca did well sliding into centre back in the second half.

"Hopefully we can get a consistent team for the playoffs."

mweber@theprovince.com
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