Akloul, calm and collected - The Province
By Marc Weber
Jonny Steele let out a hoot, turned to a teammate on the sideline, and gave a look as if to say "Did you just see that?"
Mouloud Akloul, the Whitecaps' new centre back signing, had not made a glamorous play at Wednesday's practice.
He'd calmly chested down a rocket cross at the far post, dropping the ball softly at his feet, passing out of harm's way. And he did it in traffic, where a slight ricochet would have meant giving up a goal chance.
"He's the best centreback in this league [USSF D-2]," Steele said. "By far."
This proclamation from the 2008 second division MVP came after watching only a couple of hours of training.
There were other glimpses of Akloul's gifts. A goal-line header clearance that felt like a Sunday stroll. A dribble out of the back that split a pair of onrushing forwards. And plenty of vocal leadership -- the most glaring missing element of the squad, according to director of soccer operations Tommy Soehn.
Last season, coach Teitur Thordarson was simply searching for warm bodies back there -- someone could defend without creating too much calamity.
In Akloul, a 27-year-old who played third division in France, then in top leagues in Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, it appears the Caps have much more.
Akloul signed a one-year deal with a club option last Thursday. He was back in his hometown of Lorient, France, over the weekend to collect his things, and arrived back in Vancouver on Monday evening.
"He's composed," said right-back Chris Williams. "He was playing at another level and it brings another dimension in the back line. He's comfortable on the ball and able to go forward."
Central defender Nelson Akwari, the Whitecap with the most Major League Soccer matches under his belt, also used the C word.
"I think it's just composure," he said. "Playing in Europe, playing at a high level, he just has a lot of composure, and I think that's going to be good for all of us, both in training and in games."
The Whitecaps are still awaiting Akloul's transfer papers, so his debut Saturday at Miami FC is not certain. Thordarson, though, had Akloul playing along side Akwari on the first unit at Wednesday's training. That scenario has Greg Janicki coming off the bench.
The only other change from Sunday's 2-0 season-opening win over NSC Minnesota was up front. Marcus Haber, on a two-month loan from English side West Bromwich Albion, was partnered with Marlon James, relegating Dever Orgill to the second unit.
Vancouver travels to Miami today. The rebuilt Blues, who've spent enough money to land Argentinian midfielder and 2006 MLS MVP Christian Gomez, are coming off a season-opening 1-1 home tie with the Rochester Rhinos.
Steele, a midfielder, and left back Takashi Hirano both remain out for the Caps with knee injuries, while left back Blake Wagner has yet to return from a foot injury sustained 10 days ago.
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