Rochat brings experience, polish to Vancouver

Defender has Champions League pedigree

VANCOUVER – Teitur Thordarson has continually said that he’s looking to build the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC from the back. On Friday, that trend continued with the club unveiling Swiss-Canadian defender Alain Rochat.

“I’ve been thinking about coming to MLS for maybe three, four, five years,” said Rochat. “I was always interested to come here and, with Vancouver, the timing was perfect this year.”

The announcement was a surprise to no one, as the ‘Caps had signed Rochat to a contract in August before loaning him back to Swiss Super League club FC Zürich until January.

Whitecaps brass expects Rochat to flourish in MLS. The 27-year-old brings a rare poise to the defensive side of the game. He’s a sharp passer who always appears calm on the ball, never panicking when onrushing players approach.

“He fits into our system very well and I think that he’s going to be a great addition,” said Thordarson. “He defends well and he likes to come forward, and that’s something that we’ve been looking for.”

Rochat brings a wealth of experience to what is expected to be a fairly young Vancouver squad in 2011. He helped guide Zürich to league titles during the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons, and he’s played UEFA Champions League matches against powerhouses such as Marseille, AC Milan and Real Madrid.

 

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“Having played on the top level, being capable of playing in the Champions League ,which is maybe the highest level in the world, you don’t do that if you’re not good on the ball,” said Thordarson of Rochat’s résumé. “He’s definitely demonstrated that and it just shows that he is a quality player.”

While he may be one of the more polished players on the team, don’t expect the soft-spoken Rochat to be barking out commands to his teammates.

“For me, leaders are older players or players that have been with the club for a long time, so I can’t say if I will or won’t be a leader now,” stated Rochat. “But I hope that there will be leaders in the team who can help take us to the championship.”

Thordarson is not expecting Rochat to be a vocal leader – he has Jay DeMerit for that – but he does expect him to lead with what he does on the field.

“Yes, his English needs to improve, but there are many others in the team who are in that situation,” said Thordarson. “But the football understanding is there, so there is no problem. We have leaders on the field anyway, so I hope that he will lead by example.”

Another attribute that he brings to the table is versatility. He’s capable of playing in a defensive midfield role, at center back and, perhaps most importantly, at left back, a position that has yet to be clearly addressed.

“We will definitely start there,” said Thordarson when asked if he had Rochat in mind at left back. “He can also be used as a center back or defensive midfield player, but he is a left back.”

What was also appealing to Whitecaps FC is the fact that Rochat will not take up an international spot on the roster. The European veteran was born in Quebec and has Canadian citizenship.

“That was huge,” emphasized Thordarson. “It was so important for us to get that. It’s not easy to find this quality of player who can come in here without being an international.”

Thordarson’s squad will begin preseason training on Monday at Empire Field, their temporary home until the renovations are done at BC Place Stadium. They’ll then depart for an 11-day camp at the Grande Sports World complex in Casa Grande, Ariz., on Jan. 24.