Vancouver defence finally healthy, coming together

'Caps fielding consistent back line

Whitecaps FC left back Alain Rochat

Photo Credit: 
Bob Frid

As head coach of Vancouver Whitecaps FC for three seasons in the North American second division, Teitur Thordarson implemented a system that emphasized defensive structure. Now that the team is in MLS, nothing has changed.

Tonight's match between Whitecaps FC and San Jose Earthquakes at Empire Field kicks off at 7 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277). CLICK HERE for more information on individual match tickets for the club's inaugural MLS season.

Whitecaps FC's home match versus San Jose Earthquakes can also be seen live on Rogers Sportsnet ONE and Bell mobile devices at 7 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to the May 11 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 9 p.m. PT.

That ability to shut down opponents, however, also requires strong team cohesion, and numerous absences haven’t made it easy for Thordarson’s squad to achieve that. The result has been 14 goals against in nine MLS matches - the second-highest total in the league.

The ‘Caps, though, finally feel their back line is coming together. After starting five different combinations on defence in their first five matches, the same back four of Jonathan Leathers, Michael Boxall, Alain Rochat, and Blake Wagner started the next three matches, posting two shutouts.

“It’s just about constantly progressing, moving forward and gelling and developing chemistry,” said Leathers at training on Tuesday. “If we can do that, I think we can be a tremendous team.”

A total of seven players have started on defence for Vancouver, but Leathers and Rochat have played every minute. Boxall and Wagner, meanwhile, have done well, but further improvement has since come with the return to health of center backs Greg Janicki and Mouloud Akloul, who have slid into starting roles in the middle of the back line. This has allowed Rochat to move to his more natural left fullback spot, solidifying the team’s overall defensive stance.

“It’s so nice playing with the same players next to you on a consistent basis,” said Leathers. “You learn the tendencies of the players around you and what they like, what they don’t like, where you need to help them out and where they can help you out. It’s always good to be able to read one another.”

The newfound combination of Leathers, Janicki, Akloul and Rochat have started the past three matches together, improving from two goals given up against Columbus, to one against Montreal in Nutrilite Canadian Championship play, to a shutout this past weekend in Chicago.

“It’s very important to have a backline that works together all the time, and that was the main reason that I didn’t want to make a change,” said Thordarson. “Even though those players have played three or four games in a row and clearly are tired, when they get the chemistry and get things working they make less mistakes and that is important.”

With that said, one more change will likely soon be on the way. The final and most important piece to the defensive puzzle for Whitecaps FC is captain Jay DeMerit. The United States international has played just one full game for the ‘Caps - the season opener two months ago - but finally looks set to return to action and could potentially get into tonight’s match at Empire Field against San Jose.

“He trained in Vancouver while we were away and he trained today," Thordarson on Tuesday, "so as long as there are no setbacks, he will most probably be in the 18 for tomorrow's game."