Size, skill, and leadership are the ingredients that make up the defenders in the Vancouver Whitecaps men's team.
In part two of our four-part preview series into Teitur Thordarson's 2008 squad, whitecapsfc.com examines the individuals that will shape the men's team's backline.
The disappointing 2007 season saw changes take place in the defensive department, as the likes of Narcisse Tchoumi, Nigel Marples, and Sola Abolaji all made way for new arrivals in the off-season. The most notable departure was centre back Steve Klein, who despite struggling with a season-long foot injury, claimed a place in the USL First Division All-League Second Team after being a virtual ever-present last term.
With Klein moving on, the Whitecaps moved to sign Palestinian international Omar Jarun to a one-year contract – plus an option – this past February. Whitecaps fans got an early glimpse of the former Atlanta Silverbacks player when he was a second-half substitute in the 0-0 friendly draw with Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy at BC Place last November. Though he was not in the best of shape when he arrived for preseason, assistant coach Todd Wawrousek has been delighted with his work-rate in recent weeks. "Omar has exceeded everything that we have asked him to do in terms of his fitness," he told whitecapsfc.com. "He's completely changed his diet, he's worked extremely hard and put in extra time on his own in order to get into shape. He's looks like a different person in appearance and it's reflective in his movement on the pitch."
New signing Luca Bellisomo will also provide cover in the centre of defence. The 21-year-old makes the jump to the professional game with his hometown club after a successful four-year career with Simon Fraser University Clan.
While there are new faces, the Whitecaps have five returning players that saw duties on the backline last season. One of those returnees is centre back Adrian Cann, who will be entering his third season with the club. Wawrousek is delighted with the preseason form of the recently-capped Canadian international. "He's approaching the season with more of a leadership position on the team," Wawrousek said. "He wants to make his mark in that regard and that is refreshing to see."
For the most part, the left fullback position was the domain of Steve Kindel in 2007, but Thordarson is now looking to another of his new faces to fill that role. Following the recent sale of Willis Forko to Norwegian club FK Bodø/Glimt, experienced Japanese import Takashi Hirano has been earmarked to play on the left side of the defensive line. He is sure to catch the attention of Whitecaps fans with his attacking abilities, with Wawrousek describing the former J.League star as 'a gem'. "He's very good at developing play with his timing and execution of things, as well as being a top-shelf crosser of the ball," he said. "He has the ability to deliver the ball at the right time with the right pace."
The move will likely see Kindel push into the left midfield, with Lyle Martin set for a similar change of position to right midfield. Those positional changes should see Geordie Lyall and Diaz Kambere battle for the right fullback role, though Thordarson may also look to use the experienced Lyall at centre back during the season. "Geordie has very good pace and is exceptional in the air," Wawrousek said. "He anticipates things very well and has good covering speed."
Thordarson himself seems confident with the way his backline is shaping up to start the campaign. "I think all the defenders have all been playing quite well this preseason," said Icelandic tactician. "In all of the preseason games, we have played with Omar, Adrian, and Takashi in the back. It's very clear for me that those three will likely be starting the season for us, so that is good to see."
In the next edition of our 2008 men's team preview, we look at the players that will aim to conduct matters in the club's midfield.
Click here to view our first preview on the Whitecaps men's team goalkeepers.