By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
The backbone of any successful side is its defensive backline. In 2009, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will be able to call upon a wealth of experience during their USL First Division title defence.
In part two of our four-part preview series into Teitur Thordarson's squad, whitecapsfc.com examines the individuals that make up the Icelandic tactician's defensive options.
No less than six players have returned to Vancouver's defensive department for the new season. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international Wesley Charles is back after earning USL-1 All-League Second Team honours in 2008, while left fullback Takashi Hirano will be keen to build on his impressive first season in North America, with the former Japanese international being named Whitecaps Newcomer of the Year last season.
Yet, like so many professional clubs in world soccer, the Blue and White felt defensive changes were needed for the coming campaign. Former captain Jeff Clarke and fullback Diaz Kambere were released in the offseason, while centre back Omar Jarun joined Polish club Flota Świnoujście.
With Adrian Cann leaving the 'Caps last season to join Danish club Esbjerg forenede Boldklubber, the decision to release Jarun in the winter meant there was a need to boost centre of the Whitecaps defensive line. For that, Throdarson turned to former 'Caps player Justin Thompson and fellow Canadian Marco Reda. Thompson returns after a spell with Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers, while Reda arrives after a season with USL-1 club Charleston Battery. "Both of them are players with a proven track record in our league, so I was very happy to acquire Justin and Marco," Thordarson told whitecapsfc.com. "I felt they would definitely bring something to our team."
More recently, the Whitecaps boosted their centre back options with the acquisition of experienced Major League Soccer man Jeff Parke. "When we got the opportunity to get Jeff into our club, I just felt that it would be the right thing to do because we have a lot of games during the first half of the season," Thordarson said.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, Parke will miss the first four league matches of 2009, as the former New York Red Bulls man serves the remainder of a 10-match suspension he received last season for violation of the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) Policy.
Another new face among the club's defenders is former College of Charleston standout Wes Knight. The native of Easley, South Carolina, has seen plenty of preseason action at right fullback, with the experienced pair of Geordie Lyall and Lyle Martin still sidelined with offseason injury concerns. "We brought Wes in because we feel that he is a future talent," said Thordarson. "It's not easy for a player like him to come in and play straight away, but with Geordie and Lyle injured, Wes has played a number of preseason games and has been improving all the time. He still has a way to go, but I'm looking forward to working with him."
The 'Caps also have versatility among their defenders. In Luca Bellisomo and Mason Trafford, Thordarson has two local talents that are comfortable in any position across the backline. "Both of them played a bunch of games last season and they never let me down when they appeared," said the former Iceland international captain. "Both of them have worked hard all winter and are very close to being considered in my starting XI."
Leadership is considered a major factor in determining a good defender. The Whitecaps feel the amount of experience and leadership that has been assembled for this season will be invaluable to the entire squad. "We lost quite a bit of experience in players we released at the end of last season, so I felt it was quite important for us to bring in players with experience," admitted Thordarson. "If you are thinking about developing young players towards the professional level, you need to mix your squad with experienced players in order to make the transition for the younger players that much easier. I feel we have those qualities among our defenders this year."
In the next edition of our 2009 men's team preview, we look at the players that aim to conduct matters in the club's midfield.
Click here for our preview of the Whitecaps men's team goalkeepers.