By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Defensive stability is widely considered the cornerstone of any successful soccer side. Vancouver Whitecaps FC hope their off-season acquisitions provide more consistency in their backline.
In part two of our four-part preview series into Teitur Thordarson's men's team squad, whitecapsfc.com look at the new players that will patrol the Whitecaps defence in 2010.
It was only a year ago that Vancouver's defensive set-up looked just as assured for the 2009 campaign. However, few would have expected the numerous departures that took place, especially at centre back. Last year's defensive turnover was a particular challenge to Thordarson. "It proved to be a mess, as we had to change the backline for every game we played last year," Thordarson revealed to whitecapsfc.com. "For me, a good team is stable at the back, and centre backs have to be key players to providing that stability. I didn't want to go into this season with the same problems as we had last year, so that's why it was important to get some good centre backs for this season."
With Marco Reda and Shaun Pejic moving on, and the retirement of Geordie Lyall at the end of last season, the quest for new centre backs led to the arrival of former Charleston Battery man Nelson Akwari and Michigan native Greg Janicki, who played for current Whitecaps director of soccer operations Tom Soehn at D.C. United in Major League Soccer. During the pre-season, both Akwari and Janicki have formed a promising central defensive partnership. "I feel they have grown very well together," Thordarson said. "I have known about Nelson for two years, as he was a big part of Charleston's success in the league. Greg, meanwhile, may be a bit of an unknown talent, but I like his qualities. He's big, good in the air, and quick. He's also young and has some experience of MLS. All in all, Nelson and Greg provide us with a good pairing at centre back."
After a fine run of performances in the postseason last year, Luca Bellisomo will also be considered for a role at centre back, while the versatile Zurab Tsiskaridze offers Thordarson an option in the middle and on the left-hand side of defence. The Georgian import caught the eye of the former Iceland international with his performances for fellow USSF D-2 Pro League club Miami FC last year. He has even seen some action as a striker this pre-season. "We had seen Zurab play at centre back and left fullback in Miami, but also read that he can play as a striker as well," Thordarson said. "However, our interest in signing him was to add another good defender to our roster. He has some fantastic qualities as an athlete, but he also has some things to work on as well."
Tsiskaridze will be in strong consideration for the left fullback role, with the experienced Takashi Hirano currently sidelined with a knee injury. He is one of three new additions that provide more depth at fullback, with former FC Dallas man Blake Wagner also a left-sided player, while the addition of Canadian international Chris Williams should see the former Charleston player share the right fullback position with youngster Wes Knight. "Bringing Chris and Blake to our team help us reinforce the importance of our game, which is to use the width of the pitch when attacking on our opponent's half," said Thordarson.
In the next edition of our 2010 men's team preview, we look at the players that look to conduct matters in midfield.Click here for our preview of the Whitecaps men's team goalkeepers.