Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Alain Rochat may be 30, but he’s still adapting to a new position as a defensive midfielder after Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie elected to use the natural fullback as a shield for his back four midway through last season.
Despite developing as a defender, Rochat’s vision and quality on the ball made Rennie’s decision to move the Swiss-Canadian into midfield understandable – add in the fact that MLS vet Jordan Harvey is a solid left back in his own right and there are plenty of reasons the adjustment made sense.
It’s not an entirely new situation for the Québec-born player – he played briefly at defensive midfield for the Swiss youth national teams and for FC Zürich on a fill-in basis – but now he looks set to play in his less familiar position consistently for Vancouver after lining up there exclusively during preseason matches.
While he says he’s willing to play wherever the coaching staff asks him, he anticipates and is looking forward to playing in that one role on a consistent basis, and the increased involvement that comes with playing in midfield.
“I’m happy in this position,” Rochat told MLSsoccer.com on Monday by phone from Charleston, S.C. “I can still be part of the defence as the first defender in midfield, but I also enjoy making the ball run from the left side to the other side and vice versa. When you’re [a fullback], you have to wait until the ball comes back, but in the middle you’re the transition from offense to defense, and also from left to right, and I like it.”
With the departures of veteran central midfielders John Thorrington and Barry Robson during the offseason, the team will rely on Rochat’s experience – though he may be a bit of a reluctant leader at times he accepts it’s part of his role as a senior player.
“I want to improve in this position,” Rochat said. “It’s new for me. I want to do my best to help the team win a lot of games and I hope I will play consistently this year. If I can help the new and young players, I will do it, and, as always, I will try and give my best effort for the team.”
But Rochat is also quick to point out that 21-year-old Gershon Koffie must continue his steady development. On the other hand, he is also enthusiastic about lining up alongside this summer’s Japanese signing, Daigo Kobayashi, perhaps the most offensive-minded man in the Vancouver midfield.
“He’s got unbelievable qualities,” Rochat said. “He’s a finisher, a passer – I didn’t know him at all before he came here. I was told he was one time the MVP in the Japanese league, so he will bring us, for sure, consistency in our attacking side and that will be good – he scored a nice goal in the last [preseason] game we played, so we can expect things from him.”
It’s not entirely clear what Vancouver’s midfield will look like come opening day, but regardless of who he lines up with, Rochat is confident there will be enough quality to once again compete for a playoff spot.
“The team is not clear right now,” Rochat said. “But in midfield we have many options and that’s a positive for the start of the season.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.