VANCOUVER, BC – As the San Jose Earthquakes come to town on Saturday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC remain coy about who will line up in the heart of defence at BC Place.
Fresh after signing a one-year contract extension on Thursday, 34-year-old center back Andy O'Brien could make his first start since pulling his hamstring on June 8 in a 3-2 away loss to the Seattle Sounders.
He's been involved in full training for about two weeks now and earlier this week declared himself fit to play should head coach Martin Rennie wish to use him.
After struggling with explosive movements and the quick turns required of any top level defender, those actions came easier this week and without pain.
As for whether he's ready to play 90 minutes after not playing in two months, the former Irish international said given his age, he's used to playing while carrying a knock or two.
"That's the manager's decision," O'Brien said of potentially playing a full game after a training session earlier this week. "All I can do is try and work as hard as possible to make sure that if I am selected I can give as good an account of myself as possible. I'm not naive enough to think that I'll probably be 100 percent, but I dare say I've not been 100 percent in a few years. I think most players play with a few niggles, but I wouldn't describe this as a niggle."
If the player does make his long awaited return to the lineup, fans will relish the battle between O'Brien and Steven Lenhart. The last time the two sides lined up, O'Brien pulled Lenhart off the ground after a challenge and gave his opponent a stern talking to about hitting the deck so easily.
With Brad Rusin nursing an ankle injury sustained last weekend, Rennie's only other option at center back is Carlyle Mitchell. The Trinidad and Tobago international started and played well in Vancouver's 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers last weekend, and in his four starts this season the team has picked up three wins and a draw.
"I think his concentration is improving," Rennie said of Mitchell earlier this week. "I think he's a good player, he's aggressive in the air, but I think now he's managing to stay more focused throughout the game. He's not as rash, perhaps, as he was at first.
"He just keeps getting better. He's a natural athlete and a solid defender but he just needs to keep learning the game and I feel he's doing that."
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.