Luca Bellisomo aims to continue cementing his position in the professional soccer ranks and help the Vancouver Whitecaps return to winning ways against the Atlanta Silverbacks on Sunday.
After four years shining for Simon Fraser University, the 21-year-old defender joined the Whitecaps senior squad in February on a one-year contract, though he had to settle for a couple of residency appearances until recently.
But an injury to regular right-back Lyle Martin in July meant the South African-born player with dual Italian/Canadian citizenship was offered an instant graduation to the starting line-up against USL First Division leaders Charleston Battery.
Bellisomo has now played every second of the last six Whitecaps league encounters and, after providing an assist against Miami in the first match of their recent road trip, he capped the four-game run with his first senior goal against Atlanta on Tuesday.
The Whitecaps eventually lost that game 3-2 but will be fired up to redress the balance tomorrow.
"The trip was good for me and it was nice to contribute [with the goal and assist], but I'm just happy to be playing and getting the time on the field," the modest Bellisomo said.
"I wasn't necessarily playing that well [before getting the opportunity to make his senior Whitecaps debut], but injuries forced a couple of key players out and I got my chance. Fortunately I've been able to play the last six games."
Head coach Teitur Thordarson has been particularly impressed with Bellisomo's contribution in the last half a dozen games, especially since he was technically playing out of position.
"Luca was one of the first [youngsters] in [to the team] and he has done very well so far," Thordarson said. "We had to put him in a position he wasn't used to playing. He's more of a centre-back and he's very open playing against very fast wingers. But he is tactically good and has been doing things very well."
Meanwhile, the player Bellisomo replaced, Lyle Martin, is back training again after missing the last six games with a strained hamstring and may be fit enough to earn a place amongst the substitutes tomorrow. Thordarson has also been boosted by the return to training of fellow defender Geordie Lyall, who has also been sidelined with hamstring trouble in recent weeks.
Thordarson heaped praise on recent graduates to the senior squad Mason Trafford, Admir Salihovic and 17-year-old Ethan Gage who, during the road trip, became the fifth youngest player to take the field for a senior Whitecaps game.
The Whitecaps had mixed success on their U.S. travels, winning their opening games against Miami and Carolina, before losing the latter brace against Charleston and tomorrow's opponent, Atlanta.
Skipper Jeff Clarke admitted the 10-day road trip had been gruelling and that the American East Coast heat had eventually taken its toll.
"The heat was definitely a factor and our performances fizzled out a bit in the last two games as fatigue got a hold of us," he said. "The guys gave great effort, but in the third and fourth games there's only so much you have left in the tank particularly when you're playing in 90 degrees."
"To be honest, we could have come out with four wins [from the trip]. But to come back with six points, we're still happy."
The Whitecaps had a rest day on Thursday after travelling back from the U.S. on Wednesday
Clarke is confident the team will be ready to gain revenge against the Silverbacks at Swangard.
"We will certainly be fresher and they have to travel across the country and play on Friday, so hopefully it's their turn to be tired and our turn to get the win."
The Whitecaps will be without the suspended Steve Kindel for the Atlanta game and midfielder Justin Moose, who is suffering with a groin/pelvic problem which may require surgery.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008