VANCOUVER, BC – When it comes to playing the waiting game, Vancouver Whitecaps FC centre back Christian Dean is fast becoming an expert.
Selected third overall by Vancouver in the 2014 MLS Super Draft, Dean has had to show a great deal of patience as he awaits his chance to break into the first team.
He made four appearances – and only one start – for the 'Caps in his rookie year, clocking up 123 minutes. This year, the 22-year-old has been playing regularly for Vancouver's USL side, but he could be in the mix with the first team when Whitecaps FC open the 2015 Amway Canadian Championship against FC Edmonton.
"I'm just waiting for the opportunity," Dean told MLSsoccer.com. "[Robbo] just told me to be ready because once the opportunity comes I'm going to have to take it. I know there's the Canadian Championship coming up and I know last year he played all the young players in it, so if that time does come I'm going to have to show that I am ready to play in those games and whatever happens, happens."
Vancouver is deep at centre back, with Carl Robinson carrying five strong players in that position on his roster. The U.S. under-23 international looked on as Robinson strengthened his squad with three new center backs: veteran Pa Modou Kah, Uruguayan Diego Rodriguez and 2015 first-round draft pick Tim Parker.
It made Dean more determined to put the work in to show that he deserved to be in the discussion to partner Kendall Waston in the centre of the back four.
"I just knew at that point that I was just going to have to fight for my spot," Dean stated. "It's an opportunity I got when Andy left and it's something that I have to take. I knew bringing Pa in was going to be difficult for me to start. Seeing him play at Portland, he was a great center half, still is. He's a veteran and I'm inexperienced. But I'll get my opportunity and once I get it, I'm going to have to take it."
Standing 6-foot-3 and boasting a strong build, the young American fits in well with Vancouver's tough, no-nonsense style of play.
While his first year moving up from the college ranks was a bit of an eye opener, Dean feels being in a professional environment full-time has really helped develop his game and provided a good channel for any frustrations thrown up by the lack of minutes.
"It's [gotten] a lot more aggressive," Dean says about his game. "Winning balls in the air, tackles. I feel confident with my feet, playing out of the back, but just continuing on my mentality towards each game. It's just going into each game, not wanting to smash somebody, but with an anger just ready to."
Despite not playing much regular club soccer of late, Dean has become a staple of recent U.S. youth squads. He’s performed well at the international level, finding a surprisingly seamless transition.
"You know, it's not as difficult as you might think," he said. "I'm training with the first-team. I'm learning off of Kah, I'm learning off of Kendall. They're just teaching me so much. So just coming out of the first-team training sessions then coming over to USL, I'm just applying what I learn here and then going into the international selection and just doing what they're telling me to do and it's working out."
The culmination of Dean's hard work came last month, when the defender headed home the US’s second goal in their 3-0 defeat of Mexico's U-23 team after coming on as a halftime sub.
"It was amazing," Dean said of his goal. "It's our biggest rival. Just scoring in that game was one of the best feelings in the world. My first game against Mexico as well and watching the full team beat them earlier in the week was a huge deal also. So it was kind of just building on that and going into that game with that mentality and scoring."
While Dean's main focus remains forcing his way into MLS consideration in Vancouver, he also has one eye on the Olympic qualifying campaign later on in the year, with the chance to play in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games a key motivating goal for cracking the starting lineup with both the 'Caps and the U.S.
"I'm looking forward to it a lot, but first I have to get there and make the team," Dean said. "We have a camp coming up at the end of May in Toulon, France, so hopefully they give me an opportunity to go to that. It's one of the biggest tournaments in the world for kids our age, so just showcase myself there and then hopefully once the time comes I can go to the qualifiers."
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