Remember in the early 2000s when the LA Lakers were dominating the NBA.
Shaquille O’Neal was an unstoppable force. And that’s not hyperbole, there was just no way to stop a man of his size and strength. The only way that defenders could contain him was to foul him, the old “Hack-a-Shaq”.
If ever there was a Shaq of MLS, it is clearly Vancouver Whitecaps FC centre back Kendall Waston, a man who has been hugged by defenders more than a worn-out Teddy Bear. In fact he’s so loved by his opponents these days that some are trying to rip the jersey right off his back.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Waston has always been an intimidating presence on the soccer pitch. But lately, he has taken his powerful game to new heights – well above whoever is trying to stop him.
After #TFCLive training coach Greg Vanney was asked what his impression was of @WhitecapsFC 5-nil win over SJ.— Kelcey Brade (@KelceyBradeTSN) October 27, 2017
"They're extremely deadly in the set piece. @kwaston88 is probably the most dangerous guy in the league in terms of getting on the end of service" #vwfc #MLSCupPlayoffs
It’s a factor that has been keeping opposing coaches up at night. Just ask Atlanta United FC manager Tata Martino, who was bewildered by the big man in a 3-1 ‘Caps win at BC Place in June.
“In the league there’s not many guys like Waston,” Martino told reporters. “He’s a player that’s done damage not just to Atlanta, but to other teams in this league.”
With past experience coaching FC Barcelona and Argentina’s national team, Martino’s not one to be stuck for ideas. But the challenge in defending Waston is all too real, and it’s something that Costa Rica’s opponents at next summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup will have to think about too.
What makes Waston so dangerous with the ‘Caps is not just his physical prowess, but the wealth of skill around him. Like Kobe Bryant was to Shaq, Waston has the likes of Cristian Techera, Yordy Reyna, and countryman Christian Bolaños delivering him the ball – and players like Fredy Montero to benefit from his presence.
Wednesday’s 5-0 playoff win was a perfect example. The opening goal came from a Techera corner kick that found Waston’s head, which he directed on to the head of Montero.
It was reminiscent of the opener against Seattle back on April 14.
This Sunday, those same Sounders are back at BC Place for the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals (5:30 p.m. PT, tickets selling fast at ticketmaster.ca/whitecapsfc). Seattle are the defending MLS Cup champs, and they will be difficult to stop.
But they will also have their hands full on the other end, trying to contain the most dominant physical force in Major League Soccer.