VANCOUVER, BC – Jake Nerwinski is usually one to keep his head down and work.
It’s one of the reasons the New Jersey native has become a fan favourite in Vancouver. But with centre backs Kendall Waston and Doneil Henry away on international duty, Nerwinski will be one of the players expected to take charge of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s back line when they host Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night at BC Place.
And he’s up for the challenge, which so happens to fall on his 24th birthday.
“I was actually talking with the coaches about it,” Nerwinski said. “I think I am going to have to be more vocal now that we have a few names missing. I’m going to have to step up.”
After appearing in 19 MLS regular season matches during his rookie season, and earning the club’s Most Promising Player award, Nerwinski has taken another step in 2018. The fullback has already surpassed last year’s total with 23 appearances in MLS play, including seven straight starts heading into Wednesday.
He also leads the team with 2.61 tackles per game, which is sixth among MLS defenders who have played at least five matches this season.
“I have been working on my one-on-one defending,” said Nerwinski, who enjoyed watching Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos growing up. “I think last year I struggled a bit with the learning curve, trying to get used to those one-on-ones with really fast wingers. Going from the college level to these really good professional players is a bit of a change but I think I’m starting to get it this year.”
The fans have certainly taken notice.
On several occasions this season at BC Place, Nerwinski has been applauded for his well-timed tackles and overall defensive effort – something he takes great pride in.
“That’s kind of my main thing,” Nerwinski said. “I know I'm not the most skillful guy, so whenever I step on that field I am going to war, I am going to battle, and I am going to fight as hard as I can for this team.”
As a second-year player, Nerwinski said he's always looking to tidy up certain aspects of his game. Currently, he's been working on the offensive side. In 2017, the youngster had five assists and he’s yet to record one in MLS play this season, though he did set up Yordy Reyna in the second leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal.
“Putting good balls in the box when I get into those crossing positions is something I have been struggling with this year,” Nerwinski said. “I am happy with how I am playing overall but I hope I can keep building.”
Despite his recent run of form, Nerwinski does not feel like he has secured a starting berth on the team. Things can change quickly and the last thing Nerwinski wants is to become complacent.
“Nobody is ever really safe,” he said. “I don't want to get comfortable on the spot. I play better when I'm not comfortable.”
Nerwinski and the ‘Caps host Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night at BC Place (7 p.m. PT on TSN2 and TSN 1040 – tickets still available).