VANCOUVER, BC – From the very beginning, Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Marc Dos Santos said that centre back is one of the toughest positions to play in his system.
Dos Santos requires his centre backs to push high up the field, which places more pressure on the opponent's forwards and helps thwart their attacks in positions that aren’t as dangerous – thereby allowing the team a greater opportunity to dictate the tempo of a game rather than playing on the back foot.
As a result of playing in such a manner, the centre backs must also be comfortable covering the space that is left in behind them, which explains how it can become a demanding and multi-faceted role.
“We want centre backs that are courageous,” Dos Santos said in the offseason.
And that’s exactly what the ‘Caps appear to have found in Erik Godoy.
Through just two matches, the 25-year-old Argentine has exhibited the exact qualities that Dos Santos coveted while anchoring the back line alongside Doneil Henry. He isn’t always the flashiest of players, but when you break down the film, it’s easy to see how Godoy has started more than 140 matches in Argentina’s top-tier Primera División.
For starters, let’s have a look at the map of Godoy’s defensive actions from the first two matches.
GODOY VS. MINNESOTA
GODOY vs. RSL
green: tackles, yellow: blocks, blue: interceptions, purple: clearances, orange: recoveries
As you can see, the vast majority of his actions have come outside the box, which is precisely what the 'Caps want. That was certainly the case in Vancouver’s season opener against Minnesota United FC, where Godoy made a number of important reads in midfield.
Here are a few that stood out for me.
Godoy starts this play in line with Minnesota striker Romario Ibarra, but instead of dropping off and tracking Ibarra’s run (which Henry is already doing) he remains in the passing lane and makes a fairly routine interception. The Argentine’s awareness of where both Henry and Ibarra are on the pitch, as well as the fact that the ballplayer Rasmus Schuller really only has one forward passing option, allows Godoy to commit and eliminate any potential danger.
It’s a similar idea in this next play, where Godoy starts as the last man but decides to step up because he knows Felipe has him covered if he’s beat.
Ultimately, Godoy holds his ground and dispossesses Minnesota danger man Darwin Quintero, before forcing him to move the ball out wide just a few seconds later. It would be easy for a defender to drop off with Quintero running at you, as he’s one of the best one v. one attacking players in all of MLS, but once again Godoy’s understanding of the situation allows him to confidently make the decision to step rather than retreat.
In these next two plays, Godoy likely isn’t even credited with a defensive action. But he still manages to prevent Minnesota from facing goal and getting into transition by virtue of stepping up in the right moments and occupying the right space on the pitch. If you look at Godoy’s positioning, he’s essentially acting as an additional midfielder for the ‘Caps in both of these instances.
This is a big part of Godoy’s game. One of his best attributes is his ability to prevent opposition attacks through this positioning and soccer IQ, so he doesn’t need to make the big tackle or clearance. As a result of this style of play, he’s also only conceded a single foul in each game.
“I think it’s him knowing exactly where he should be and where the ball is going to be,” Whitecaps FC right back Jake Nerwinski said this week.
Of course, there will always be “emergency” situations where centre backs are forced to deliver a last-ditch defensive action. And as you can see below, Godoy has shown he can do that, too.
Godoy defended a bit deeper in the most recent outing against Real Salt Lake, which is often a natural byproduct of playing on the road. But he still did his fair share of work in higher areas. Here’s one example, which is similar to the first clip we highlighted from the Minnesota match.
When you put all of these clips together, and listen to Dos Santos speak about the responsibilities of his centre backs, it’s easy to see why Godoy is a perfect fit for this system.
It’s been a bright start for the Argentine, and the hope is that he’ll get even better as he continues to learn the tendencies of his teammates and becomes more accustomed with the intricacies of Major League Soccer.
The 'Caps are back in action this Saturday against Houston Dynamo (12 p.m. PT on TSN1, CTV, and TSN 1040 radio).