Whitecaps' centre backs set to battle for starting job
Andy O'Brien (left) is one of five centre backs under Major League Soccer contracts with the Vancouver Whitecaps. (REUTERS)
With six weeks still to go until the first kick of the 2014 season, "missing pieces" remain a theme for the Vancouver Whitecaps as they begin to wrap up their first week of training camp. Of course, there's still plenty of time for the club to address certain needs.
But although some positions could use an upgrade and additional depth, they can at least brag about their abundance at centre back — and based on all the injuries that occurred last season at that position, it's a good thing.
Not to mention the internal competition it provides for one of their most experienced spots on the roster.
"It's healthy for the club," defender Andy O'Brien said. "We've got a nice mix of some older players, some younger players, and some players coming into their prime now. Everybody brings something different to the table but collectively we want to set goals and achieve goals this season.
"Throughout my career if I've not played, I've worked hard to get in a team. And if I've been in it, I've continued to work hard to remain in it … and I'll continue to do that."
The Whitecaps currently have five centre backs under Major League Soccer contracts, including the veteran O'Brien. Of those five, Johnny Leveron started the most games in 2013 with 18 to cap his first season in MLS. The Brit O'Brien started 16 games and holds the distinction for oldest player on the club at 34 — but also dealt with his own share of ailments last year.
Captain Jay DeMerit, who is only a few months younger, closed out last season strong after sitting out most of it with a torn Achilles tendon. He started seven games.
Then there's Carlyle Mitchell, who is entering his fourth season with the Whitecaps. The Trinidad native played a big role for the team amidst all the injuries in 2013 and started 13 of his 15 appearances, adding a pair of assists.
Christian Dean, 20, is also in the mix as the team's third overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft.
Asked for his first impressions of the 6-foot-3 youngster, head coach Carl Robinson used the word massive.
"When I'm talking to him, I'm looking up," he said. "Physically, he's fantastic. He's very comfortable on the ball and he's left-sided, which not many centre backs are left-sided, and we're fortunate we've got two.
"He's got a big future ahead of him."