Stuck in the middle with who? Whitecaps face centre-back quandary as they head to San Jose

Stuck in the middle with who? Whitecaps face centre-back quandary as they head to San Jose

Winning or not, in-form or not, Carl Robinson isn’t afraid to make changes to both his starting line-up and matchday squads. In fact, he embraces it and feels it necessary in terms of giving players experience, rest and reward for their efforts at training and in previous matches.

No-one is immune, as the resting of the talismanic Pedro Morales showed a couple of times last season.

It may surprise some. Coaches rarely want to tinker with a winning formula, but my MLS article earlier today explains the Whitecaps whole reasoning behind it.

When you have three games in eight days though, it takes its toll, no matter what team it is. Squad management is a must and Robinson made two changes to his starting eleven for the midweek game against Columbus, albeit one of them was short lived, and he’s signalled that there will be changes again for the key Western Conference match-up with San Jose on Saturday.

He’s been tight lipped over exactly who they may be, but it’s a fairly safe bet that some of them will come in the centre of the defence. A position where the ‘Caps don’t usually have to look far to seek their troubles.

I don’t know what it is about the centre-back position and the Whitecaps but there’s definitely a jinx of some sort hanging over them. So many injuries over the years in the position. Has anyone actually been immune?

Maybe Robbo needs to go and take a piss in each corner flag, ala Barry Fry, to exorcise those demons, but he made it very clear at the start of the season that he wanted to carry five quality centrehalfs and it hasn’t taken long to see why.

Just who will be taking the field against the Earthquakes on Saturday is anyone’s guess right now, and there’s a few unknowns still thrown in the mix.

Kendall Waston has played every minute so far this season. The Costa Rican has been a beast at the back and has been looking better and better pretty much game upon game. He’s a crucial cog to the Whitecaps success this season and when he landed heavily on his neck on Wednesday, the collective worry and concern on the faces of ‘Caps players, fans and media alike was very clear and said it all as to how important everyone views him.

It looked a bad one. This is a guy that doesn’t stay down without good reason. I honestly thought he’d broken his neck. Watching one replay was enough for me, it was a horrible fall. But remarkably the big man seems to be fine and played out the rest of the game.

“I’m feeling much better,” Waston told reporters at training on Thursday. “Yesterday I was really scared because the way how I drop to the floor and how I twisted my neck it was very, very hard, but thank god nothing else happened.”

It really was quite remarkable that he finished the game never mind that he’s declared himself fit to face San Jose.

The ‘Caps medical team gave him massages after the match, but the worry is that Waston may feel some delayed pain and tenderness. That might hit today or he could wake up on matchday with it, or he may just show some superhuman recovery.

There’s also the possibility that there could be a concussion, which the Whitecaps will obviously check out, not that Waston was concerned about that in the slightest, as he joked, “Concussion, what is that? I don’t believe in concussions.”

I think we’re all crossing out fingers that he’ll be good to go on Saturday and I really fancy him to break his goalscoring duck for the season when he shakes up the Quakes.

As serious as the incident looked at the time, the ‘Caps players were able to find some humour in what had happened, especially Waston’s central defensive partner for most of the season so far, Pa Modou Kah.

“For myself I was like, naw, I hope that he didn’t break his neck,” Kah said of his initial reaction to Waston’s horror fall. “But you know, when you’ve got a big head, a big strong head like Kendall he’ll be fine. I think we’ll probably change the spot where he landed at BC Place. There’s a big dent right there!

“But actually it was a very scary moment because you don’t wish anybody to fall like this and especially him. But the big man came strong. You know he’s strong. I hope he just have no pain.”

Kah was rested for the game, and you have to think the original plan was for him to come back in to the line-up to face the Quakes. But the best laid plans and all that, as an early injury to his replacement, Diego Rodriguez, who was only able to last 14 minutes before injury, meant Kah was called into unexpected action once more.

“In soccer, you never know what will happen, but you don’t expect your centre-back to get injured after 14 minutes,” Kah said. “But that’s the way the game is, so you always have to stay ready and stay focused. For me it was nothing different to what I’m used to, but the way we approach the game on Saturday will be the way that we’ve approached the past games.”

So at 34-years-old, can Kah make three pretty much full games in a week? It’s a question that the former Norwegian international is almost insulted by.

“You serious?!” was his initial response to be being asked, before adding, “Age is nothing but a number.”

Maybe so, but it would be a surprise if he were to play. Robinson does like to surprise us though and with what could be crucial Western Conference points on the line, if the ‘Caps feel they can go with a Waston/Kah central defensive pairing, then they will.

If they don’t, and with Rodriguez looking set to miss out bar another remarkable recovery, it will give another centre-back a chance to come in a stake a claim to a start or at least move up the depth charts. If nothing else, they’ll garner a place on the bench. And that opens the door for either Christian Dean or Tim Parker.

Who that player will be will be very interesting to see and tell us a lot about who ranks where in the pecking order right now.

You expect it to be Dean. He’s in his second year with the ‘Caps, has been patient despite his frustration at not playing more, and has just been away with the US national team. Yup, all the indicators point to him, except Parker has been outperforming Dean for all of the preseason and at training.

I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen from Parker on the whole, although he did have a bit of a horror USL outing against Seattle. Mind you, who didn’t? He’s also more importantly impressed the management team and I genuinely feel he’s the fourth centre-back at the club right. I expect him to be at least on the bench and if Kah can’t go, then I see him getting the start against San Jose.

So where does that leave Dean? Apart from frustrated? He’s highly thought of and although Robbo wants to carry those five centre-backs, I sense Dean’s patience will run out and we will see him traded sooner rather than later.

That’s the problem when you have five quality centre-backs, the MLS minutes are simply not there. But whoever does line up in front of him on Saturday, goalkeeper David Ousted is confident that will get the job done.

“Unfortunate with Diego,” Ousted told reporters. “I knew how much he wanted to play. You saw in Orlando what he can do, so unfortunately he had to go out. But we’ve got really good centre-backs. We’ve got a lot of them, so we’re still good in that position.”

“We’ve got figure out what Carl wants to do for this game, but three games for Pa in a week, and Kendall got a little bit of a scare there. I think everybody saw how worried the whole team was because that looked grim. But I’ve said it all along. We’ve got Christian Dean out there, we’ve got Tim Parker. They’re capable of stepping in when we need them, so I’m not worried.”

As for poor Rodriguez, he can’t seem to catch a break in MLS right now. He’s made two appearances so far and been suspended for two games after the first one, then pulled his groin 14 minutes in to the second. Not been a happy area for him so far.

It’s a shame because he looks quality and you have to see him as the regular partner for Waston somewhere down the line this season. He’s commanding, he has some bite about him and has great footwork.

He may be fine for Saturday but it’s hard to see that. If he misses out, then he’ll get another chance soon for certain. He’s too good not to.

The nightmare scenario for Robinson is that he has neither Waston or Rodriguez available. He described the Costa Rican as “tough as nails”, but if the worse case plays out, he’s more than happy with what he has left at his disposal.

“We’ll reassess them [Friday] to see how they are,” Robinson said of Waston and Rodriguez. “Hopefully they’ll both be available but if we can get one of them out of the two then I’ll be delighted. We’re beaten up and banged up at the moment but we’ll deal with it and get on with it because we’ve got other players that are ready to step in.”

Certainly going to be interesting to see who’s on that starting line-up come 6.30pm on Saturday evening.

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Authored by: Michael McColl

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