Young 'Caps making decisions tough on coaching staff

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Long Tan

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — A number of young Whitecaps are making it difficult for the coaching staff in Vancouver to have reason to leave them out.

Long Tan has looked sharp in training over the past couple of weeks, and has scored five goals in his last three matches at Premier Development League and MLS Reserve League level.

Major League Soccer’s first Chinese-born player most recently came off the bench to score the game winning goal against the Seattle Sounders in a 2-1 Reserve League victory on Tuesday. Tan (above) has looked lively if a little raw in his four MLS appearances, but picked up an assist in his last match with the first team in a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids on July 9.

“One of the frustrating things about Long Tan is that he’s capable of scoring goals, but he’s also capable of some very frustrating play,” assistant coach Colin Miller explained to MLSsoccer.com after training earlier this week. “He’s capable of causing most defences in the league problems, but he’s just so inconsistent. It’s certainly some inexperience at this level of the game, as it is with all the young players, but he has some very good qualities.”

Another player catching the eye in training and reserve matches is Canadian U-20 international Ben Fisk. The 18-year-old can play on either wing or as a forward, and is now training with the first team following the conclusion of the PDL season. He’s not on the club’s 30-man MLS roster, but is hoping to change that sooner rather than later.

“The biggest thing for me has been the speed and the physicality — obviously, I’m just a kid compared to some of these guys,” Fisk said after training earlier this week. “I’m good enough to play here, it’s just about finding the confidence to make plays and keep up with everyone. It’s nice to be recognized and hopefully fulfill my dream and get a contract.”

Perhaps a player Fisk can look to is fellow 18-year-old Russell Teibert, who made the breakthrough to the first team MLS roster with an impressive preseason display. Teibert has struggled to replicate the promising performances from earlier this season due to injuries, international call-ups and the return to fitness of winger Shea Salinas, but is another young player that interim head coach Tom Soehn is trying to fit into his lineup.

With a deeper attacking group, the Whitecaps coaching staff has tried to be creative with the Niagara Falls, Ontario, native, and is looking to continue the experiment of using him as a fullback.

“I think it’s another string to his bow if he does know how to play there,” Miller explained. “As I look at it, if somebody wants to play me in a position, and I’m a little bit closer to the first team, I’ll play there, even if it’s in goal. I explained it to him the other day in that way, and it opened his eyes a little bit.

“Rather than going to left back as a punishment, it’s another part of his football education and will help him appreciate the defensive role of a left-sided midfield player.”

Working on the new position paid off for Teibert and the Whitecaps in last Sunday’s win over the Fire, as Alain Rochat went off with an adductor injury. Teibert slotted in at left back and was steady considering his inexperience at the position.

“It was different. I was a bit nervous at first, but settled in and got more comfortable as the game went on,” Teibert said. “The goal is just to keep learning with it, and I’m going to do exactly that. Each day I’m training as a left back I’m going to continue learning more and more.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon