VANCOUVER, B.C. — It’s been an interesting season for Vancouver Whitecaps rookie Russell Teibert.
He’s made his Major League Soccer debut. He’s experienced what it’s like for a team to go through a coaching change. And now, it looks like head coach Tom Soehn could be grooming him for another position.
Teibert looked set for a meteoric rise to becoming a consistent starter for the first team after an impressive preseason, and indeed started on the left side of midfield in Vancouver’s 4-2 victory over Toronto FC on the club’s MLS debut on March 19.
While Eric Hassli’s brace and Terry Dunfield’s enthusiastic goal-scoring celebration were the focus of many headlines after the match, Teibert’s cool, composed play was hard to overlook. He wasn’t the star of that match, but one thing was certain — he looked anything but an 18-year-old rookie.
However, after international duty for Canada at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Guatemala, a coaching change and a few injuries, Teibert has found himself on the outside looking in.
Indeed, since those two starts to begin the season, Teibert has only started three times in MLS play, and one of those was the match against Toronto FC on June 29, when the ‘Caps played what was essentially a second string ahead of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final.
There are factors other than injury at play, of course. The return of Shea Salinas to full fitness was always going to pose a threat. While Salinas is a natural right winger, the thought was that Davide Chiumiento would shift over to the left.
But, as it happened, Soehn decided to use Chiumiento in a more advanced central role, and Teibert’s favored left midfield slot was taken by Camilo Sanvezzo, who Soehn felt would offer more in a deeper position.
Mustapha Jarju could potentially add competition as well, albeit indirectly. Jarju is a forward, but his arrival means a return to the midfield for Chiumiento.
So where does that leave Teibert? He’s too good a player to be frozen out. He’s young, talented and has a sweet left foot. If recent developments are anything to go by, he could be finding himself as a left back.
In practice this week, he has been playing scrimmages as a left-sided defender, and last Sunday he played in that position in a 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy reserves.
“I’m not used to playing there, but I’m just trying to take it in stride and have fun with it,” Teibert told MLSsoccer.com at training earlier this week. “It’s a new position and I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Realistically, left back is still a problem position for the Whitecaps if Jordan Harvey is unavailable. While Alain Rochat is very capable in that spot, Soehn seems wary of the club’s current options at central defense and the Canadian-born Swiss international isn’t likely to be shunted out to a fullback role any time soon.
Soehn has previously dealt with filling the left fullback role by moving starting right fullback Jonathan Leathers to the left and giving Bilal Duckett, Wes Knight and even Jeb Brovsky a chance on the right.
Regardless of where he ends up playing, the focus now for Teibert is getting fully fit after a hip-flexor injury.
“It’s good to be back on the field after an injury,” Teibert said. “You’re excited to be back on the field and get back in the lineup and work your way in – it’s an exciting process.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon