The right back position has been a bit of a revolving door for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, and after last Saturday’s draw with the New York Red Bulls, questions continue to hover over who should fill that position.
First, it was Jonathan Leathers. The Georgia native played 90 minutes for 10 consecutive games to start the season, and then found himself injured during the coaching change that brought Tom Soehn to the helm.
Rookie Bilal Duckett then emerged as the surprise contender for the starting spot in Soehn’s early days at the helm. The 37th overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft stepped in for his debut in Soehn’s first match in charge and followed that up with another start three days later.
But perhaps the starting role came a little too soon for Duckett, 22, who soon found himself back on the bench as Leathers stepped back into the starting lineup.
Leathers has been the man for the majority of games since then, but that doesn’t mean Soehn hasn’t tinkered. Rookie Jeb Brovsky got his first taste of that role against Manchester City in the Herbalife World Football Challenge, and looked confident against some of England’s best.
In competitive matches though, Brovsky has slipped, literally, at the most inopportune times at the position. In his first competitive start in the position against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 20, Brovsky lost his footing, allowing Chris Wondolowski a clear break through on goal and an easy finish just three minutes into the match.
The latest experiment came during the recent 1-1 draw against the Red Bulls, when Soehn gave veteran John Thorrington a try. While he’s played right back before (he actually logged 19 minutes in the spot as a sub for the US national team way back in 2001), he’s predominantly played in the midfield during his seven-year career in MLS.
It was clear that his readjustment to the right back position could take time, evidenced by New York’s Juan Agudelo slipping behind Thorrington on New York’s equalizing goal in 68th minute on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, John switched off for two seconds, and that’s the nature of the game,” captain Jay DeMerit said of the play. “He’s disappointed, we’re all disappointed, because that could have seen us to a win, but that’s the name of the game.”
A consistent back four is an essential ingredient for success, and DeMerit hopes that the club can use the remainder of the season to find some continuity ahead of next year.
“It’s never easy to play with different guys every week,” DeMerit explained. “A lot of defending has to do with communication, working together and knowing what the other person is going to do so you can have their back, and yes it gets harder when you play with different guys ever week.”
Although It’s unclear whether Soehn will stick with Thorrington, go back with Leathers, or seek yet another solution in the matches ahead, here's what is clear: the Whitecaps face a stiff challenge against the LA Galaxy on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), and solving the right back issue is paramount this weekend and beyond.
“We’re still looking for the right combination and the right group that’s going to give us a solid 90-minute performance,” Soehn said of the decision to try a number of different players out at the right back position. “We’ll continue to try things until we’re comfortable.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.