While Camilo’s stunning free kick rightly drew the headlines in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, down at the other end of the pitch, a man tasked with shutting down the opposition put in an even better performance.
Center back Johnny Leveron won the sponsor’s man of the match award with a calm and collected outing punctuated by feints, jukes and subtle touches that made more than a few Sporting KC players look foolish.
Perhaps Arlo White, providing commentary for Canadian broadcaster TSN on the night, summed up the Honduran’s coolness under pressure best by joking, “all he’s missing is a cigar.”
“I thought he was fantastic,” Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1410 following the match. “He was so composed on the ball and he put himself in great positions to defend. He’s still someone who can improve quite a lot. He’s still learning quite a lot about his positioning but he’s naturally just such a fantastic player.”
In addition to his collected presence in possession, Leveron’s ability to spray the ball from left to right with his cultured left peg allows Vancouver to counter quickly and switch play from side to side rapidly.
Leveron, 23, offers something completely different from the likes of Andy O’Brien, Brad Rusin, and Jay DeMerit, the Whitecaps' other center backs. They are all capable defenders with superior strength, but they lack the ball skills and passing range of the Honduran international.
Add in the fact Leveron has had to play with a number of different teammates due to O’Brien’s hamstring injury, Rusin’s calf injury and Carlyle Mitchell’s call up to the Trinidad & Tobago Gold Cup squad, and that only makes Leveron's current run of form all the more impressive.
“You can just tell he’s very relaxed on the ball,” left fullback Jordan Harvey told TEAM 1410 following Wednesday’s match. “We are constantly telling him, ‘tranquilo,’ and that’s pretty much how he plays. He’s got a sweet left foot, and he gets the ball down, and he really enjoys playing, so that’s huge for us.
“When our backs are against the wall, especially in games when we’re up or when we’re tied, and we just want to get a result, he really calms it down.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.