BURNABY, B.C. – Martín Bonjour can’t speak much English, but his tough tackling and comfort on the ball have already said a lot this preseason.
The big Argentine came to the Vancouver Whitecaps this offseason to fill the at times gaping hole at the heart of the team’s back line in 2011, when the club conceded the third-most goals in the league.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 190 pounds, the hope is he’s big enough to fill the void alongside captain Jay DeMerit in central defense.
“I think they’ve done well,” head coach Martin Rennie said of his new-look center back pairing after a training session this week. “They’ve had a lot of clean sheets and defended well together. They’re still working on it – defending takes a long time to build the understanding and build partnerships. Defending is all about the unit of the defense and the rest of the team.
“It will take time, but it’s getting better.”
Part of that work to prepare for First Kick on Saturday against the Montreal Impact (6 pm ET, TSN/RDS/MLS LIVE) is simple communication. DeMerit has referenced his use of hand signals and the occasional Spanish word as improvised stopgaps while Bonjour learns English.
“We complement each other well,” DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s more on the physical side, whereas I like to be on the shoulders of the quick guys in behind. In the past I’ve played well with and complemented those sorts of players. We’re still working on the communication of the total back four, but that only comes with playing.
“We’ve gotten a few games under our belt as a unit and, hopefully, we can continue to grow now as a back four.”
The starting back four going into opening day appears to be Alain Rochat and Lee Young-Pyo in the fullback positions on either side of Bonjour and DeMerit.
“It’s always great to play with great experienced players like Jay DeMerit and Lee,” Bonjour said through teammate and stand-in translator Omar Salgado. “I’m enjoying it a lot and it’s always great to give the team that confidence that we’ll be strong and won’t allow a goal.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.