BURNABY, B.C. – When Lee Young-Pyo joined the Vancouver Whitecaps this offseason, he didn’t quite know what to expect.
Though the right back knew he’d have a big role to play both as a player and an ambassador for a club in only its second year in Major League Soccer, at age 35, he didn’t anticipate logging more minutes than any of his teammates.
But with two matches to go, the former South Korean international has done just that, racking up 2,790 minutes over 31 games, all of which have been starts.
“I didn’t expect it,” Lee told MLSsoccer.com after a training session at Swangard Stadium on Tuesday. “At the beginning of the season I never thought about it – but it’s been a very impressive season for me and for the team. Last season, they were bottom of the league, but this season we are very close to playing in the playoffs.”
While Lee himself didn’t foresee leading a team of much younger men in playing time, the way things have played out hasn’t surprised the club’s captain.
“Y.P. is a guy, no matter what his age, who has always been there and been consistent,” Jay DeMerit said, before going on to a discussion of Asian engineering. “I’ve played with a lot of guys from that culture and those guys just seem to have engines that come from those areas. I don’t know why and I don’t ask questions – those guys are very talented in their fitness and their health, both things that Y.P. brings to this team.
“His wealth of experience and his skill as well – he’s the total package and he’s been fantastic.”
Lee’s season – in which he has started all but one of the club’s league games – runs in stark contrast to the juggling act that occurred in the position in Year 1, with Jonathan Leathers, Bilal Duckett, John Thorrington and Jeb Brovsky all taking turns on the right side of defense.
“We didn’t have as good of consistency in that position and your right and left back should be the most consistent guys on the field,” DeMerit said. “They keep the ball for you and they defend well, and if they’re the type of player who gets beyond and get in crosses and helps out offensively then he’s the complete package. Y.P. does all of those things for us.”
Lee has enjoyed his North American adventure thus far – as have his teammates – and now it’s about crossing the finish line and helping the ‘Caps become Canada’s first-ever MLS Cup playoff team.
“[MLS] is very unique and many people is interested in this club,” Lee said. “It’s very fast growing up – maybe the fastest growing league in the world. I expect in 10 years even it will be much better than now.
“I want to play in the playoff as soon as possible, and that’s it.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.