VANCOUVER, B.C. – If training sessions are anything to go by, it looks as if Johnny Leverón is in at center back and Jay DeMerit is out for the Vancouver Whitecaps as they prepare to take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday (9:30 pm ET; MLS Live in the US, TSN2 in Canada).
Leverón, a 24-year-old central defender with a cultured left foot, trained alongside Andy O'Brien with the starting group this week, and Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson also pledged earlier this week to give Leverón every chance of making Honduras' World Cup squad this summer.
“He's a ball playing center back,” Robinson told reporters after a training session at the University of British Columbia on Thursday. “I think the time is right to give Johnny a chance. With that in mind, we've got a very tough month ahead with the Amway [Canadian Championship] tournament as well. I might lose Johnny for the national team of Honduras.
“I've got to be thinking about that as well.”
In his short time as Whitecaps head coach, Robinson has shown a willingness to leave out senior players.
Specifically, he's already “rested” DeMerit once, and given fellow 34-year-old Kenny Miller a break, as well.
O'Brien, also 34, got a break of sorts last weekend against the LA Galaxy, with Robinson opting to bring the player off at halftime given he had earlier picked up a yellow card.
Nigel Reo-Coker, the 29-year-old midfielder who suffered a concussion after tripping over a bike rack on the streets of Vancouver, is another example of a player Robinson has left out despite his status as a senior squad member.
The Englishman has made the 18-man squad twice since recovering from a concussion but has yet to see the field – he missed out on Thursday's training session with a virus and could be a doubt for this weekend as a result.
- Get the latest news at WhitecapsFC.com
If Leverón does come in for DeMerit this weekend as expected, however, it will be difficult to label it as simply another maintenance weekend for the captain.
Leverón established himself as a starter last season after DeMerit ruptured his Achilles' tendon on opening day and in his only start this season helped Vancouver to their lone clean sheet of the campaign.
In short, the player is a legitimate contender for DeMerit's spot, and a good showing this weekend could mean a whole lot more “resting” for Vancouver's first ever signing.
“It's a difficult away game for us,” Robinson said. “I've got to think about the month ahead. We've got a very tough month ahead, as well. Let's not take anything away from this game. But the reason I'm trying to build a strong squad is to have competition for places, and we certainly have that. When I feel the time is right to withdraw someone or leave someone out for rest or other reasons then I will do that.
“That's the strength I have in my squad, and it's the trust I have in my squad as well. If a manager doesn't have trust in his players, then I'm afraid he's in the wrong sport.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.