Whitecaps show off defensive depth during winning streak

Reo-Coker

Photo by ISIphotos.com

By THOMAS FLOYD

WASHINGTON — Eight minutes into the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2013 campaign, captain Jay DeMerit went down with a torn Achilles. Ever since, the only constant in their defense has been the lack of continuity.

As the Whitecaps took the RFK Stadium field Saturday against D.C. United, they did so without a single member of coach Martin Rennie’s opening day defense.

Brad Knighton got the nod in goal over Joe Cannon. Jordan Harvey took the left back post he’s owned since Alain Rochat was traded to D.C. The versatile Nigel Reo-Coker got the nod at right back as veteran Lee Young-Pyo rested. And centerbacks Carlyle Mitchell and Johnny Leveron filled in for the injured DeMerit and Andy O’Brien.

The result? A 1-0 win for Vancouver’s first shutout since that Week 1 triumph over Toronto FC.

“It’s important that you have that depth,” Rennie said. “I think all teams have a little bit of adversity and we do as well. The players who have played have stepped up and done a great job, and whenever the other players get their chance they have to do the same.”

In central defense for the Whitecaps (7-5-4), the revolving door will continue to spin as Mitchell reports to the Trinidad & Tobago national team for Gold Cup duty, with journeyman Brad Rusin likely sliding next to the Honduran international Leveron.

But in those three games started together by Mitchell and Leveron following O’Brien’s hamstring strain, the Whitecaps claimed all nine points.

“Guys who come in don’t even speak the same language, and maybe weren’t even in the picture to play a few weeks ago,” midfielder Matt Watson said. “And they’ve done really well.”

While Reo-Coker has been a stalwart for the Whitecaps, appearing in all but one game and going the full 90 minutes 12 times, he’s made his mark as a box-to-box midfielder. Against United, however, he held his own at right back while matched up at different points with Kyle Porter, Chris Pontius and Lionard Pajoy.

“You could put him at any position probably except goalkeeper,” Knighton said. “You just tell him where to play and he’s a team player, and he’ll step in and play any position he needs to do to get a W for the team.”

Enjoying a 5-1-1 stretch, the Whitecaps have overcome a seven-game winless drought to move into fifth place in the Western Conference. As they approach the season’s midway point, having faith in their defensive depth bodes well for the stretch run.

“Obviously the players that we have, they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t good enough to play in this league,” Knighton said. “We’ve recruited some really good players, and the results the last couple of weeks have shown that we’ve got depth at this position.”

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