The Central Back Conundrum

Posted on August 21, 2013 by


Photo: Andy O’Brien. Courtesy of

No, my dear reader, this article is not about an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” despite what the title might suggest. My point of interest here is the current and future situation of the central back position on the Vancouver Whitecaps squad.

The 2013 Central Back Saga has experienced more ups and downs than the wooden roller coaster at the PNE. If we go back to pre-season, when the team announced the additions of Brad Rusin and Johnny Leveron to complement existing central backs Andy O’Brien, Jay DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell, many of us had the thought of “Geez, that does sound like a lot of them”.

However, if we consider that this team was built with the following in mind: a long season, two veterans like O’Brien and DeMerit, the expectation of having to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and Mitchell’s season-long loan to Edmonton, then the perceived defensive overload didn’t seem so over the top. Of course, we all remember the cruel turn of events in the first five minutes of the season that left the skipper, in the opinion of most of us at the time, done for the season. That is when Andy O’Brien took over and solidly commanded the back line for the first seventeen games of the season. Then O’Brien himself went down in early June at Seattle and all of the sudden Mitchell had to be recalled and the central back line morphed to Rusin and Leveron. In a twist, imagined only by a writer of a Mexican telenovela, Rusin also went down and it was up to the “rookies” Mitchell and Leveron to hold down the fort. And, in all fairness, for the most part, they have.

What did we learn from all this? Well, the obvious conclusion is that apparently you can never have too many central backs. The gamble of having a deep roster for this position paid off for one reason or the other (in this case, a freakishly high number of injuries). Just to put it out there, as I mentioned in my Starting XI interview, I am a central back myself and I will be happy to lace up for the Blue and White at a moment’s notice. But I digress.

The second conclusion I can draw is that this year has been beneficial for Leveron and Mitchell as they have been thrown out there and given meaningful minutes, which will prove extremely important when they get the tap on the shoulder and it is their turn to be the first choices. I am certain that they are the future of the team in that position. They have proven this season that they can be a solid choice and they will only get better.

But, let’s deal with today. At this moment, O’Brien is ready to go (and it was probably a good call from the gaffer not to start him in Colorado after two and a half months recovering from injury). Leveron has been, for the most part, stellar and, in my opinion, has earned himself a spot in the starting XI. DeMerit is very close to being back due with what has been an almost miraculous recovery. Last time I heard from Rusin he had a ball for an ankle. Mitchell has been the most improved of the lot and does not leave the fans holding their breath when he is out there.

So, in the short to medium term the Whitecaps will have O’Brien, DeMerit, Leveron and Mitchell available for selection. O’Brien was a rock in the first third of the season, so he has to go back in. I am a huge fan of DeMerit and what he brings to the table so in my book he has to go back in. Mitchell, well, his turn will come but it is not right now. So it comes down to what to do with Leveron? It would be difficult to argue that he should take a seat.

Here’s my personal dream scenario. You slot O’Brien and DeMerit in the back, and Leveron, with his defensive acumen, beautifully educated left foot and nice ball movement would slide nicely into the holding midfield role currently being occupied by Gershon Koffie who, in turn, can go back to sitting next to Reo-Coker a few yards forward. I asked Leveron on Twitter (a benefit of speaking Spanish) if he could play as a defensive midfielder and he said he thinks he can.

Will I get my wish? Do you have better solution? Please let me know. One thing is for certain, Martin Rennie will need to come up with a “Big-Bang-Theory-like” genius idea to make this work. In the meantime, is that Penny over there?…

Jorge Mendoza