The 33-year-old former Irish international stepped in for captain Jay DeMerit to help the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 2-1 win Saturday night at BC Place.
"I thought he was fantastic,” head coach Martin Rennie told reporters after the match of the former Irish international’s play. “I thought he strolled through the game and barely gave them any chances. I thought he spoke and communicated very well, which is what we have seen since the first day he has trained with us."
The 33-year-old didn’t seem to show the rust that might have been expected since he has hardly kicked a ball in two months and only saw the pitch once for Leeds United in the second half of the English Championship season after dealing with depression issues.
“Sometimes it’s better when you’re just thrown in, and you don’t have too much to think about,” O’Brien said. “I was delighted with the fact that we won the game, because that was our objective before the game, and they’re a decent team.”
Still, O’Brien was clearly trying to play down his joy at getting back on the field of play, given the circumstances of his introduction, as he replaced the injured captain Jay DeMerit, who appeared to suffer a concussion after colliding with his own goalkeeper Brad Knighton in the 30th minute.
“My opportunity came, unfortunately because Jay got injured,” O’Brien said. “But yeah, delighted to get on and win the game.”
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While no official diagnosis has been made, Rennie speculated the club’s skipper did indeed suffer a head injury in his collision with Knighton.
“I’m not entirely sure what [DeMerit’s] status is,” Rennie said. “He did get a head knock, and it looked to me that he was concussed – that’s not official, that’s just my opinion. So we’ll just have to wait and see. He’s been such a big player for us this season and done so well.”
With the win, the Whitecaps improve to 10-7-7, and will be back in action on Wednesday as they face FC Dallas.