The Vancouver Whitecaps are off to a strong start, and the arrivals of Johnny Leveron and Paulo Junior can only help, writes Goal.com's Martin MacMahon.
Leveron in particular is a player that should be a starter at Major League Soccer level, but given Andy O’Brien’s steady showings and experience at the tops levels of the game in the English Premier League, the former captain of the Honduran Olympic team will likely have to battle Brad Rusin for playing time.
While on paper Leveron is a more promising prospect, Rusin has been very good in his first two showings in Whitecaps colours, and given his background with head coach Martin Rennie from their days in Carolina with the RailHawks, one would think he’ll get the benefit of the doubt and remain the incumbent.
Rusin shouldn’t rest on his laurels, however – Rennie has shown a willingness to make tough decisions with his former players – notably dropping Jun Marques Davidson during the 2012 end-of-season run-in, and this season electing to restore Joe Cannon as the starting goalkeeper despite former RailHawk goalkeeper Brad Knighton’s impressive finish to last season.
If the Whitecaps continue to win, and continue to play strong defensively, Rusin will likely keep his spot – at least in the short term.
But where it gets tricky for Rusin is that no matter what he does, he isn’t Leveron. That is to say, Rusin lacks the range of distribution Leveron has in his toolkit, and for all his physical attributes and steadiness, if Rennie wants a more footballing partner for O’Brien, no level of effort will allow Rusin to retain his spot.
Add in the fact that the newcomer would add a bit more balance with his left and the task doesn’t get any easier for Rusin.
Still, the combination of Jay DeMerit’s long-term Achilles tendon injury and Leveron’s paperwork delay has given Rusin a chance to show what he can do – and he hasn’t done anything to hurt his case.
Regardless of how it turns out for the players involved, it’s a nice bit of healthy competition in a crucial area of the field and will certainly be an interesting competition to follow.
For Paulo Jr., the task ahead will be tough given the start of Vancouver’s wide attackers Kenny Miller and Daigo Kobayashi, who both appear undroppable in the early going.
Where Junior might find some joy is, interestingly enough, in the form of Darren Mattocks’ slow start to the year. The Jamaican has looked fairly anonymous in the team’s opening two games, and if that continues, expect Miller to move to the tip of Vancouver’s attacking spear with Junior slotting in on the right.
Even if the Brazilian newcomer doesn’t start immediately, he should see plenty of action off the bench. That should mean rookie Erik Hurtado’s push for playing time will become more difficult – and with the imminent return of Omar Salgado from a foot injury there should be even further competition in the wide attacking positions.
All good news for Rennie and his Whitecaps, but the depth in those wide roles does make one wonder how long the Scottish tactician will be able to keep everyone happy, especially those players given peripheral roles.
Still, as the club has experienced first hand with DeMerit, the injury bug can strike at any time – so it’s better to have a selection headache due to too many quality options rather than be left placing inferior players on the field or playing strong players out of position in order to fill the lineup.