Laid-back cen­tre­back

De­fender aims for a smarter, sharper sea­son with less cards and sus­pen­sions cost­ing him games

The Province - - SPORTS - Ed Willes

Ken­dall Was­ton has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a phys­i­cal, hard-nosed de­fender prone to penal­ties. But he says he’s re­formed his way­ward ways

F ol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of a dread­ful Van­cou­ver White­caps 2016 sea­son, Carl Robinson sat down and spelled things out to Ken­dall Was­ton.

You’re an im­por­tant player and a leader on this team, the Caps’ man­ager told the im­pos­ing de­fender. But when you miss games be­cause of red cards and sus­pen­sions it hurts the club. If we’re go­ing to go any­where, you have to clean that up. If you don’t, we’ll have to re-ex­am­ine your role.

It wasn’t a ter­ri­bly com­pli­cated mes­sage, but it was of vi­tal im­por­tance to the White­caps and Was­ton. As they pre­pared for Satur­day’s home game against Sport­ing Kansas City, the Caps’ first home match since the first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, Was­ton was asked about that con­ver­sa­tion.

“He told me it wasn’t ac­cept­able to miss so many games with sus­pen­sions in a stupid way,” Was­ton said. “He’s the boss. I want to play.”

Bear in mind English isn’t Was­ton’s first language, but even if his syn­tax is a lit­tle off, his com­pre­hen­sion of the boss’s di­rec­tive isn’t.

On Satur­day, Was­ton con­ceded a penalty and was is­sued a yel­low card in the White­caps’ 2-1 loss to Hous­ton Dy­namo. For most of last sea­son those events would have been as sur­pris­ing as, say, the sun ris­ing in the east. But, this year, Was­ton is a changed man.

The yel­low was the 29-year-old Costa Ri­can’s first of 2017, which is no­table be­cause, last year, Was­ton re­ceived eight yel­low cards, three reds and two ad­di­tional sus­pen­sions from the MLS Dis­ci­plinary Com­mit­tee. He was also sus­pended for the first game of this MLS sea­son for an in­ci­dent from the Caps’ last game of 2016. That would have fallen un­der the afore-men­tioned stupid cat­e­gory.

As it hap­pens, Was­ton’s lone in­dis­cre­tion this year was fiercely de­bated by the Caps and seemed to have more to do with his rep­u­ta­tion than his play on Dy­namo’s Mauro Man­o­tas.

But that’s the thing about rep­u­ta­tions. They tend to stick with you like a bad smell and it will likely take more than a 10-game stretch of cor­rect­ness for Was­ton to be freed from his.

“To put it bluntly, it was a bad call (by ref­eree Fo­tis Baza­kos),” White­caps keeper David Ousted said. “If it’s (Was­ton’s) rep­u­ta­tion or a missed call, I don’t know. But I think the refs have to give Ken­dall a chance. He’s been play­ing the right way. He’s phys­i­cal, but he hasn’t done any­thing to war­rant a card.”

“We got done by an aw­ful de­ci­sion,” said Robinson.

Still, it’s telling that Was­ton’s re­ac­tion to Baza­kos’s call might have been the most-rea­soned of all the White­caps.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think he went with the re­ac­tion of the player. Maybe he got ex­cited about that. Some­times they make mis­takes and we have to ac­cept it.

“I’m go­ing to play with the same in­ten­sity and I’m go­ing to be ag­gres­sive, but in a smart way. This was my first yel­low card, so I’m try­ing to im­prove on those things and de­fend in the proper way.”

The Was­ton ref­or­ma­tion, in fact, is a cru­cial is­sue for the Caps be­cause, when he’s right, he’s in the con­ver­sa­tion of the best cen­tral de­fend­ers in MLS and, this year, he’s likely been the team’s best player. Among other things, he leads the league in headed clear­ances, and is sec­ond in clear­ances and third in blocks.

Think Zdeno Chara in cleats and you have some idea of Was­ton’s im­pact on the game.

This year, he’s also been given the cap­tain’s arm­band and Was­ton has taken the new re­spon­si­bil­ity to heart. Now in his fourth year with the club, he’s al­ways been a leader, but it sent a ter­ri­ble mes­sage to his col­leagues when he was col­lect­ing yel­lows and reds like they were twofor-one coupons.

“It didn’t mat­ter if I was cap­tain or not,” Was­ton said. “I was try­ing to come with the same men­tal­ity the whole sea­son. But it makes me think twice or three times be­fore I re­act emo­tion­ally.

“I’m an emo­tional guy and when I get frus­trated, I ex­plode. I have to count one, two, three and let it pass.”

Robinson said it’s part of a ma­tu­rity that has com­pleted the Was­ton pack­age.

“I think he en­joys that role,” Robinson said. “But for­get whether he’s wear­ing the arm­band. He’s play­ing bril­liantly. He’s a beast back there and he makes us hard to play against.”

Espe­cially when he stays on the pitch.

“He told me it wasn’t ac­cept­able to miss so many games with sus­pen­sions in a stupid way.” — Ken­dall Was­ton

White­caps Ken­dall Was­ton, cen­tre, re­acts to a call af­ter knock­ing down Ti­gres Javier Aquino dur­ing a CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nal in Van­cou­ver on April 5.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.