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