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Whitecaps sign veteran centre back Andy O'Brien from Leeds United

08/01/2012 11:45 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps' strong back line became more crowded Wednesday.

The Caps acquired centre back Andy O'Brien, after he obtained his release from Leeds United of the English League Championship and effectively became a free agent. Other terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Vancouver completed a coup in the acquisition of a player that has more than 300 games of English Premier League experience, has logged nearly 500 appearances altogether in England and has represented the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup.

O'Brien could have stayed with his hometown Leeds United squad but, following a second stint that spanned two seasons, he decided to explore Major League Soccer instead.

"I was a kid when I was at Leeds United and I went off to play elsewhere and then came back to Leeds," said O'Brien, 33. "It was a big decision, but I wanted to make sure that everything was right in the decision to come over to Vancouver."

He decided to sign after touring the city the past three days. Leeds United released O'Brien before the closure of a FIFA international transfer window so that he would be available to the Whitecaps. When he will get a start for Vancouver is uknown at this point.

The Whitecaps have gone primarily with captain Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour in the central defender spots. They also have steady right defender Young Pyo-Lee and Alain Rochat on the left. Together, the quartet has helped Vancouver record nine clean sheets.

O'Brien, a Harrogate, England native who has dual English-Irish citizenship, has also played for English sides Bradford City, Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers over a decade and a half. He said he's prepared to work hard for his spot.

"I've worked since I was 16 years old," he said.

But the six-foot-three and 175-lbs. centre back is not willing to describe his playing style.

"I'll wait for others to draw an opinion," he said. "(Soccer) is about opinions at the end of the day. But I read my season (Monday), and I said it looked quite impressive on paper."

O'Brien, who had two goals in 38 appearances with Leeds United in his latest go-round there, hopes the on-paper results carry over to the pitch in North America. He had a strong desire to play in MLS and is not worried about differences, real or perceived, between the North American game and the one overseas.

"There's a big interest in MLS back home. ... But the game's the same whether it's in Europe or it's here," he said. "The objective is to win. From a defensive point of view, it's to be strong and solid."

Vancouver's primary objective in obtaining O'Brien was to add depth to the back line. While the incumbents have often been a fabulous four, there were few who could step into the key centre back spots.

President Bob Lenarduzzi said Saturday's 2-1 road loss to Real Salt Lake was a "classic example" of a drop-off in play that occurs when DeMerit or Bonjour are not available or not up to par. DeMerit struggled after playing a full 90 minutes in the MLS all-star game Wednesday due to an injury to another player and then travelling Thursday. His miscues led to both goals against, and a poor back also spelled the ejection of goalkeeper Joe Cannon for a deliberate hand ball outside the 18-yard box. Cannon received an automatic one-game suspension.

"We were in a situation where there really wasn't much to do," said Lenarduzzi of the decision to play a fatigued DeMerit.

The Whitecaps are wary of throwing young players into the back-line breach before they are ready. Lenarduzzi said O'Brien's extensive EPL experience playing against some of the best strikers in the world will be a huge benefit to the Whitecaps.

"He's good with the ball at his feet, comfortable with the ball at his feet," said Lenarduzzi. "He's six-foot-three, so he's good on aerial challenges.

"I would describe him as your prototype centre back. He's got size. He's got the ability. He's got the experience. And, for us, that's not a knock on the guys we've got right now. We just are a little bit thin in the middle of the back."

Coach Martin Rennie said O'Brien will add competition that has been lacking at centre back.

"So we're really pleased overall about (the acquisition)," said Rennie. "For me, just getting a player that's really motivated and excited and determined to make a big impact on his career in Major League Soccer was just too good an opportunity to turn down."

O'Brien said he made the decision to join the Whitecaps on his own without consulting other players. But the efforts of first-year Caps coach Rennie, 36, to welcome him, and the Scot's coaching philosophies and methods were key to his signing.

"He's forward-thinking and he's a young man," said O'Brien. "And looking at the way things have transpired in Europe, that seems to be the way forward."

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