BRITISH COLUMBIA

Teibert happy to start in Vancouver after challenging sophomore year

04/18/2013 11:06 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - After enduring a challenging Major League Soccer sophomore year in 2012, hard-working Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert is just relieved to have finally cracked the starting line-up.

The 20-year-old Niagara Falls, Ont., native has started the past two matches for the Whitecaps (2-2-2) and was one of his team's best players last Saturday at BC Place as Vancouver fought back to draw 1-1 with Real Salt Lake.

What has made Teibert's coming of age all the more impressive is that Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie shifted him from his usual left-wing role into the centre of midfield during the pre-season.

And judging by his recent performances, it is likely Rennie will continue using the Canadian men’s national team representative in a tricky clash away to Western Conference leaders FC Dallas (5-1-1) on Saturday night.

Not one to get ahead of himself, Teibert — who made just four appearances and one start last year — is thrilled to be able to regularly contribute from the opening whistle.

"I feel good, I feel happy," he said at training this week. "It's been a difficult time to get here, to get in the starting line-up, but I'm happy to be here and I'm just going to look to work even harder to stay in the line-up now.

"There's a long journey ahead as well, so I'm just going to keep doing the same things I've done to get here and hopefully it will lead me in a good direction."

His performances have already received rave reviews from experienced teammate and midfield partner Nigel Reo-Coker.

The former English Premier League player even went as far as to dub Teibert the "future of Canadian football."

"I've been hugely impressed with him from when I first came to the club," Reo-Coker said. "He's deserved the chance that he has been given and he's taken it with both hands.

"He's a fantastic talent and for me I believe he's the future of Canadian football. He has tremendous ability, great attributes, can see a pass, can make a pass and he brings a different dimension to the game in midfield."

Teibert said Reo-Coker has had a big impact on his play.

"He's teaching me how to play the midfield position and I'm just learning everything I can from him day in and day out," Teibert said.

As for the praise that's starting to flow in, the youngster refuses to buy into it.

"I'm just looking to stay grounded because it is a long season," he said.

"There's a lot of football left to play so I'm looking to stay grounded and keep a level head on my shoulders."

There have been a few casualties as a result of Teibert's well-deserved promotion to the starting line-up, including Ghanaian midfielder Gershon Koffie.

In the previous two seasons, Koffie was one of the first names on the team sheet for Vancouver, but it’s been a different story this season.

Koffie started on the bench against San Jose on April 6 and played 22 minutes, but he remained on the pine for the full match against Real Salt Lake.

However, the softly-spoken 21-year-old is confident his next opportunity isn't too far away.

"It's a new thing (not starting)," he said. "But whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so I think I’ll be stronger the next time (Rennie) puts me in."

The other player to feel the impact of Teibert's rise is Brazilian midfielder Paulo Jr., who was waived by Vancouver on Wednesday.

After joining the Whitecaps in January via the MLS re-entry draft, Paulo Jr. played several matches for the Reserves team but was unable to fight his way into the senior team.

Rennie was full of praise for the import and acknowledged he was unable to fit him in due to the emergence of the team's younger players.

"That was a tough decision because Paulo Jr. actually has been doing well in the reserves and pre-season games," the coach said.

"In that kind of position we've got a lot of what we feel are really talented young players and we just felt that it might be difficult for him to get in the team just because we’ve got a lot of players in that type of position."

Vancouver is still searching for its first road win of the season and once again, will likely have to do it without the services of striker Kenny Miller against FC Dallas.

The Scottish veteran hasn't been able to shake off a hamstring injury that has forced him to miss the past two matches.

He didn't train with the team on Wednesday.

"We still have to wait and see but I think he'll probably be struggling for Saturday," conceded Rennie.