07/17/2015 11:09 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Whitecaps ready to go young in defence against Portland Timbers

Tim Parker's first game in Major League Soccer lasted all of two minutes as a substitute in a 0-0 road draw against the Portland Timbers back in May.

The rookie defender for the Vancouver Whitecaps looks set to get a lot more action this weekend at Providence Park.

The Whitecaps are short in the centre of defence heading into Saturday's match against the Timbers, with Kendall Waston away at the Gold Cup and Pa-Modou Kah nursing a calf injury.

That means that Parker will likely get the call on a backline that could also include second-year defender Christian Dean.

Parker said coming on late to help protect that away point in Portland on May 2 should serve him well Saturday in what is one of the league's most hostile environments.

"It was calming my nerves and getting my first experience in the MLS," said the 22-year-old who was taken 13th overall in this year's draft. "We were just clearing the box. Defending is our job and that's what we've got to do (Saturday)."

A native of Hicksville, N.Y., Parker has started four MLS games this season and came close to scoring on a header in Sunday's 1-0 home loss to Sporting Kansas City. He also looked calm with the ball at his feet and was confident threading passes through the midfield.

"His mentality is absolutely fantastic," said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. "It's an example that all the young players should have ... he's got an old head on young shoulders."

Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted said he has complete confidence that Parker and Dean can get the job done if called upon.

"Get them in there, see what they're made of," Ousted said with a grin. "We all trust them and they trust the guys around them. It's a good opportunity for them to show what kind of players they are."

When compared to Parker, Dean's road with the Whitecaps has been a little longer. The 22-year-old from East Palo Alto, Calif., is in his second year with the club after being selected third overall in 2014 and has yet to step on the field in MLS this season. He played four games last year, including one start, but was slotted in as a fullback, not in his natural centre back position.

Apart from practising together, Parker and Dean have also played matches for Vancouver's second-tier USL team, which has helped keep them sharp while fostering a good understanding on the pitch.

"I'm just excited more than anything," said Dean. "I like playing with Tim in training. We do most of the drills together. We get along off the field very well, so it helps us on the field."

Vancouver (10-8-2) sits in a three-way tie for first in the Western Conference heading into the weekend, with Portland (9-7-4) tied for fourth just a point back.

"They're a top team. They've got top players," said Robinson. "It's a very difficult game for us. Every team goes through it. You get banged up, you miss players. We're missing a load of players. No excuses for us. We'll go there with a young group. We'll give it our best."

The Whitecaps have been at their best on the road this season with a 6-4-1 mark compared to a rather pedestrian 4-4-1 mark at home. The Timbers, meanwhile, are 6-1-3 at Providence Park and will be eager to make amends after a 3-0 away loss to the Philadelphia Union last week.

"Portland's a great team, especially at home," said Ousted. "They're tough, but we've gone into tough places before and pulled out wins. So let's see if we can't do that again."

If they do, it will likely be thanks in large part to a pair young defenders.


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