After months of waiting, it looks like Russell Teibert will finally get a chance to start for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The 19-year-old Niagara Falls, Ont., native is expected to make his first start of the season Saturday in a key road game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all year,” said Teibert, who played left wing with expected starters Friday in practice. “I’m very excited to get the chance to get back on the field.”
The struggling Whitecaps (10-10-7) have lost three straight and are winless in their past five road contests. With a victory, the Caps can move into a tie with fourth-place L.A. (12-11-4) and further secure their hopes of grabbing one of just five available Western Conference playoff berths.
Teibert’s insertion is one of many expected Vancouver lineup changes as a result of injuries, suspension, and coach Martin Rennie’s desire to rest players during the stretch drive of the regular season. The most notable absentee will be top scorer Darren Mattocks, who is serving a one-game suspension for a high elbow that resulted in a red card in last weekend’s 2-1 loss away to the Portland Timbers.
Teibert, an emerging player in Canada’s national senior men’s program, rose up to MLS through the Whitecaps’ residency program after beginning in Toronto FC’s youth system. He started Vancouver’s first-ever MLS game in March 2011, earning an assist in a 4-2 victory over Toronto.
He made five starts as a rookie, but has not done so since June 2011. His sit-down coincided with the firing of former coach Teitur Thordarson two days after the same game.
So much time has elapsed that Teibert, who was sidelined for part of 2011 with a toe injury, could not remember his last start. This season, he has logged only 20 minutes while appearing in two games.
“It’s been a challenging season,” said Teibert. “It’s time for me to grow as a player and an an individual and progress.”
Growth has been evident in recent weeks. Teibert has dressed for more games and seen action as a substitute lately.
“He’s starting to contribute for us,” said Rennie. “He’s doing well in training, he’s done well in the games where he’s come on, so he’s getting closer and closer now, which is good for everyone.”
He also played a prominent role for Canada’s under-23 team in its Olympic qualifying attempt, and was called up to the senior men’s side for the first time for a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago.
“He brings a lot of energy,” said Rennie. “He gets up and down the field. He’s the fittest player that I think I’ve worked with. He can run all day, and I think that’s a good attribute for any player to have.
“But he’s also got good quality. He’s a good passer of the ball, he can go past people one-(on)-one, he’s got good pace, so I think he’s going to be a good player.”
One of Teibert’s key roles Saturday will be to feed the ball to Kenny Miller, who will start at striker in place of Mattocks. The 32-year-old captain of Scotland’s national team is starting to feel more comfortable with the Caps after first suiting up for them in July.
“It’s getting better, obviously,” said Miller. “I’ve been disappointed in the last three results. ... We’re still in a strong position to finish off the season strongly and make the playoffs, and then after that anything can happen.”
Meanwhile, Rennie said John Thorrington, usually a midfielder, will start at right back in place of Young-Pyo Lee, who is being rested after playing every minute of Vancouver’s MLS games thus far.
“I think he can do well there,” said Rennie. “I think he’s got all the attributes to actually be a really good right back. He’s a good defender, he’s good one-(on)-one, he’s very athletic. He’s also good getting forward.”
Other changes are anticipated on Vancouver’s back line as Andy O’Brien deals with a groin injury and Alain Rochat battles fatigue. Rennie was also contemplating a change in goal to Brad Knighton from Joe Cannon after the starter let a shot go through his hands in Portland.
Captain Jay DeMerit hopes Teibert and the other additions can provide an infusion of energy and desire. DeMerit said the Caps have simply not played well lately.
“It’s opportunities like this that can change people’s careers and change people’s jobs,” said DeMerit. “And, I think that hunger and that competitiveness is something that we need more of here.”
Notes: This is the third and final regular-season meeting between the teams. L.A. took the first game and overturned a 2-0 deficit to forge a 2-2 tie in the second. ... Galaxy stiker Landon Donovan is expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury. ... Whitecaps winger Omar Salgado, recovering from a broken foot, has resumed training on his own and hopes to get back to action with the reserve squad Sept. 10.
Follow us on Twitter: