2014 was certainly an uneven season for Whitecaps center back Andy O'Brien. Known for his rock solid, stable defensive play, O'Brien was his old self to start the season but then struggled at the midway point, before righting the ship and returning to the form Whitecaps fans knew he was capable of towards the end of the season. It was encouraging to be sure, but with money needing to be spent on a pure scorer this off-season, there's been plenty of speculation on whether or not O'Brien will be returning to the fold in 2015.
After all, he is out of contract once the season ends and he made a hefty $280,000 for his efforts this year. With money always tight in MLS, and some cheaper options already on the roster at the position, it's very possible O'Brien will be looking for employment elsewhere this season.
The case for keeping O'Brien is an easy one. In his three years in MLS, O'Brien has been the general of the Whitecaps backline, picking up the slack whenever Jay Demerit would go down with injury. Once Demerit retired, O'Brien's leadership role only expanded. He's the most experienced defender the Whitecaps have at 35 years of age, and the club, well, any club could use a player like that on their roster. If the Whitecaps bid adieu to O'Brien, they'll no doubt be looking for a similar, albeit no doubt cheaper player to replace him on the depth chart. In addition, he's already forged some nice chemistry with CB partner Kendall Waston, and should the club potentially mess that up by walking away from his contract? Speaking in terms of pure intimidation, that's a nice duo to have back there.
For O'Brien's part, it doesn't appear that money is going to be the deciding factor of whether he returns. He's already said that he's willing to take a pay-cut, and it appears the biggest factor will be what Carl Robinson envisions his role on squad to be, moving forward. If the price and situation is right, then O'Brien should be back.
At the same time, this might be the best time for the Whitecaps to walk away from the situation. They have Johnny Leveron on the roster, who just might be ready to make the leap to full-time MLS work. It's the same story with the young Christian Dean, and that's only if the Whitecaps don't go out and get themselves another body before MLS training camp. We know that Carl Robinson is not afraid to play the hell out of his young players, so perhaps O'Brien isn't needed at this point. Furthermore, if the 'Caps are trying to develop players like Dean or Leveron, it could be counter-productive to have O'Brien on the roster, eating up their minutes.
With Andy O'Brien, you know what you're going to get. He's a proven commodity, and while he's getting advanced in his age, the Whitecaps could still definitely use a player of his skill, experience, and leadership. However, given the talent the Whitecaps have waiting in the wings, I think they'd be better served finding a cheaper depth option at the postion, and giving their younger guys a real shot at playing some MLS minutes. I'd be more than confident going into the season with Johnny Leveron as my starting CB; I'd be ecstatic if Dean forced the Whitecaps coaching staff to give him a serious look at the position this season. In any case, I'd save my money, and spend it on the attack, where the Whitecaps are seriously lacking some bodies.
Of course, I could very well eat my words if there were a rash of injuries at the position in 2015, or if the club gave the young guys a chance to shine, and they didn't. In that case, we would no doubt see countless headlines suggesting the 'Caps need to find a reliable, proven veteran for their backline.
So, I guess my answer is something like this; If O'Brien is happy as a depth option making significantly less money, bring him back. If not, it's time to move on from Andy O'Brien.