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Will 2015 be the year of Russell Teibert?

Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert came into his own in 2014, but will he be able to continue that development into the new season?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Maturity is the difference between showing potential and fulfilling potential, it’s an intangible which truly reflects the caliber of any young player with serious aspirations of reaching the very top of their craft. Talent can be honed and developed, however means little without that strong presence of character – just look at the mysterious case of Omar Salgado! It’s really the barometer from which to accurately measure development, and also represents the greatest incentive for investment or, in some instances, a lack thereof. Russell Teibert, the Canadian free spirit commonplace in the Vancouver Whitecaps midfield last term, has been subjected to many questions in this regard, but heads into his fifth season in MLS determined to prove his skeptics wrong.

There is reason to believe that he will indeed silence his doubters over coming months and much of that reality has his reconciliation with Benito Floro to thank. Teibert spent a year in exile from the Canadian Men’s National Team due to an alleged dispute over his attitude prior to becoming such a peripheral figure, and it was only after months of proving his worth with the Caps that a route back into the Spanish tactician’s plans presented itself. It demanded enormous patience from the Niagara Falls native to persevere whilst being frozen out, but in retrospect the whole debacle has helped his learning curve and is something all parties can reap rewards from. Fast forward to today and he’s back where he belongs in Floro’s set-up, a better player and more importantly a better professional, however his return merely signals the beginning of more to come and the next phase starts with a secured place in Carl Robinson’s line-up.

Teibert seized his opportunity last season when Gershon Koffie, the usual partner to Matias Laba in the defensive midfield, endured a prolonged spell on the sidelines, making more than twenty starts in MLS for the first time in his career and impressing many while doing so. Jay DeMerit hanging up his boots early into the campaign led to Russell’s promotion into a position with more responsibilities as Vancouver sought to fill the void left by the former USMNT stalwart’s departure. He raised his game because of that show of faith to the extent that when Pedro Morales – DeMerit’s successor as club captain – was afforded a rest, he adopted the armband in the Chilean’s place. This, like many of Robinson’s decisions throughout his first year at the helm, wasn’t necessarily a safe call, yet the Whitecaps circumvented the risks associated with the move – an inflation of ego or the detrimental effects attached to the pressure for example – and have instead yielded all of the possible benefits.

This confidence in his abilities has accelerated the dynamic midfielder’s growth and has created a lot of promise for the future, however with that being said there remains serious competition for minutes at BC Place. Although Teibert enjoyed much success in Koffie’s absence, it was the Ghanaian who started alongside Laba in the playoff meeting with FC Dallas and that challenge from the effervescent box-to-box powerhouse remains all the more prominent this year. There is scope for Laba, Koffie and Teibert to co-exist in the same midfield, but with more options at the head coach’s disposal in the attacking areas the likelihood of that trio frequently working in coalition has decreased further. Robinson has claimed that he will wait until the eve of the game before picking his team for the season opener against Toronto FC. If that is the truth then it will take tremendous work ethic from #31 to regain his role as a starter and even more of that determination to remain there, in the process furthering his emergence of course but that win-win situation is far from a foregone conclusion at this point.

If there is one game to go back to and validate the argument that Teibert should become an integral part to Vancouver’s efforts in 2015 it’s certainly the 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in October. He put in the display of his career, a genuine man of the match performance, and had a huge influence on the Whitecaps leaving CenturyLink Field with maximum points. Clint Dempsey was rendered obsolete by the charismatic Canadian all night long and perhaps the signature image from the night was of an irate Dempsey yelling profanities in Russ’ face, met only by the smugness of a victorious smile. He was committed to what was asked of him without fault, executing his role immaculately as the attacking threat poised by the Supporters’ Shield winners was nullified by the discipline exhibited by the visitors from across the border above all else. It required remarkable nerve to step up to the plate against some of the best players in the league, with so many implications on Vancouver’s playoff push at the time no less, and further outings of that mould within similar circumstances could offer an invaluable service to a side with such lofty postseason ambitions going forward.

With that valiance in mind, the next twelve months could possibly decide the validity of Teibert’s case to someday obtain the Whitecaps captaincy. It’s something which I would be willing to put money on, given the number of times his leadership noticeably affected colleagues around him in 2014, but can’t really be perceived with any semblance of likelihood without that spot in the line-up locked up. Much of which in this respect will depend on what role is optimal for Russell tactically; Koffie offers the complete box-to-box presence while Laba protects the back-line as a more orthodox holder, their significance to the team defined by what they each bring to the table. Robinson’s flexibility in relation to his choice of system could be Teibert’s best friend with there consequently being a higher number of chances for him to discover that single outstanding role, yet there nevertheless remains an urgency of sorts for him to truly establish himself as an individual asset.

What all of this accumulates to is a fascinating storyline with many possible outcomes, worth keeping an eye on over the months of regular season action to come for a number of different reasons. He recently published a photo of himself with his main opposition for game-time on Instagram, with the enthusiastic caption: "some people fear their competition, we embrace it and push one another towards greatness,". This is terrific to see from a camaraderie standpoint and could prove crucial to sustaining harmony when undoubtedly one pairing is particularly favored over a period of time, though the desired result he prefers to harness must remain a constant if the engine room are to function at full capacity and if he is to continue in his trajectory towards the very top of his craft. Maturity, much like how it guided him through awkward relations with Flores, will serve as an invaluable passport.