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In Appreciation of Kendall Waston

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Kendall Waston has become an elite centre-back in Major League Soccer and it's about time we recognized that

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

I first laid my eyes on Kendall Waston at the Whitecaps Summer Fest held at Swangard Stadium shortly after he completed his move from Saprissa to Vancouver that August. He was still coming to terms with the unfamiliar surroundings of British Columbia and was still in the process of fitting into the nucleus he currently galvanises every week. Despite the introverted character he was almost forced to assume, there was no method in which the Costa Rican could have disguised his 6’5″ frame amid the good vibes and festivities ongoing in Burnaby. I can recall with vivid detail watching this phenomenon of a man stroll up to the canopy serving food before devouring the barbecue on offer with a wide smile on his face and without any semblance of hesitation – much like how he has seamlessly nullified MLS strikers over recent months. It became clear from that moment on that Carl Robinson had unearthed a diamond in the rough of considerable proportion in the 27-year-old and the first impression I gauged that evening holds especially true to this day.

Some players are moulded by adversity and that could be said about how Waston has bounced back from the decisive penalty he gave away for handball in the knockout playoff meeting with FC Dallas in 2014. Reflecting on that defeat down in Frisco hurts even today, over six months removed from the Mark Geiger controversy, and so for the guy responsible that sense of lament is difficult to imagine. Rather than to remain bitter, Kendall and his team-mates have used that disappointment as motivation and now the Caps find themselves fighting for real estate towards the top of the standings at the moment. He’s made no attempt to hide from what transpired at Toyota Stadium and has come out of that with newfound respect from supporters and peers alike. This recognition had started to build in the games preceding that postseason encounter, but you could argue that the manner in which he responded to that agony measured a more significant impact on the way he’s widely perceived than the winning goal he scored the week before against the Colorado Rapids. He exhibits the characteristics of a face of the franchise and that’s exactly what he’s turning into; a highly influential figure both on the field and off of it.

Any void with respects to leadership created by the departures of Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien has since been filled by Kendall in the heart of the defence. It’s been accelerated ahead of schedule somewhat, however there is no doubting his suitability for the integral role within the spine of the team he is afforded right now. Pa-Modou Kah is much maligned within the fan base, yet I’m of the opinion that he has something to offer to the Blue and White this campaign. It’s no secret, though, that the way in which his partner compensates for his flaws has helped to establish his value to Robbo after leaving the Portland Timbers in the offseason and moving north without contract. They have much in common in their relentlessly physical nature and Kah’s style seems to have inspired a far less erratic side to Waston, reluctant to lunge into challenges when possible where he would otherwise have put his side in jeopardy through countless free-kicks and suspension. Kah, in part because of his apparent limitations, has helped to dictate the improvement made by the effervescent beast lining up across from him. This could be seen as optimistically making the best out of unideal circumstances, but the cover he demands is in fact making Kendall a more complete defender and that should do nothing but encourage. [Interpret this how you like].

One of the main topics of complaint in the comments section of this site lately has been the officials handing unjust bookings to Waston and Kah; an infuriating subplot to every match insomuch that the consequence often has an effect on the final result. While the standard of refereeing is one of the biggest obstacles in Major League Soccer’s path to becoming a major player in the global game, this frustrating situation is at least helping the rangy centre-back to fully acclimate to the league’s brand of play. It’s a minor silver lining, for sure, yet is worth noting given the regularity of incompetent decision-making from the guys entrusted with the whistle. Even at the supposed peak of his career, he certainly has potential left to realize at BC Place and the quicker he adjusts to the learning curve the better in my opinion. Hopefully as the team head into the business end of the season further down the line, Rodriguez is available for selection on a weekly basis and his gigantic colleague comes to perfect the art of dealing with the scrutiny subjected by the officials by drawing on his experiences with Kah. It could decipher whether or not the Caps have a realistic shot at MLS Cup success as harbouring a formidable central defensive duo has been instrumental for many title hopefuls on the biggest stage before.

Air space is controlled by Kendall throughout ninety minutes and his aerial dominance facilitates something of a no fly zone so to speak. Opponents are invited to float crosses into the eighteen yard box because it’s uncommon for an attacker to meet the delivery if he has anything to say about it. There are exceptions to this, mind. Robbo has tinkered with his back-line this term and there’s a degree of unfamiliarity with that, evident against D.C. United recently as Bobby Boswell capitalized on miscommunication between Adekugbe and Waston to equalize in the first half. Nonetheless, we see the most physical forwards in the league rendered completely redundant when the Central American monster is up for the fight. This is of tactical value to the head coach in that it gives VWFC scope to absorb pressure when unable to dominate possession. The Timbers, in particular, have learnt that the hard way on two separate occasions this season, keeping the ball through large swathes of the match only to collect a single point from the six available both at home and on the road. Alvaro Saborio has made a name for himself leading the line for Real Salt Lake as a steely target man, however found himself utterly isolated within the confines of his compatriot two weeks ago. It finished 1-0 to the Caps in Sandy, Utah and it was the vociferous stalwart who laid the foundations for that.

According to whitecapsfc.com, Vancouver have kept ten clean sheets in the nineteen games Waston has started in MLS since departing his homeland last year. This correlation is no coincidence, he makes this side near impregnable with mechanical consistency and has done so undaunted in even the biggest fixtures. From the invaluable 1-0 victory enjoyed at CenturyLink Field to the resounding win over the LA Galaxy in April, he’s stepped up to the plate when most needed committed to the task at hand. Kendall's 1-on-1 defending on the ground is much improved and the hard work he's put in on his anticipation to supplement his prowess in the air is outstanding. He's more cerebral in his thinking now than in his early days at the club and that trajectory points to more of the same with sound coaching. It feels as if he’s become a perennial Budweiser Man of the Match candidate and it's nice to see that more and more observers are eager to wax lyrically about what I’d regard as the eighth wonder of the world. The praise he's getting locally is completely warranted, though certain performances can feel under-appreciated on a larger scale, more so when compared to the plaudits the USMNT options garner.

The opinion that he ranks among the best in his position in North America is growing in popularity at a rapid rate and those skeptical south of the border will soon be converted into believers with continued good form. This proposed fanfare could culminate with selection in the All-Star squad for the forthcoming showcase with Tottenham Hotspur at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in July. It's a feat definitely feasible if he and the rest of the roster can stay where they find themselves in the Western Conference playoff picture at present, and it wouldn't be a shock if he were joined by some of his comrades in Commerce City, Colorado. The only thing I ask is that he circumvents a repeat of the heart-stopping fall he suffered after being undercut by Kei Kamara against Columbus Crew SC last month. He’s simply made himself indispensable to upholding the ideals the club are striving towards at the minute. Octavio Rivero's emergence out of nowhere and Matias Laba's transition from promising talent to one of the most effective defensive midfielders on the continent should rightly be lauded, but so too should the scouting and subsequent signing of Kendall. There's nobody I, for one, would rather have anchoring the back-four.