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Is Russell Teibert a Perfect Wingback?

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Since his breakout season in 2013, in which he had 9 assists, Teibert has found himself very deep on Carl Robinson’s depth chart. However, with the suggestion that the Vancouver Whitecaps are transitioning to a 3-CB formation, could this be Teibert’s opportunity to raise his profile again? I argue that his attributes make him an ideal candidate to play as a left wingback.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

When you read the title of this article, you might have been one of two different minds. A) What a brilliant idea! Or B) That is the dumbest idea yet! If you are part of the former camp, then everything I write below you will be in agreement. If you are part of the later, then I encourage you to keep an open mind and be critical; which includes telling me how wrong I am in the comments). In the end though, feel free to call me crazy for even suggesting this!

We here at 86 Forever, or maybe just me, have been strong proponents of the Vancouver Whitecaps implementing a three-center-back formation. Last year, it was attempted several times with less than stellar results. In fact, even I admit it was pretty awful and seriously made me question my belief that the Whitecaps could pull it off in the future.

However, leave it to Carl Robinson to take something that looks like a terrible idea, and has yet to work for him, and decide ‘I don’t care. I am going to do this all the time now’. That statement is not meant to be as cynical as it sounds, but as I write this, I realize the statement could be applied to multiple things during Robbo’s tenure as manager. Hmm….

With two solid center backs in Kendall Waston and Tim Parker set to play (almost) every match this season, it leaves little opportunity outside of the Canadian Championship for Aaron Maund, newcomer Doneil Henry, and potential returnee David Edgar to see the field. Transitioning to a three-CB formation would fix that ‘problem’ (I will let you debate in the comments whether that is actually a problem). However, how those three at the back would look, I will leave for you to discuss over in CWilkin’s piece on the subject

If the Whitecaps are to play with three CB’s, then the most obvious wingback choices are Jake Nerwinski and Marcel de Jong. However, another potential option is to have Russell Teibert play in the left wingback role, with de Jong potentially filling in at CB as CWilkins suggested.

After Teibert’s ‘breakout’ 2013 season, in which he scored two goals and added nine assists (which would have had him tied for 17th in MLS 2017), Teibert fell off a cliff. It wasn’t really his fault, as he was transitioned to playing a holding midfield role and saw a continual drop in playing time. In 2014 he played 1,971 minutes, followed by 1,346 in 2015, 696 in 2016, and 731 in 2017.

Part of the reason for his decline in playing time was that it was unclear where he was best suited to play and Carl Robinson liked to have ten defensive midfielders on his roster, so the competition was stiff. Teibert’s over-reliance on his left foot also made it difficult to determine where he was most well-suited. It seemed like a true winger position was best, but the Caps liked to have their wingers cut inside and play more centrally.

Wingbacks are continually becoming an integral part of the modern soccer formation, and we have seen their success in Major League Soccer in different ways. Last season, Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow finished with eight goals and one assist, while Seattle Sounders Joevin Jones had one goal and 11 assists. We have even seen midfielders (including Jones to some degree) converted to wingbacks, as is the case with Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi, who had eight assists in 2017 from a right back position. I would include Gyasi Zardes, but I am looking for success stories.

What Makes a Good Wingback?

In my research into this piece, I found some common characteristics that are touted for successful wingbacks. First, they have to be good in both attack and defense. Second, they need to have pace and stamina. Third, they need to have technical ability and know when to commit. Fourth, they need to be a superb passer and crosser. How does Teibert score on these attributes?

First, I believe that Rusty has shown that he is versatile in attack and defense. In fact, it is that versatility that has a) helped him to continue to play despite being lower on the depth chart, and b) helped him not play by not being outstanding in any specific area.

Second, Russell’s pace and stamina is never in question. In fact, if you were to ask anyone what trait first comes to mind with Rusty, it would probably be those. AFTN reported that, like usual, Teibert was first in the beep test this preseason.

Third, having played as a winger and as a defensive midfielder, I believe that Teibert has the experience to know when to commit going forward and when to stay back. The only concern I would have with him is that he would be more inclined to stay back rather than push forward. However, I feel that belief comes from seeing him play defensive midfield with Matias Laba, where he had to be the stay-at-home guy, in the middle of the pitch, as Laba was constantly chasing players down. I believe that if he was given the freedom, he would know when to go forward and when to stay back.

Fourth, his passing is alright while his crossing from the left is superb. While his 84.1% passing success rate placed him 66th in MLS in 2017, it was tops for the Whitecaps, with Tony Tchani’s 81.1% (124th in MLS) being next highest. In 2013, when he had nine assists, he was 15th in MLS with an average of 1.5 crosses per match. You might recall too, that many of the goals he assisted on were from his crosses.

Conclusion

As a MLS Whitecaps player, Russell Teibert has been deployed primarily as a winger and as a defensive midfielder; however, during his development, he played some time at left back and has always been listed as a back-up/emergency choice at left back.

Playing as a left wingback, Teibert’s over-reliance on his left foot would no longer be a hinderance, as it was when he was a winger, but rather an opportunity to best utilize that skill. His forward momentum would mean that almost all of his passes would naturally be on his preferred left foot, while his stamina and pace would allow him to go end-line to end-line all game long and not be the least bit winded. Despite seeming to be around for such a long time, don’t forget, Russell just turned 25 on December 22nd. That ‘young’ Brett Levis everyone is excited to see play left back? He is only three months younger than Rusty.

Will we see Rusty play in the left back position this season? I doubt it. It would be nice, and I feel it would be successful, but given de Jong, Brett Levis, and draftee Justin Fiddes, I do not see Carl Robinson being eager to put Teibert in that position.

What are your thoughts?