The Whitecaps knew they needed a high-end central defender even before the season started. That need was exacerbated on Saturday after a second half meltdown that saw the Caps fortunate to escape from PPL Park with a point, despite leading 2-0 at half time.
The difference between the 4-3 win in Portland and the 3-3 draw in Penn State was the first 25 minutes of the 2nd half. Against the Timbers, the Whitecaps didn't allow their opponents any kind of life after the interval and, in the end, added a fourth goal. In Philadelphia, there was only one team that came out of the tunnel it seemed and Vancouver was under siege from minute 46 on.
A simple tactical switch by the Union's John Hackworth saw a largely invisible Zach Pfeffer replaced by Michael Lahoud, whose defensive work in midfield seemed to allow Philadelphia's technical players to see more of the ball. Beyond that, it wasn't pace that got the home side back in the game, but instead some good, old fashioned wing play and continuous service to a rejuvenated-looking Conor Casey.
The 32-year-old target forward was simply no match for the Whitecaps' central defenders. Before getting injured, it seemed as though Jay DeMerit was the more likely Whitecap to win the odd aerial battle, but after landing awkwardly in the 38th-minute, one has to wonder whether Jay DeMerit's long-term availability is in serious jeopardy.
Compounding the Whitecaps' troubles at the back was a worrisome performance by Johnny Leveron, who has been touted as Carl Robinson's guy since the boss scouted him after an impressive 2012 Olympic campaign. The 23-year-old Honduran is billed as a defensive quarterback - a player who can make a great first pass. But on Saturday, his first pass was often a panic ball straight into touch and defensively, well, Leveron had a nightmare. He couldn't catch up anywhere close to Sebastien LeToux on the equalizing goal and then he inexplicably gave Casey acres of space at the top of the box, meekly turning his back on what was then the go-ahead goal.
With Andy O'Brien turing 35 this month and Jay DeMerit now on the sidelines, the centre-back search has suddenly become the bigger priority than a goal-poaching striker. Short term, Carlyle Mitchell could be back in the picture. He and Leveron found some synergy together in one of the more fruitful periods of the 2013 campaign thanks to the Trinidadian's recovery speed and defensive athleticism. Third-overall pick Christian Dean still needs some seasoning, which makes one think that a young, athletic blue-chip centre back is now at the top of the shopping list with the transfer window about to open.
Carl Robinson and his web of scouts will be scouring the globe to hopefully unearth a player who fits the Whitecaps' criteria of young and with upside value. Asked about a rumoured MLS link with former Man City and Everton vet Joleon Lescott, the manager acknowledged his pedigree, but admitted that the 31-year-old former England international could command an unrealistic wage.
To think that Vancouver has taken four of six points away from home while conceding six goals in those games makes you wonder where they could be if they shore up, arguably, their most vulnerable position.