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Leveron's arrival with Whitecaps will heat up competition

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The Canadian Press
3/13/2013 7:24:09 PM
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VANCOUVER -- It was a cold, wet day, but Johnny Leveron's mere presence started to generate heat.

The Honduran international's participation in his first practice Wednesday in Vancouver with the Whitecaps increased the competition for a starting central defender spot in wake of captain Jay DeMerit's indefinite absence due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"We were sad to see the injury because it happened in the first game," said the Spanish-speaking Leveron through an interpreter.

"We were watching that game (over the Internet.) He is the leader. He means a lot to the team. Now, I'm just waiting to see, with Brad (Rusin) and myself, the opportunity to play."

DeMerit was injured in Vancouver's 1-0 win over Toronto FC in the regular-season opener for both teams. Leveron was one of two new arrivals at an optional workout at UBC, along with Brazilian midfielder Paulo Jr.

Leveron, 23, and Paulo Jr., 24, signed with Vancouver in February and January, respectively, and took part in pre-season with the club in the U.S. But they were loaned to the second-tier Carolina RailHawks before obtaining work permits that allowed them to join the Whitecaps full-time.

"I'm ready to play," said Leveron. "The time that I spent in Carolina, I worked so hard with the club over there and didn't miss much, so I'm ready to play."

He brings notable international experience to the Caps, having captained the Honduras team at the 2012 London Olympics and at the 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Korea. He has also suited up for Honduras at the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, 2011 UNCAF Nations Cups and the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as in senior men's World Cup qualifying.

He was on the bench as Honduras shellacked Canada 8-1 in World Cup qualifying last fall.

"It was a great opportunity for me to come here," said Leveron, who also had European options. "It was a blessing. I was ready for this opportunity to come, and I'm really glad that the Whitecaps have given me this opportunity.

"I just wanted to play outside of Honduras, and this opportunity presented (itself), so I'm very happy."

But it remains to be seen how soon Leveron will get the chance to take the pitch in a game for the undefeated Whitecaps (2-0), who have a bye from MLS this week. Coach Martin Rennie said Rusin, who excelled in his first two career MLS appearances in place of DeMerit, will remain the starter.

As with other international arrivals, Leveron also faces an adjustment to a colder climate and other factors.

"Carolina was a lot warmer than Vancouver," he said. "For me, personally, I've never been in this type of weather, so this is something that's really hard for me, and I'm going to take as little time as possible to get used to it."

"Really, we don't have to look for any trouble with that. (The Whitecaps) hire us to be professionals, and we don't have to be concerned about the weather.

"Whether it's here or somewhere else, we are prepared to do that -- even with the food, with the culture. So we are ready."

Leveron is getting help on the cultural side from third-year winger Omar Salgado, an El Paso, Tex., native who is fluent in Spanish and roomed with him in South Carolina.

"He's very excited," said Salgado. "It's something really different. He's never really been out of his country for a club team ... I think he's really excited for a new language and a new team and, really, a new country."

Coach Rennie said Leveron will be an important player for the Whitecaps, who are seeking to avoid a mid-season meltdown like the one they experienced last season before becoming the first Canadian team to reach the MLS playoffs.

"He's doing really well," said Rennie. "It's really nice to have him back here. He's got himself fit, training and travelling while we've been gone."

He described Leveron as a solid defender who picks up good positions, reads the game well, is good on the ball and creates good attacks out of the back while helping the Caps keeps possession. Leveron will be "next in line" after Rusin and competing for a place in the lineup.

Paulo Jr. also brings strong ball-possession skills to the Whitecaps, who have sought to develop depth in their midfield after struggling in that area of the pitch at times last season. Having joined the Whitecaps in the re-entry draft (off waivers) after three seasons with Real Salt Lake, he adds more MLS experience to a young midfield corps that has mainly played elsewhere.

"He's very creative," said Rennie. "He scores goals, he creates chances, he's dangerous around the box, (a) good finisher. I think he can play a few positions in the attack in the way it is, and brings a lot of quality in that position.

"It's good to have another player who has experience in the league."

Notes--Leveron's wife and young daughter are remaining in Honduras until they clear Canadian immigration hurdles. ... Salgado, recuperating from a broken foot suffered last season, is slated to play in an exhibition game Saturday against the University of Victoria. He hopes to see his first MLS action of 2013 in Houston on March 23.

Soccer (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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