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Patience has been the key for Dean during his time in Vancouver. We've written about it before, but after being drafted third overall by the 'Caps in last year's SuperDraft, it was a tough first year for the California Golden Bears alumni, but not an unexpected one. With 123 MLS minutes logged in his rookie MLS season, Dean only made one start and four overall appearances for the Whitecaps last year. For most rookies, that's actually not the worst return, but when your college defensive partner, Steve Birnbaum, gets drafted in the spot just before you and goes on to make 21 appearances for DC United in his rookie season, you would understandably wonder what might have been had another club taken you instead of the 'Caps. But Dean found himself surrounded by a number of top centre backs in Vancouver last year and he took the opportunity to learn from the likes of Andy O'Brien and Jay DeMerit, put his head down, worked hard and improved his game with the hope of fighting for a spot this past preseason. When O'Brien and Johnny Leveron left, his hopes must have been high but the additions of three new centre backs in Pa Modou Kah, Diego Rodriguez and draft pick Parker has actually seen Dean fall down the pecking order and the depth charts. Again, a tough blow to take, but Dean knew there was no point pouting over it and the only way to improve his lot was to show Robinson and the rest of the coaching staff that he deserved to be in the frame for MLS minutes by continually producing and impressing in training and in USL action with WFC2. And he's done just that. Dean's played in eight WFC2 matches this season and has continued to show improvement and development week upon week. And it's not gone unnoticed by Robinson. "I think especially in the last two or three weeks, he's grown," Robinson told AFTN at training on Friday. "He's matured. He's looking at being a better player. The little things, he's doing a lot better now. Never underestimate the small details in defenders. We're lucky we've got five fantastic centre backs in the squad. They'll come through or they'll have their confident spurts at different times. "Christian seems to have found his rhythm at the moment playing in USL and in training. He's trained very, very well the last few games. His chance will be around the corner, without a doubt. Whether it's this Sunday or whether it's next week, he'll get his opportunity because he's not far from being ready now." All of Dean's hard work culminated in his first professional goal this past weekend against Seattle Sounders 2, a moment he described as "awesome" and building upon his first international goal for the US U23 team against Mexico earlier in the year. It's nice to get those rewards when you put the work and effort in. Building on it all is now the key. Dean's attitude has been first class. As disheartening as the additions to the 'Caps MLS squad must have been over the offseason, he again put his head down and worked to battle for a spot. And there may be some battle between Parker and Dean for their minutes on the pitch, the pair have become good friends off it, supporting and challenging each other. "Tim's probably honestly one of my best friends on the team," Dean told AFTN back in April. "We're both American, we're both coming out of college, we're both fighting for that spot. "But once one of us gets it, I think we're both going to be happy for each other that we got the opportunity and once we see the other person got it, we're going to know we can get it. So it's just going to be a fight until that times comes." It's been Parker who got that opportunity first. The rookie has made four appearances with the first team so far this season. Three of them starts and most of them coming in the right back role. Parker got his first MLS start as centre back two games ago in the win at New England. Dean was delighted for his friend and seeing Robinson be true to his word and give the younger players their chance has been a shot in the arm for him. "It makes me excited," Dean admitted to us. "Tim deserves his chance. He's been playing fantastic during training sessions and scrimmages. The guy's a professional. I'm trying to learn, even from him right now. "It's an exciting time for us young players, with Sam [Adekugbe] getting time at the beginning and Deybi [Flores] getting time and Kianz [Froese] getting time. All the young players are coming in and showing what we can do. It's an exciting time for our team." Dean is a versatile player. He's been playing two positions with the USL side this season, both centre back and left back. He's partnered Parker well when they've played together and I wouldn't have too many fears about both of them playing alongside each other in a MLS match. Of course, he's in the team to hone his skills and playing two different positions perhaps makes that a little bit harder, but he's enjoying the opportunity to work on both roles. "I'm playing two positions here, at centre back and at left back, so I'm learning each position," Dean says. "I feel that when I do get the opportunity to play with the first team I'm going to take it, whether it's left back or centre half." He's been looking particularly sharp in the left back role once he found his feet and got used to playing regularly there. It was from that position that he grabbed his first professional goal against Seattle last Sunday and he's been getting up and down the wing well. Does he have any actual preference between the two positions? "I like both right now," Dean says. "Left back's a lot of running, it's fun, keeps my fitness up. I wouldn't mind playing either." Dean looks comfortable at left back and for a player that stands 6-foot-3, he's pretty good with the ball at his feet for a big man. "I used to play striker," Dean laughs. "Then as I got older I started moving back and back and further back, and thinking I just need to keep my footwork up." His continue improvement has been noted by both Robinson and USL head coach Alan Koch. It needs to continue and it needs to be more consistent. Once that all clicks into place, Dean's not going to be too far away from seeing the pitch once again in Major League Soccer action. "Christian was very, very good [against Seattle]," Koch told us. "Getting up and down the flanks. When you have somebody like him who can play two positions, it hard for him to get into a role of being comfortable. But he played very, very well against Portland two weeks ago. I had a chat with him, I didn't think he as good, particularly in the first 20 minutes, against Orange County. He was a lot better again [on Sunday]. "Just like all the other young guys in our team, he has to find consistent performances and that's hopefully going to improve his chances of getting playing time in the first team." That time should be coming soon from what Robinson has indicated. When it does, it's then up to Dean to seize that moment. With the Whitecaps having a crazy August, playing eight games in three different tournaments, Dean will undoubtedly see some first team minutes during that spell. But he's not even thinking that far ahead and is targeting July for his first MLS minutes of the season. "Yeah, not even August," Dean told us. "I'm aiming to try and get into games this month if I can. Just showing what I've got in training sessions and everything. As a player, you always want to play and when you get the opportunity you just have to take it."
"I had no doubts about throwing him in at all," Robinson told us about Dean's start at the weekend. "People sort of said it was a big risk for me to throw him in away at Dallas but every decision you make is a risk and it was one that I had always planned. I had planned to do it earlier on in the season when we went away to Chicago, to play him. Unfortunately something had happened so I couldn't and this was the chance for him and I think he did very well and coped very well and he should be proud of his performance." Dean's first MLS start came in his home state. His family live in Houston but they couldn't make it out for this one, but his birth mum's best friends were at the game which was made the whole experience even nicer for him. Saturday may have been Dean's first MLS start as a Whitecap but he had previously started both of Vancouver’s Canadian Championship semi-final matches against Toronto in May, and made three substitute appearances in MLS prior to the Dallas game, for a combined total of 33 minutes. Despite the lack of top level experience, Robinson felt that Dean coped admirably and liked the aerial presence and the aggressive nature of the partnership he formed with new signing Kendall Waston, telling TSN 1410 radio after the game, "by the looks of them, they could be a fantastic partnership.". Having watched the game tape once again, Robinson was still full of praise for his rookie centreback at training yesterday. "He did very well," Robinson told reporters. "I thought he started the game, not a little bit nervously but a little bit cautious. I think he grew into the game. He tried to play offside once or twice on his own and I said to him we don't do that, there's no need to do that with your pace. Little bits of details that he will get during games and from playing regular. I was very pleased with him." Dean and Waston certainly looked to be a promising partnership for the Whitecaps for the future. A little raw and both have aspects of their defensive game that they need to work on, but the double aerial threat they provide in the opposition's penalty box would give many a defence some sleepless nights. For Dean's part, he enjoyed playing alongside Waston and is already a big fan of the Costa Rican's play. "Unbelievable. The guys a monster!" Dean told us. "But also he's solid on the ball, in possession and defensively. I'm learning from him as well because he's big and athletic like I am and watching him play these past couple of games, I've learned things from him. Just playing with him showed me that I'm capable of playing with him and it's also really fun. He's a great player." Waiting for his first MLS start, never mind some serious minutes, has been understandably frustrating for Dean. As a college player, he was used to starting and did so in all 55 of his appearances for the California Golden Bears in his three years in NCAA. To go from being one of the first names down of the teamsheet, to seldom even getting on the bench has taken some getting used to for the player. "It's been a little difficult, honestly," Dean admitted. "It's the first time really in my life actually that I've never started a game, so this has been a little difficult time but it's a learning process. Even if I mature here and make it over to Europe one day, I'm probably not going to start there some games so I have to be ready for that, so I think doing that here has kind of matured me in a way that has made me ready for what comes in the future." Frustration, disappointment and impatience is natural for every rookie wanting to start establishing himself in the pro ranks, but those feelings won't have been helped by watching his former Golden Bears teammate, and fellow centreback, Steven Birnbaum play 15 games and 1350 minutes for DC United in MLS this year. But rather than sit back and complain about his lot, Dean has knuckled down in training, using the experience of his good friend to spur him on to his own success and impress the Whitecaps coaching staff, and he is delighted to see what Birnbaum has achieved with DC this season. "Steve is one of my best friends in the world," Dean said. "He taught me how to play centreback. It's unbelievable to see what he's done. He's come in and he's kept his spot. For me, I'm just trying to learn and I still have a lot to learn. It's something that'll come eventually. I'm just happy for the guys that have gotten all the starts." This is certainly a learning year for Dean in many aspects, but he's come to a club with a lot of experience in the centreback position in the form of veterans O'Brien and DeMerit, two players who have played at the top level of the game. Both have taught him a lot, as have all the centrebacks in Vancouver at the moment, so what does Dean feel have been the biggest aspects of his learning curve after his move from NCAA to MLS? "I've learned a whole lot positionally-wise. Mentally, a lot," Dean told us about his transition from college to pro football. "The mental jump is huge coming here, especially watching [O'Brien and DeMerit] and watching them play. Even from Johnny and Carlyle who both have international experience. I think mentally it's just been a huge jump for me." With so many ahead of him in the competitive centreback pecking order in Vancouver right now, Dean knows that he has to show well in training to continue to be in and around the gameday squad. Athleticism and skill aside, another aspect that he has going for him is his versatility and ability to play in the left back role if required. It's something Dean is aware of, but his goal is to be marshaling that centre of the defence. "I have full back in my repertoire," Dean acknowledged. "It's what I played Freshman and Sophomore year, and high school. It's something I can do but I'm trying to transition to centreback and learn the position as much as possible. If need be I'll play left back. If they need me to play, I'll player wherever, if they want me to play goalie! It's just something that most likely I'd like to play centreback." Despite Dean doing well against Dallas, O'Brien should be back in the starting eleven to partner Waston for Vancouver against Portland on Saturday in the big Cascadian derby. With playoff points on the line, it's a match that Dean would love to play in, whether this one or sometime soon. "If I get the opportunity to play in Portland, I'm going to take full advantage of it," Dean said. "It's something that would be very exciting, it's a rivalry game. Cascadia Cup means a lot to our fans and a lot to us. It would be insane to play in that stadium with all their fans yelling at you and screaming at you. It would be fun."