A change of scenery — and position — has landed Marvell Wynne a starring role in Major League Soccer's championship game.
Wynne, 24, spent the previous two seasons as a member of a Toronto FC side that failed to make the playoffs. But a trade to the Colorado Rapids prior to the 2010 MLS campaign saw the speedy defender flourish in Denver.
Now the Pittsburgh native is keen to help the Rapids defeat FC Dallas in Sunday's MLS Cup final at Toronto's BMO Field.
A five-foot-nine, 180-pounder who is considered one of the fastest players in MLS, Wynne used his incredible pace to make rampaging offensive runs down the flanks as a right fullback during his tenure with TFC.
The criticism that was always levelled against him in Toronto was his unsteady defensive play. So what did Rapids coach Gary Smith do as soon as Wynne arrived in Colorado? Turn him into the centre-back.
The move paid off. Wynne started 27 regular-season games for the Rapids and all three playoff contests, helping Colorado qualify for its first MLS Cup final since 1997.
Wynne said the transition to centre-back was a smooth one
"More so than I thought it would be. Just being back there, being able to use my base [of skills] for strictly defence and not going forward too much, it saves me energy and keeps me focused on defence, which is No. 1 for me," said Wynne.
Wynne gives a great deal of credit to defensive partners Kosuke Kimura and Drew Moor for helping him adapt as a centre-back.
"It's a comfortable position for me. Having Drew on my left and Kosuke on my right talking to me, communicating with me throughout the game … I can get involved in any play that's coming down the field, not only if it's on the right," explained Wynne.
Wynne's rebirth as a central defender began as a baptism of fire, as coach Smith broached the subject with him before he even practised with the team.
"Before we played Chivas in the first game of the season, he flew in from Toronto, landed late after a delay and I spoke to him my hotel room," Smith recalled.
"I said, 'Marv, I'm thinking of playing you at centre back. Do you fancy it?' If he had said no at that point, I would have been a big trouble. But he was so positive about playing the position, it just lent itself to throwing him straight in without a training session, something I normally would not have done."
Although Wynne had never played in the centre of defence before, Smith thought his physical attributes made him a natural for the demanding position.
"As a fullback, he's very physically equipped and robust. … He's much more physically equipped. He's broader, he's stronger, and he's more durable. He jumps, leaps like a salmon," Smith said.
"He heads the ball extremely well for an out-an-out fullback before he came here, and those qualities were there to see. When you combined that with the fact he gave us such a different dimension in terms of his pace, it just lent itself to me thinking he could do a very good job for us."
Smith was quick to lavish praise of Wynne for having the right mental attitude in accepting the change.
"It's all down to Marv. The thought was in my mind, but if he had not embraced it as well as he has, it would have been more difficult. It would have taken more time and more training, but he's fit in so quickly into the role," Smith said.
Wynne comes from good athletic stock. His father, Marvell Wynne Sr., was a former Major League Baseball outfielder.
The elder Wynne knows all about the pressure of the playoffs: He was a member of the 1989 Chicago Cubs team that lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. His son said he offered some advice ahead of Sunday's game:
"Don't try to do anything different. Don't be nervous. Go out and play your game because you're here for a reason and you're here because you played consistently throughout the season," said the Rapids defender.