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  1. REPORT: Another game in Portland, another win. It's getting all so predictable! A Vancouver Whitecaps side made up of fringe players and youth put in a dominant first half performance and a shaky second in a 3-2 victory over Norwegian side Stabæk at Piggy Park on Wednesday evening. First half goals from Nicolas Mezquida and a Darren Mattocks brace set them on their way and there was no looking back, although the 'Caps failed to add to their tally in the second half and were pegged back after conceding two sloppy goals. Mostly, it was just what Carl Robinson wanted to see, fight and hunger from the fringe guys, giving him some things to think about, but the poor defensive display in the second half and the number of overall squandered chances will be a cause for concern. Stabæk had looked not too bad at times on Sunday against a very poor looking Chicago Fire side and had a few forays forward in the opening exchanges of this game before Vancouver took control. Mezquida opened the scoring in the 14th minute, running through unmarked to get on the end of a delightful Marco Bustos ball and poking past Stabæk keeper Mande Sayouba with aplomb from the edge of the box. Vancouver nearly doubled their advantage minutes later when Erik Hurtado fired a rocket just over that had Sayouba at full stretch. That second goal did come in the 22nd minute when Diego Rodriguez was flattened in the box after some pushing and shoving on both ends. Mattocks stepped up to fire home from the spot with ease and it was 2-0 'Caps and already looking like game over. Stabæk fought back though and much of the next phase of the game was played in the Whitecaps half. As the half ticked down, Paolo Tornaghi was forced to come up with the save after a 'Caps giveaway but Vancouver made it 3-0 moments later in the 44th minute when Mattocks grabbed his second with a nice finish from a quick break from Mezquida and Ben McKendry. Any thoughts that Vancouver were going to now go out and run up the score were mistaken and it was actually Stabæk who came out in the second half meaning business, after making a string of changes at the break. Tornaghi made a great reaction save in the 53rd minute as the Norwegians continued to press but the 'Caps responded and Mattocks nearly grabbed his hat-trick with a great lobbed effort from an angle that was spectacularly turned over by substitute keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. In what was looking like a familiar pattern, Tornaghi once again came up with the big save to keep Stabæk off the scoresheet on the hour mark, before Mattocks was denied his hat-trick when he was played in brilliantly by Mezquida by another great stop from Sandhu. Hurtado was next to come close to adding a fourth for the 'Caps in the 64th minute, after another great ball from Mezquida, before Stabæk finally got the goal their play deserved. The goal came from a penalty, after Diego Rodriguez was adjudged to have committed what looked at first glance a lazy foul in the box, but at second may not have even been a penalty at all. Anders Trondsen made no mistake in firing past Tornaghi.,br> The goal signalled a slew of Whitecaps substitutions, as both sides swapped possession, with the Norwegians looking the more dangerous. Stabæk blasted a good chance over in the 78th minute before they Stabæk made it game on with nine minutes remaining when trialist Harold Gomez turned a low cross into his own net, although Emil Ekblom was all set for the tap in. That was to be all the action, however, and the 'Caps closed the game out without any further setbacks to make it two wins from two, with a game on Saturday against Chicago Fire still to come. FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 3 - 2 Stabæk VANCOUVER: Paolo Tornaghi; Ethen Sampson (Jackson Farmer 84), Diego Rodriguez (Tim Parker 68), Christian Dean, Sam Adekugbe (Harold Gomez 80); Gershon Koffie (Mitch Piraux 80), Ben McKendry (Kianz Froese 68), Nicolas Mezquida, Marco Bustos (Robert Earnshaw 68), Erik Hurtado (Ruben Anchico 80); Darren Mattocks (Caleb Clarke 84) [subs Not Used: Marco Carducci, Spencer Richey] STABÆK: Mande Sayouba (Gurpeet Singh Sandhu 46); Morten Skjonsberg (Cornelius Benscik 46), Ville Jalasto (Andreas Hanche-Olsen 79), Nicolai Naess, Birger Solberrg Meling (Daniel Granli 46); Luc Kassi, Cole Grossman, Anders Trondsen (Emil Dahle 79); David Estrada (Erik Haugstad 68), Giorgi Gorozia (Thor Lange 46), Kamal Issah (Emil Ekblom 46) REACTION: CARL ROBINSON: Overall thoughts on the game and performance: "i think in the first half we played very well, we took our chances and the game's about taking your chances. We did that. We played some excellent stuff at times. When you make changes towards the end then obviously the rhythm gets upset. "Stabæk are a good team. They're very organised. Bob's got them fantastically well drilled. They pressed like hell and we had to play quickly today. It was good for the young boys to learn how to do that because the peak teams aren't going to let you play and they certainly didn't. They went from the first minute to the 90th minute pressing us. Yes we made mistakes but at times we cut through them as well." On the play of Darren Mattocks: "He was outstanding and the play of Nico as well in those two forward areas were both outstanding. I keep saying to him if you put the hard work you'll get the rewards out of it and today he got the rewards. He looked sharp, he looked energised, he got his two goals and he maybe should have scored one or two more. He was good to watch." Three goals, but disappointed that they didn't take more of their chances?" "You can look at it like that. Obviously winning the game is important. It's preseason but if you don't play to win there's no point playing the games. It's nice to get three goals because you always want to win, but there were a number of chances missed. We know that and that's why we're working on it every day and we're on the training field every day to improve, and we're needing to improve that area." On balancing dealing with young players when they don't perform well or make mistakes: "My job is to allow them to make mistakes and not jump on them and not criticise them, but of course give them constructive criticism about what they need to do, but also encourage because you can slog a horse till it's dead but I don't want to do that and I won't do that with my young players because if I do, I'll set these young players back a season or two and I don't want to do that." On the physical nature of the Whitecaps right now: "Listen, in any walk of life, nice people tend to get walked over unfortunately. It's professional sport. You can be as nice as you want off the field, but when you step on the field, you're fighting for your living. I want to stress that here because if we want to be a winning club and win and compete for MLS Cups, we've got to get that winning mentality in us. It takes time, you can't get it overnight, but bit by bit, the training has improved. The guys want to win in training and obviously when it comes onto games, it festers on to that. It's an important factor." Is he worried that the team will get the "dirty" tag and that may affect referee's perception of how they play? "Nah. Nah, not at all. I just want the team to play when we have the ball and when we don't have the ball I want us to try and win the ball back. It's two sides of the game that you need to try and do." On Ben McKendry's performance and giving him the start: "Ben's been excellent. He's a very talented, tidy footballer. He keeps the balling moving very well and after watching Stabæk play against Chicago in the first game, they pass and move the ball very well, as you saw again tonight. I wanted us to do that and I thought that [ben] was the right decision." What are you looking for from Saturday's game?: "It's the last game from us in preparation for the season, hopefully. We go in with the same mindset. We've got to be in the right frame of mind coming in to the Toronto game, so Saturday we'll try and win the game again. We'll try and do things right. We'll try and pass the ball, we'll try and win the ball back quickly when we can, which we've done very well in the first two games. And we'll enjoy the game. I think you'll see my guys there play with a smile on their face and we'll do that, as we did last year. Yes we'll win games and unfortunately we'll lose games along the way, but they'll be a happy group." What kind of team can be expected against Chicago on Saturday?: "I've got a few boys banged us, so I'll see how they are. With a mind on Toronto I'll try and play a strong team. Will that consist of the team that played on Sunday? I'm not sure yet because some of them have knocks, so we'll wait and see. Two or three of the young kids were outstanding today, so don't be surprised if you see one or two of them in." It may just be preseason but what would it mean to win back to back Portland tournaments? "Winning's a habit. Say what you want, whether it means anything or not, but I want to win everything I'm involved in. Whether it's to win at cards, a game of darts or heads or tails. So any chance you get the chance to win something you want to take that and we get the chance to win this." DARREN MATTOCKS On the game and his performance: "Good game, good result. The team did really good. I'm just focussing on the team right now. That's the big thing. Two games, two wins, that's really positive this preseason." What scoring two goals means for his confidence: "It's good but I'm always going to be confident. But all the work I've been putting in this preseason, it showed and that's a good thing, but I'm not going to get ahead of myself. After all it's just preseason, but hopefully I can translate tonight into the rest of the games in the preseason and into the season." On nearly getting his hat-trick: "I thought I had it but he was very athletic. He did a great job. I got to give the goalkeeper credit to pull that one out." On the performance of Nicolas Mezquida: "Nico is just a fantastic player. I love playing with him. He works extremely hard. Working with someone like that, not just Nico but the team in general, we were a pretty young team tonight, but we showed guts, we showed character." On letting a three goal lead slip: "Up 3-0 and we win 3-2, but three points is three points. It's something we could work on, doing better to finish the game, but we're not going to get too critical and say we lost two goals." On what he learned for developing his game on his two recent training stints in Europe: "I think getting my teammates in the game more. As a number 9, you've got to hold the ball really well to get your teammates involved. In England and in Turkey, that's one of the big things I took. So yeah, going forward, I think that's definitely going to happen and I'll improve my game." What does he feel he has to do now to get a starting spot and more minutes? "I think you know the starting eleven already, huh?! [laughs] I'm not worried about being a starter, I'm worried about working hard for the team. And hopefully if that's what it takes to be a starter, then sure." On being hard to ignore if he scores two goals in games and plays like he did tonight: "If the entire team plays like this, it's going to be really hard. That's a good thing for us but that's a bad thing for Robbo!" [laughing again before people slaughter him!!] CHRISTIAN DEAN On the overall game and team performance: "I think the game was a perfect example of what our younger team can do. Going out there against a young team that was about the same age as us was good. It was a chance for us, especially against European competition, to show what we can do. It was another first team opportunity for everybody on the field. i thought we showed we can play. We got a little bit unlucky with the goals, obviously. I thought overall we played really well as a team." On the difference in the performances between the two halfs: "The first half we came out with a lot of energy then second half we gave up two goals. It's kind of hard, you get a little stale when you think you're ahead. We became kind of too confident and we gave away a PK, not really sure it was a PK, but it happens. Then after that we kind of got back in the game."
  2. REPORT: Vancouver and Portland served up a fiery friendly on Sunday night in their first game of the 2015 version of the Timbers annual preseason tournament. Two sending offs, eight bookings and 43 fouls later, a first half Pa Modou Kah header was what separated the teams on the scoresheet, as the Whitecaps kicked off their defence of the tournament with a 1-0 win. The Whitecaps went for a strong starting line up, and one that wouldn't look too much out of place against Toronto for First Kick, and their performance did their cause a lot of favours. Portland certainly started the livelier and looked the more dangerous side, but Vancouver had a few forays forward of their own. The Timbers had a good chance in the 16th minute when the ball broke to Alvas Powell just inside the box but the Jamaican blasted wildly over. A minute later he had a similar opportunity but with the same end result. Vancouver were coming more into the game and looking dangerous up both wings. They were also looking physical with both Kendall Waston and Pa Modou Kah putting in some crunching tackles. Portland's midfield has already been hit hard with injuries to Diego Valeri and Will Johnson, and they suffered another blow in the 26th minute when Ben Zemanski was stretchered after going to ground away from the action. Kekuta Manneh was getting the better of Powell on the left side of the pitch and he got past his man once again before whipping in a dangerous ball to the back post but there were no takers. The Whitecaps got the breakthrough their play deserved in the 31st minute when Kah rose unchallenged against his former team and powered home a perfect Mauro Rosales cross Neither side were able to carve out any real chances for the remainder of the half and the 'Caps headed in happy with a one goal advantage. The second half continued in a high pace and with some feisty tackles flying in from both sides. Clear cut chances were at a premium however, with the best of them falling to Vancouver. Manneh continued his good work from the first half and drove over the bar six minutes in, then came close again as the hour mark approached when he got on an excellent ball from Pedro Morales. The game had shown signs of boiling over and so it came to pass in the 60th minute when Rodney Wallace picked up a second yellow for kicking out at Waston. With Portland reduced to ten men, Vancouver tried to turn the screw, with the best chance falling to substitute Erik Hurtado in the 70th minute. The Whitecaps were controlling the game fairly easily but David Ousted had to act quickly to parry a fierce Dairon Asprilla rocket in the 86th minute. As the minutes ticked down there was still time for some sparks to fly. Nicolas Mezquida went flying into a challenge on Diego Chara with two minutes left on the clock. The Colombian went as if he'd been shot and rolled around like he was trying to put out a fire. Mezquida picked up a yellow for the challenge and so did Portland's captain Liam Ridgewell for mouthing off at the ref. In the confusion, the fourth official pointed out to the referee that that was Ridgewell's second booking and Portland were down to nine men for the remaining few minutes. As Vancouver took the ball to the corner flag, Maxi Urruti chopped down Manneh at the corner flag. The young Gambian was incensed at the needless challenge way after the final whistle and had to be calmed down by Kah. So a great win, in what was a fantastic game of football. May not have been pretty at times, but it's games like this, with the fight, passion and intensity, that will help grow the game in North America. Just wait till the real action starts. FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 0 Vancouver Whitecaps 1 PORTLAND: Adam Kwarasey; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Ben Zemanski (Jack Jewsbury 25), Rodney Wallace; Gaston Fernandez (Dairon Asprilla 64), Fanendo Adi (Maximiliano Urruti 72) [subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Norberto Paparatto, Jeanderson, Danny O'Rourke, Nick Besler, George Fochive, Michael Nanchoff, Schillo Tshuma] VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Pa Modou Kah (Diego Rodriguez 66), Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba (Gershon Koffie 76), Russell Teibert, Mauro Rosales (Erik Hurtado 58), Pedro Morales (Nicolas Mezquida 76), Kekuta Manneh; Octavio Rivero (Darren Mattocks 76) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Sam Adekugbe, Christian Dean, Ethen Sampson, Robert Earnshaw, Marco Bustos] REACTION: CARL ROBINSON On the game and what this means for the actual league meetings between the teams: "It's hard to tell, but a good game of football today, I have to say, by two good teams. These games are never going to be easy. These games are never going to be friendlies and it showed today. Obviously there were one or two sending offs in the game but then from our perspective we scored and obviously won the game, but more importantly we played pretty well when we had the ball." On being in control of the game in the second half: "The only disappointing thing I have is that we didn't manage to get the second goal because I think we deserved it and warranted it with our play. Unfortunately it didn't come and that's stuff we've got to work on." Play of Kekuta Manneh and how different he looks from last season: "He's been excellent. A very mature performance from the young boy today especially. He's come back in preseason in the right frame of mind. He's come back with the bit between his teeth. He's fit, and you see today, when he's fit, he's happy, and he performs like that. My job is to try and keep him like that for 34 games this season." On what Manneh needs to do to play well but also hit the back of the net: "There will be performances this year where he doesn't play as well as he did tonight and he'll score two goals and I'm sure everyone will say that he's this and he's that. But when he plays like that, that's all I want him to do. Because when he plays like that he'll score goals and there's no reason why he can't get a number of goals this year. Confidencewise, he's playing with confidence. And he's fit and he's happy. If you've got your players happy, then they'll perform to the levels that they should do. My job is to do that." Was that the Kah hat-trick - card, goal, calming Kekuta?! "That's perfect. We'll have some fun this year, won't we?! We'll certainly have some fun." On the card danger of Kah and Waston playing together: "It will. I thought there were areas for improvement, as there were with all units of the team. They're strong. A very strong pair. And Diego coming on as well. That was a decision because I didn't want to lose Kah because I thought the referee was a little card-happy maybe, sending people off. I didn't want him evening things up, so it was a decision I made. But they will get booked this year. There's no doubt about it, because we've got good attacking players in this league and good attackers manage to deceive defenders sometimes. It's important I carry five [central] defenders and I've certainly got five good ones." What did he learn about his group from the game? "That we're tough. That physically we were able to deal with a tough match away from home. Every match is going to be like this away from home. We've got to be able to fight and dig and scrap and run, but play our football at the right times and I think we did that, especially going in at half time 1-0 up. It was a much of a muchness kind of game, there wasn't much in it. We managed to get a great goal from a super ball from Mauro and Pa's header. The second half, I thought we were excellent. I really did. The change in numbers changed the dynamic of the game slightly but the performance was thoroughly professional." On Nico standing up to bigger players: "Imagine if he was Kendall's size what he'd do! He's brilliant. He has a heart of gold. You want guys like that in your team and we've certainly got a good group in there." On Rivero and the other new Caps getting a taste of the Cascadia atmosphere: "It's important for all the new guys coming in to realise what it's like to play [in Portland]. It's a great place to play. It's passionate, it's exciting. You hear supporters giving you abuse and things like that. You've got to get used to that." On plans and hopes for the remaining two games in the tournament: "I thought [the first game between Chicago and Stabaek] was a decent game. It was two very different styles of play within the game. We'll prepare for Wednesday's game because it's going to be a tough game. I'll decide what I'll do with the personnel there, but the guys that didn't play today will probably get a run out on Wednesday. I think it's an important game for us, against a very good Stabaek team as well." PA MODOU KAH On the perfect return to Portland for him: "Soccer is a little bit bizarre sport because it's always something like when you go to your old club it always seems to be that you will score. I always watch the game on television and I tell my wife, how is it that when you always go back to your ex club, you score. It's just in the script I guess. On how he saw his goal: "That was a tremendous delivery from Mauro and when you have a guy like Mauro with his qualities and his crosses, it's a dream for any soccer player so he put it on the right spot and it was just for me to attack the ball and I put it in the net." On the intensity of a preseason game being like a league game: "The boys, we rolled up our sleeves and everybody fought. We fought as a team, which is very important. Everybody knows when you come down to Portland, they like to play, but for us, it's the preseason, but the season is a week away so we have to fight and work together as a team. Today we played well. Every game against your rival is competitive, so you have to be at your best and today we showed why we are Vancouver." On whether to celebrate against his old team: "If I score, I will celebrate, but since this is a preseason game, there's no need for celebration. If it was a regular season game, yes, I will celebrate because, with all due respect for Portland, I feel that when you play a game and you score a goal, you should celebrate." On Manneh and Hurtado not taking chances to add second: "For me, when you have those chances, you have to finish it because those chances are the decider of the game, whether you let them back in the game or not. So when you kill the game with 2-0, with ten men, then it's a lot more easier to play, so that's something we need to work on." How comfortable does he feel already playing with Waston? "The big man is a beast. When you have a guy along like that, it's good for the back line. Both of us are aggressive players but we know how to play football, so far it's just about keeping working, getting the chemistry, the chemistry's going good. Both of us are willing to and we listen to each other and we make each other better everyday, which is important. You also have Christian Dean and Diego Rodriguez in the background, so no place is safe, so every day you got to show your best in training." KEKUTA MANNEH Did that feel like a preseason or a regular season game out there? "Obviously it's a preseason game but we don't take any game lightly for the preseason. The preparation starts from day one. It's just like any other big game for us. It's just like we're fighting for the playoffs, so it's important for us that we play the right way. We've been saying all year, do things right, make sure we perform. It doesn't matter what game it is. There's no friendly game for us. It just felt like we're in the season." On his own strong performance: "Unfortunately I wasn't able to manage to score a goal. It's just one of those things. I just need to keep my composure, try to finish it next time and just go back to the drawing board and practice work on that. I thought the team played really well considering it's an away game and we're trying to get ready for the season and trying to fit in the new players that we have too. I thought they were fantastic. They fitted in really well. Obviously we need to work on some stuff for everyone but I thought it looked great tonight." On Kah's headed goal: "We've been working on it and I feel that we're going to score a lot of goals from set pieces because we've got those big guys on the team now. So goals are going to come from different places now." On the difference between him last preseason and this: "I feel great. Thanks to the medical staff and the staff here. I've been working with them in the offseason and you can definitely see it paid off. I feel really fit. I was never really tired for the whole game today. It was great."
  3. "The group are very lively, they've very competitive," Robinson told reporters after training on Thursday. "They're disagreeing on certain things, which is good, but they're talking and when you have a young group of players it's important that they communicate with each other respectfully. "We're coming along slowly, but nicely. If we can add one or two more into the picture then that will help us as well." So just how close or how far away are the Whitecaps from where he wants them to be right now? "I'm probably never where I want to be, in relation to the group and how good we can be," Robinson told us. "I don't think any football manager, unless he wins the Champions League, will ever say he will be. "Are we in a much better place this year than we were last year? 100%. Without a doubt. We're more organised, we're more planned. Most of the group have come back this year as well. We've added key additions, which is always important, but we've kept the core group together. "So we're not far away. Will we be up to speed come the first game of the season? No, we won't be 100% fit but we weren't last year and we managed to get off to a good start, so we are working towards that. When we will reach peak fitness, I don't know. Will there be more additions, yes, there certainly will. When? I don't know, but we're always a work in progress." The Whitecaps featured four trialists down for their first preseason trip of the year down in Tucson a couple of weeks ago. Although there will be some new faces down in Oregon as well, it's not likely to be ones in the first team reckoning. "There's a couple of guys coming in, basically to have a look at them for the USL team, so we'll add a few numbers there," Robinson said. "There's no-one really on trial at the moment that I'm looking at for the first team because the guys I maybe have on our radar, you won't be able to get on trial." No-one apart from Robert Earnshaw that is. The Welshman is the only Tucson trialist to have stuck around. As he told us last week, he'd love to call Vancouver his new home and impart some of his knowledge onto a young Whitecaps' strikeforce, but as with many things in MLS when it comes to contracts, things are not just that easy. "There's been communication between me and Earnie every day," Robinson is happy to admit. "There's a number of factors that come in to that. There's what's our priority position and I think you know we've got another priority position first, which will depend on how much money we leave open for another spot, but also the CBA. "We don't know what's going to happen there with the cap and things like that, so we'll just keep it open-minded about that, but the communication happens every day. Until we need to make a decision, or he needs to make a decision, then we'll keep it moving forward." The priority position that Robinson talks about is that of the left wing. The Whitecaps have no real natural left winger. Sure they have a number of players than can play there, like Nicolas Mezquida, Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks, but that role is not a natural one, or a preferred one, for any of those guys. Although he won't come right out and say it, you can tell that Robinson would love to have the chance to keep an experienced player, and a proven goalscorer, like Earnshaw around if he can make it happen within the salary cap. To fill the left wing role with the calibre of player that Robinson wants will take money. To do that and keep Earnshaw around, will take some creative accounting and the likelihood of moving one, maybe even two, of the higher earners on. Standing in the way right now of any of that happening is of course the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks between the league and the players. Both parties still seem far apart, but until the new CBA is signed, sealed and delivered, the Whitecaps, and every other team in the league, simply don't know what they're dealing with financewise and rosterwise for the current season. How much can they spend? Will there be an additional DP spot? What other weird rules will come into play that we'll only hear about when Seattle, LA or Toronto add a new player? With all this in mind, how much does the CBA wrangling and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead mess with Robinson's plans for strengthening the current squad? "It doesn't upset me too much because I always prepare for the worst case scenario," Robinson told us. "What I won't do, is I won't put the club at risk for next year and the year after because there's no need to do that. "If you're building, which we are, it's important that you pre-prepare everything and I've got plans for six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months ahead. If I think it's right for the club to bring in a player then I certainly will do it. If it means me being over the salary cap but I think it's the right thing to do, then I'll certainly do it and I'll try and make adjustments other than that with it. "So it doesn't affect me really. It won't change my focus. I know it probably changes the player's focus, because they're trying to agree it now, but hopefully everything will get agreed and we'll move forward happy." The Whitecaps added some big names in Matias Laba and Pedro Morales to their MLS roster down in Portland last year. Unless the CBA talks get wrapped up pretty darn quick, then that's looking less likely this year. Vancouver won the Portland tournament last year and will be looking for more of the same this time around, but as fiercely contested as the three games will be, Robinson is most concerned with the performances of his players as the week goes on rather than the wins, although beating your Cascadian rivals is always nice. "I think even a Portland staff game might have some feeling in it, if I'm being honest!" he joked. "It's a pre-season game, it's a rivalry game, so results don't really matter but performances do. My players are fighting to get into the team, so I don't think there's ever a friendly game against Portland." As mentioned, there will also be an additional bonus game with the Whitecaps younger players taking on their Timbers counterparts on Saturday evening at 7pm in a closed doors match. The game will give them another chance to show Robinson that they are knocking on the door for MLS minutes. "I think it'll be good, but the only tricky thing of it is that the game is on Saturday, which is the day before the first team game. Ideally we would have liked it the day after, so that the guys that didn't play [could play]. So we're going to have to plan it properly. "But there will be guys who get extra minutes on Saturday that will be part of Sunday's game and there will be guys who play a lot on Saturday who aren't part of Sunday's game, and there will be guys who don't play on Saturday full stop. "So I will plan it so that we have four games in a week, which is important for all the squad, so they'll get plenty of minutes." Vancouver kick off this year's tournament against the hosts. Last year they wrapped up their against Portland. By that game Robinson had pretty much nailed down his starting eleven for the next week's MLS kick off against New York. Chicago are last up for the 'Caps this year, so will Robinson be hoping to have his first choice starters take the field in that game this time around as well? "Ideally, yeah," Robinson said before cautioning the players, fans and pundits alike. "As I keep stressing to the group, because people keep trying to find out who my starting right back's going to be, my starting left back, I can give you and idea but what happens if he gets to the day before the first game injured? "I want to keep the competition fair, and it is fair, but I also want to keep the group hungry. If you're in the starting team against Chicago, which is one week before the start of the season, then you can read into it all you want, but if you train poorly all week and you get injured on the last day then you certainly won't be starting. They're jockeying for places."
  4. What makes a team successful? Talent, skill and the ability to produce that on a consistent basis are clearly important ingredients. But other vital components to the mix are that of harmony, trust, respect and relationship building. All of those attributes, and others, help make a successful environment at a football club. Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson is a firm believer that how you handle your players off the pitch contributes massively to how they perform on it. "It's an absolute must in the game, in modern day football," is how Robinson views the importance of building personal relationships with his squad. "90% of the job is the man management side of it. Coaching is just a small percentage of getting the best out of the players. "It's important that I spend a lot of time individually with my players individually as well as collectively to tell them what they're good at, what they need to improve on. Although he plays down his own influence in it all, the much lauded harmonious locker room atmosphere starts at the top and Robinson's approach to player management kicks it all off. He's relaxed, but tough when he needs to be, and he places high importance on one-to-one relationship building with all of his squad. The now departed Andy O'Brien probably summed it up best. "He's got a nice balance between disciplining us and putting an arm round us," the veteran defender said of Robinson's management style. "He's got the relationship, not only with the younger players but also with the older players, and the ability to do that is a big thing. Man management is a massive part of the game and it's something that he possesses a lot of." Football is a game played as much in the mind as it is on the pitch at times. The mental strength needed by both players and management to succeed should never be underestimated. Players have to be mentally tough to get them through the goalscoring droughts, the dips in form, the times they ride the pine on the bench and the abuse they'll get from fans and pundits alike. Managers are no different. If you're not mentally strong, the insecure world of football management is not the career path you should likely have chosen to follow. That's why Robinson sees a two way flow of trust and belief between himself and his players to be crucial to the Whitecaps success. "They know I've got their back through thick and thin," Robinson said. "It's important that when I see some players sticking up for me, as well, that I know that they've got my back. It's part of a successful team. You need to have that within the club, within the organisation and that's slowly building here." It may have been slowly building in Robinson's eyes last summer, but by the end of the season is was very evident to anyone that spent even a modicum of their time around the team at training or on a matchday. Goalkeeper David Ousted puts a lot of the good relationship the players have with their coach down to that trust and belief shown in them. "That's huge," Ousted said of the trust instilled in himself and others by Robinson. "Feeling that the manager trusts you and will put some responsibility on your shoulders just makes you want to grow as a player and develop as well, so that's a big thing." Ousted may be an experienced player but it's still always good to have that feeling from your manager, and the same is even more true for the younger players and the rookies. Erik Hurtado was one of the young players that Robinson kept faith in last season and it paid off in spurts on the pitch, but in a lot more ways going forward off it. "It means the world to me to get that chance [from him]," Hurtado said. "A lot of the time coaches don't want to put their faith in the younger players and then let them get experience. His motto is if you're good enough, you're going to play and if you deserve to play you're going to play. That's a great attitude to have as a coach." It all makes for a happy dressing room. Well on the whole. You can't legislate for having a player with a perpetual pout like Omar Salgado. With the South American influence heavily cited as part of the great atmosphere at the club last season, there were some concerns when a couple of those players moved on in the offseason. Add in the influence a much loved player like O'Brien had on all the players, and eyes were on how quickly that harmonious locker room environment would take to resurface this season. Would the fun, belief and trust still be prevalent with the new mix of players brought in? The answer was quick in coming in day one of preseason training camp. The same spirit appears to still be in abundance and the upbeat, and at times downright jokey, nature of the entire squad is infectious. Whether it's new addition Pa Modou Kah nicking a camera and filming his teammates or veteran Jordan Harvey having a Gatorade shower on his birthday, this is a squad that clearly gets along and that can go a long way in terms of results on the pitch. Some may dismiss just how much of an impact a good dressing room can have to on field results, but Robinson's not one of those people. "The players believing they've got your trust, believing that they've got your belief and if they have, I think they'll run that extra yard, make that extra tackle and know they'll hurt themselves, in a good way." And it needs to be like that. After last year's highs, the pressure is on Robinson and the Whitecaps to take another step forward. The Western Conference has got even tougher, there's been strong, big name signings made around the league and the 'Caps now have additional games in their first ever CONCACAF Champions League campaign. The Whitecaps haven't gone for the big name or the big money signings. It's still a very young squad. More than ever, a close knit unit is required to continue all that Robinson and the club achieved last season. And Robinson's relationship building with his players will continue to have an important part to play in it all, especially as there will be the prospect of more unhappy players in the squad looking to get more MLS minutes than might be getting afforded to them. That will test Robinson's man management and the dressing room harmony more than ever this season. When Robinson's contract extension was announced a few weeks back, you'd have been hard pressed to find to find any detractors both outwith and within the club of the job the Welshman has done in his first year as a head coach. The players have bought into what he is trying to do at the Whitecaps and so have the fans and much of the media. It's refreshing, and somewhat unusual, to find these days. The pressure now comes in abundance in his second year in charge. To his players, he's seen as approachable, honest, and perhaps most importantly, fair. "I think he's easy to talk to," is goalkeeper Ousted's view. "He's passionate about things. He listens to the players as to what their needs are. He's played himself so he knows the little twerks and things that people can have. I think he's good at making everybody feel that they're part of the team. A player who has had his fair share of managers over his footballing career so far is Nigel Reo-Coker, but the now departed Whitecap echoed Ousted's thoughts. "His door's always open for your ideas and if you have any issues," Reo-Coker felt. "He's more than just a manager. He's got a personal touch to him where he does genuinely care about his players. He's wanting to speak to his players if he has any issues off the field and he's willing to help you in any way he can." And if anyone knows how Robinson handles players off the field issues, it would have been Reo-Coker. It's interesting to note that the bond Robinson develops with his players does appear to carry on once they are no longer under his management. Robbo and Reo-Coker kept in regular contact after the 'Caps coach traded the Englishman to Chivas USA. Robinson still hears regularly from Camilo and has previously told us that he hears from his good friend Kenny Miller almost every day since he moved back to Scotland. There has to be a line of course and it's one each of the management team are aware of and will speak about. They have to be the boss. They're not there to be every players friend and confidant. That said, Robinson does come across as more than just a coach to his players. There does appear to be an obvious friendship connection with Robinson and the players in his squad. "I think there is," Ousted continued. "Carl feels that he's a big part of the team and he is and I feel that the guys in here respect him a lot." What should be remembered in all of this is that last year was Robinson's first year as a head coach. He's the first to admit he made mistakes and needs to improve himself as a manager, never mind simply improving his squad. Coaching qualifications are all well and good but putting them into practice is not always so easy. For Robinson, his management style has helped to be shaped by some of the experiences he shared himself as a player, and there's one manager he had in particular who has played a key part in that. "Mick McCarthy," Robinson stated. "He was my manager at Sunderland. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He always said he wasn't the most talented player, but he'd go to war with you. If you wanted a fight in the trenches he'd be one that would be right behind you. That stood out to me as a young player at Sunderland and I've always remembered that. "That's what I want to try and instil here. I'll go to war for these boys as long as they give me their unbelievable effort, which they have done. Hard work, concentration and I'll back them to the hilt every day." Can that attitude and the squad of 2015 take Robinson and the Whitecaps to the next level they need to get to? We'll soon see. It takes more than money and big name to build a winning team and Vancouver have that other part in abundance right now under Carl Robinson's tutelage.
  5. The Good: Long term stability I know this is a new concept for Canadian MLS teams, but having a coach stay more then one or two seasons can only be good for the team. Robinson came in last season and laid out a long term plan for the club that involves a big effort from producing regular talent from the Residency to building talent from South America. This plan isn't a one to three year plan. This is a long term five to six to ten year plan that should make the team and Canadian soccer better over the long term. By signing Robinson, Forrest, Pert and Rovde to extensions, it gives the players reassurance that the gameplan moving forward is for the long term. Players like Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese and Marco Carducci now know that the path that there young careers have been led down the past season will continue to give them the best chance to be quality MLS players down the road. They don't have to worry about a new manager coming in and changing the path and moving away from youth. Look at Caleb Clarke, under Martin Rennie he was shipped off to Germany and told that the club's direction was to have him play over there. There was no talk of having him in the MLS squad in Vancouver. There where rumours that there was no way he was re-signing in Vancouver this past off season. Once Robinson was signed and the proper communication opened up with Clarke and the chance to play MLS and USL Pro in Vancouver he decided to stick around. He was not the first player under Rennie to question coming to play in Vancouver or who was mistreated. Look at Atiba Harris, Alain Rochat, Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli. They all had various issues with Rennie and mistrust about what was said to them. The players know they won't have to worry about being mistreated and lied to like that with Carl around. He says one of his best qualities is his honesty, which has to go down well with his players. The Average: Can't Settle For Average Effort Moving Forward Some people say Robinson over achieved last season. I myself thought the team would be a 7th place finisher in the West. This contract moving forward will put added pressure of Robinson and the coaching staff. People will now expect continued improvement, difficult in itself after a season of bests. That's means we as supporters, bloggers and media shouldn't and won't settle for average effort anymore. We are going to see the peaks and valleys (see below) but at times last season the effort was average or below average at best. The players have to realize if they don't give 100% it's not the coaches that will be leaving if they struggle. These extensions means if players (Canadian or not) can't cut it or can't get to the level to make first team there is a chance of them being demoted to USL Pro or being cut from the team all together. I know it won't take long for this concept to be trolled on Twitter by certain TFC media, but if our young Canadians can't make the MLS starting 11 or game day 18 because of skill level it means that they just don't have the skill or aren't making the effort needed, suffering the fate that will come with that. The Bad: Peaks and Valleys Last year was a season with many peaks and many valleys. The supporters, for the most part, were pro-Robinson throughout the whole season. The main part of the season where Robinson's decisions were questioned was people saying he fielded a too young line-up against TFC in the Canadian Championship. With the new long term contract, what kind of effect will it have if this season is not as good as last season? What happens if the whole season is a valley? Will supporters stand by Carl if that happens? Fans can be quick to turn everywhere and past achievements are often soon forgotten. A new contract means long term stability for the team but it also means that if there is a hiccup this season the coaching staff will be held accountable, but moving forward there may be a peak right around the corner. Having a new coach around for the long term is new for Vancouver, it's even a new concept for all the Canadian MLS teams. So let's all be excited about the announcement today but let's remember what this means for the future - that no matter how high the peaks and how low the valley, Robinson and this coaching staff are in this for the long haul. But also remember, contracts often mean little if the results aren't there to back things up.
  6. LA have splashed out on Steven Gerrard, New York City on Frank Lampard (they think), Orlando on Kaka and Toronto like to be linked to every player under the sun as the perennial losers try and find someone that can lift them out of their eight year slump. All big names, all coming to MLS on big money. They're probably not big risks in bringing success, but you never know and as Robinson addressed last week. "Money doesn't guarantee you success, as you've seen with a number of clubs," Robinson told reporters, whose minds obviously started to think of TFC. It's a Pavlov's dog scenario I think. "I want to try and guarantee success but in the right way and I feel the right way is developing our own Canadian players through our Residency program." Robinson has said that he still expects to add three or four players to the Whitecaps for the season to come, just don't expect them to be of the big flashy kind that others are courting. Banks will not be broken in Whitecapsland, but instead, the club will continue to look at picking up quality talent, at more affordable values, that can still get the job done, and as such, Robinson puts more faith in his scouting network than playing fantasy football to build his squad. "If you don't get the recruitment right, it doesn't matter how good a manager you are, the guy with the best players will always win," Robinson said on a conference call on Sunday afternoon, following the announcement of his new multi-year contract extension. "We're recruiting from a certain pool of players. We've made our model as a club. We've decided what way we want to go. "It's safe to say we're not going to be spending six, seven million dollars on a player. That's what I don't want and that's what other clubs are doing. It's important we get it right. That's what we did last year and it's important that we continue to build that recruitment this year and in years to come to make us successful." Talking of bringing in multi-million dollar players, Toronto's latest reckless spending spree is looking likely to free up their Brazilian striker Gilberto. The additions of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco have provided a familiar scenario in Toronto. They now have four DPs and three slots. Last year it was Matias Laba who was deemed surplus to requirements, this year another South American looks to be that guy. And you know who loves South Americans! "Each club has their ideas and philosophies about the way that they want to try and be successful and Toronto has their model in place of bringing in big name players on high numbers," Robinson told us. "Whether that's works or not will remain to be seen, but I'll be very surprised if Gilberto does not move." The Brazilian had a slow start in MLS and seemed to struggled to find his feet as he adjusted to his new surroundings. Not ideal for a player commanding a DP slot and a $1.2 million salary. He showed enough flashes to show that he has talent and what it takes to be a good striker in the league. It was fun joking about his missed opportunities in front of goal, but you always got the feeling that when that duck was broken the goals would come. And they did. It took Gilberto ten games to grab his first MLS goal. He finished the season with seven goals and five assists. To put that into some context, those numbers would have seen him placed second in both categories on the Whitecaps. Bearing those numbers in mind, the plethora of South American talent already in Vancouver and the Laba deal from last year, does a player like Gilberto interest Robinson and would there be scope to get a deal done even if he did? "He's certainly an interesting player and one we've talked about as a staff," Robinson admitted. "He's got fantastic ability. I don't think he's settled as much as he probably should have. We've got three Designated Players just now, so depending on whether that changes or not, we might not be able to do anything there. I've managed to bring in Octavio, which is a great bit of business from us. "There'll be some that will take advantage of that situation if things don't change, because there will be teams looking at it that they could be the ones that changes Gilberto's goal spree from okay last year to hopefully good this year for someone. Again, it might be a scenario like Matias Laba, which we were able to take advantage of last year." Laba's contract is the one that stands out. He is still going to be classed as a young DP, but there is scope for the Whitecaps to use allocation money to buy the Argentine's contract down and allow them to have the talented defensive midfielder on a high, no Designated Player contract, ala Nigel Reo-Coker last year. There are also the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be thrashed out, with many rumours suggesting an additional DP slot of some kind will be added. That could of course allow TFC to keep a player like Gilberto if they chose to do so, but it would also allow Robinson to bring in another DP himself, whether that be the Brazilian striker or someone else, and it's certainly an option that is in his plans, whether through the new CBA or jiggling around current contracts. "Yeah, there are options," he admitted. "We talk about that all the time. Learning the way the system works is very important. Because of the CBA coming up now, I think there will be changes within the CBA which might affect that or probably will affect that, so there are options to do that and something that we maybe will look in to. "You look around the league at the moment and at Orlando, players like Brek Shea have been added as non Designated Players but their salaries are higher than probably the DP slots allow. So it is an option we'll look into, depending on if we have enough money to do that within the cap constraints. It does give us a little bit of flexibility if we have enough money. If we do, then it's certainly something that we might well explore."
  7. One month later and Banjo is in the pro ranks with the Whitecaps. It's quite the story and turnaround for the 22-year-old and one he didn't think he'd ever see coming. "It's a dream come true," Banjo told AFTN. "I've been working at this for years and it's a great feeling for it to finally come true. Banjo still remembers the shock and heartbreak of the meeting that broke the news that Towson were axing their soccer program. Staying on and finishing his degree was the only option he seriously considered, even if it meant no soccer. A meeting with UMBC head coach Pete Carinji Jr convinced him that taking a year out and then trying to go pro was not the right option or timing for the young striker and he made the move to the Retrievers for one final college year. It proved to be the right decision, with UMBC, led by Banjo, going further than any side from the school had previously managed, and coming to within one game of playing for the NCAA National Championship. After everything that had happened, it was an amazing experience for Banjo and one he'll never forget. "Because of where I came from, being in the tournament the next year, it wasn't anything that I thought was going to happen. God always has his plans and it worked out for the best. It was a great feeling and I'd never change that for anything." Banjo certainly seems to be an exciting prospect and a striker that has been able to find the back of the net on a regular basis in the college ranks. He shone with the Towson Tigers, scoring 15 goals and contributing 11 assists in 43 games during his three years there. As mentioned, he continued to find the back of the net when he switched to UMBC, and was unanimously named the America East Conference 'Striker of the Year' for 2014. Banjo went through a bit of a dry spell to end the season though, going six games without a goal or an assist. Consistency is definitely going to be a key for the talented striker moving forward and something which Carl Robinson has already identified. "I've seen exactly the same as you," Robinson told us in a conference call yesterday. "I've seen exceptional talent in him but I haven't seen enough consistency. Part of my job as a coach is to try and get him more consistent and with the opportunity we'll have with a lot of Major League Soccer games and USL games, there will be chance for him to do that. "Because if we can get him consistent, there's no doubt that he's got talent. You can't just have talent and no consistency, so it's a little project of ours and mine and it's one that I'm excited for. I do see a lot of raw potential in him." When you ask Banjo what aspect of his game he feels he needs to improve in most, he feels what every young player should feel when starting off in the pros - every aspect of it. And consistency is part of that. "It's the coach that's sees it more," Banjo told us. "Every player really has to think about everything but that's the coach's job to see it and if that's how he feels I just have to put my head down and figure it out and work on improving." Robinson is big on character and speaking to Banjo for ten minutes, you soon see that he is another player that fits right into the mould of player that the Whitecaps are looking to bring in to the squad. He's grounded, he's confident without being cocky, he seems a nice, humble, quiet guy, who has the skills on the pitch to back it all up and some hard life lessons to learn from after what played out at Towson. Described by Robinson as a "raw" talent, but one with real potential if he thrives in the professional environment now afforded to him. It's now up to him to see if he can take it and move on to that next level. As with all draft picks, you have no idea what way this will really all go, but he'll get his chances. Fellow draftee Tim Parker felt that there was a real connection between himself and Robinson when they had their pre-draft chat at the combine, and it's a feeling echoed by Banjo. So just how did that chat go? "He pretty much pointed out all my strengths at the combine. It just seemed like everything I said was already what he was thinking and pretty much that's what drew us together. We really did click in the conversation. "We talked mainly about mainly about myself, not soccer as much. But the times we talked about soccer it was much the same thing we were thinking and that showed we connected." Robinson is always keen to know what makes a player tick off the pitch. What motivates them, what interests them away from soccer. For Banjo, it's simple. "Just being close to the family and being surrounded by good people. Nothing really big. I'm just a people person. I just try to surround myself with positivized people." And he'll find a lot of those around the Whitecaps right now, although he doesn't know and hasn't come across any existing 'Caps in his soccer career so far and is another who has never been to Canada before. "I don't know one player from Vancouver [personally]. I mean they're really far up there!" he joked with us. "I don't really know anybody there but I'm excited to find out and meet new people." Coming to a Whitecaps MLS squad, already almost bursting at the seems, Banjo knows he needs to hit the ground running and impress once the preseason training camp gets up and running next weekend. So for those who haven't seen him play before, how would he describe his game and the skills and qualities he'll bring to Vancouver? "I'm quick on the ball, I'm quick thinking. Great team player and I'm versatile. I can play on the wing or forward, wherever is needed. A lot of long range shots. I have vision. Strong, powerful, quick. The lot." He can certainly shoot and registered 180 of them in his four years and 65 games at college. That's an average of just under three a game, with almost a 3.5 average during his time with UMBC last year. He's primarily played forward at college level but when the Whitecaps drafted him, it was hard to see him getting too much initial opportunity to that right now. Kekuta Manneh has struggled to find those minutes and you may see Banjo get minutes in that position in USL PRO, whilst being turned into a winger in the process. He certainly has the speed and skill to make that adjustment but what does he see as his preferred position? "I'd rather play the forward role," Banjo told us. "If it's needed I'll play on the wing too but I feel comfortable in both spots." Talking of USL PRO, it's also hard not to see that being where Robinson sees the 22-year-old striker fitting in right now. If that is where he ends up for most of this year, it's an opportunity Banjo is already approaching with the right attitude. "Playing that it gives you development for the first team I feel like. If that's what the coach feels that that's what I have to do to prove myself, then I will." Wherever Banjo ends up getting minutes in 2015, the big benefit for him is that he's coming to a club that doesn't just talk about playing younger players but actually does it and that's something that himself, Parker and others are all very aware and excited by. "That's what got me interested in everything he was saying," Banjo said of his initial chats with Robinson. "He's more about the younger players and development. That's what he saw in me and I'm excited to join."
  8. "That was part of my plan coming in to the draft," Robinson admitted during a conference call to local media on Thursday afternoon. "To try and get the best player available, of course, but it had to have some substance and I needed to know what positions I was slightly weak in. Obviously losing two centre backs was an area, and we addressed that. The wide areas, Kay can fit into that if need be or if we're able to bring someone else in. It was a very promising draft for us." You never know how players are going to adapt to the professional ranks. Can they make the grade? Can they hack going from being a regular first choice starter to often a reserve player or at best a bench guy? How do you feel when you're drafted for MLS but playing USL? It takes a mentally strong individual to handle it all it sometimes. Christian Dean has previously admitted that he had found some of last season tough going but Robinson feels that while it was a difficult year for Dean, he will have learned from it and be better as a result of it. Both Parker and Banjo look to have potential, to perhaps varying degrees. Parker is by far the more MLS ready, whilst Banjo has some exciting attributes that need honed in what is now the ideal environment for him. Robinson had highlighted Parker as a target before flying down for the MLS draft and combine. The Whitecaps were the first team that the St John's senior spoke with and Robinson not only got his man, but a player he feels has the attributes he wants in a Whitecaps player and the skillset to make a difference to the team and his backline. "We knew about Tim going into the combine," Robinson said of the overall 13th pick in the draft. "I think his performances in the combine, he was arguably the best centreback there. If you speak to him, he's educated, he's cultured. I think the fair thing to say about him is he's a typical Whitecaps player. He's got personality, he's respectful and he's tough. If you're going to win things then those are the characters you need and we're delighted we've got him. "They say that 13 is an unlucky number, but today it was our lucky number because we actually picked up the guy that I wanted out of the draft in Tim." There was a moment of hesitation for Robinson though just before Vancouver's first round selection. Seattle were amongst the teams looking to trade up in the pecking order and Robinson had to weight up taking a deal but perhaps at the risk of losing the main player he wanted by dropping a couple of spots. A five minute timeout was taken but in the end it was a no-brainer for the 'Caps coach. "As always here at the draft, you get a lot of MLS teams that come to you at the last minute or whatever and they try and get in your head before you have to make a decision. There was talks of allocation money, there was talks of moving up and down the draft table but when Tim was still on the table there was no possibility that we'd contemplate doing that. We took our time, we got everything right and we took the player that we wanted." So just what is it about Parker that piqued Robinson's interest and made him his number one target? What does he bring to the Whitecaps table? "We considered a lot of players but after interviewing Tim, he fits the mould that I am and he also fits the mould that the club is," Robinson said. "He's very respectful, he's honest, he's hard working and I feel that he is MLS ready now. I think he's got great attributes for a defender. It was the perfect fit for me. "I think he's got great attributes for a defender. We've just lost Andy O'Brien and we're a little bit short in that area, so I wanted to strengthen. It was a perfect fit.We're changing that area at the moment, with one or two players moving on. We identified Tim in the draft and we got our man, so we're delighted with that." Character and attitude are clearly important, as Robinson has highlighted many times, but Parker's on-field qualities also excite him and having scouted him over his senior year, Robinson was particularly impressed by what he showed at the combine. "I thought he did the fundamentals very well. As a defender you're talking about reading the game, positional sense, aerial battles, playing simple when you need to. Defenders are in there to do a job. They're not in there to try and beat a centre forward with a little stepover or anything like that. The fundamentals he did very well and that's what stood out. "Not just to me but to other teams as well. After completing the draft just now I spoke to a few other teams and they're disappointed they weren't able to pick him up. I'm very happy with that. "He's tough, he's competitive. His understanding and his reading of the game is exceptional. He plays with his brain. He's very smart tactically and you need to be smart tactically. If you look at the top MLS defenders, which are mostly American in this league, then they're all very smart and Tim's definitely a smart guy." Parker was captain of St John's in his Senior year and Robinson has no doubts that he could be a future leader with the Whitecaps as well. "I do, without a doubt. One of his main qualities is that he's an organiser. Being respectful off the pitch and being competitive on the pitch. You saw that at the combine. It's an important factor and an important trait if you're going to be a solid defender in Major League Soccer and he certainly brings that to the table. "I hope he comes in in the next two weeks and tries to put his mark on because he'll be given a fair opportunity, as will every single one of my other players, and it's down to him to try and win a place in my team and my squad." While Parker may be close to being MLS ready and challenging for minutes over the course of the season, Vancouver's other SuperDraft pick today is more a long term proposition. Kay Banjo is another senior, who shone with UMBC as they advanced to the NCAA Final Four in December. Banjo grabbed 8 goals and 5 assists from 23 games last year, but went his last six matches without being able to add either. An exciting talent when on his game, from what we saw of him, he sometimes drifts out of games and can look a little lost. "I've seen exactly the same as you," Robinson told AFTN. "I've seen exceptional talent in him but I haven't seen enough consistency. Part of my job as a coach is to try and get him more consistent and with the opportunity we'll have with a lot of Major League Soccer games and USL games, there will be chance for him to do that, because if we can get him consistent, there's no doubt that he's got talent. You can't just have talent and no consistency, so it's a little project of ours and mine and it's one that I'm excited for. I do see a lot of raw potential in him." The addition of the 'Caps USL PRO team this coming season is a massive developmental boon, not just for the club but for the players as well. It's something Robinson is excited about and a tool he plans to utilise fully. "It's very important and it's something that we weren't able to have last year and I think some of my younger players, not lost their way a little bit, but didn't manage to get the competitive minutes that I wanted. It's an important piece of the puzzle to us this year. There are players who will go down and play in the USL and I think it's important for them that when they do go down they take their opportunity. "If they take their opportunity then that puts them in a very good position to compete for minutes in Major League Soccer with our team. It's a very important piece and it's probably the next stage of the development for younger players as well because we've graduated a lot of our Residency guys and if they can't crack into the first team right away then it will be important for them as well." What players will end up playing where is still up for grabs but Robinson promised that every player will be given a fair chance to impress and show that they deserve to be part of the MLS mix. "That'll be dictated in preseason. I'm giving my young players an opportunity and guys in the draft today are going to be given those opportunities and it's down to them. If they can crack into the first team squad, then there certainly will be a position there for them. If they can't, and I feel they need a year in the USL for their development, then that's where they'll be." The Whitecaps still have five draft selections left in next Tuesday third and fourth rounds. Having highlighted an initial list of players in the draft that interested him, are some of those options still available to him in the next two rounds and how does he see the club approaching it? "There are, but we've got to be smart with our decisions when we decide to make our picks," he told us. "I can't totally fill up the roster with all young players. The majority are young players but we'll have our eye on our USL roster with the next round of picks that we have, so we have to be sensible and smart with our decisions but there are certainly guys that are still very interesting to me." Robinson also promised a further three or four new faces still to come, which he hopes will be in place for either the start of training camp or soon after, and despite the addition of Parker in the draft and Rodriguez on Wednesday, expect a fifth centre back to join the ranks, and perhaps a familiar one at that. "It'll probably be [someone] within the league," Robinson said. "I could go and find another young, talented centre back like I've already added in recent weeks, but I know if we are going to be competing and winning, then I do need some leadership in certain areas. It's probably going to be a guy that's got experience within the league and is a little bit older in years. It's probably going to be an older guy." One thing is for sure, it's going to be a crowded training camp and if players want to be considered part of the MLS mix going forward, they're going to need to stand out early and consistently.
  9. Rodriguez comes to Vancouver as an unknown quantity. He spent three years with La Liga side Malaga, making 42 appearances for their reserve side and scoring five goals, before returning to play with Uruguayan Primera Division side Juventud last season. He's not exactly a household name in Uruguay, never mind Canada, but his highlight video (which we'll put at the end of this article), experience and his obvious skillset certainly seems to indicate that he has what it takes to be a success in MLS. The proof will come on the pitch of course. Robinson identified Rodriguez on his scouting trip to South America in December and watched the defender play and train on three separate occasions and feel he will fit right in with the 'Caps style of play. "Excellent signing for us," Robinson told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. "Got experience of going to Europe. He was over there for two years with Malaga. Manuel Pellegrini had recruited him. He had the background, he had the potential, without playing any games for their senior team. "One of the hardest positions to find is a central defender who nowadays enjoys defending and he's got a huge upside in him being so young." Although he feels Rodriguez still has work to do in his game, Robinson liked what he saw and what he can bring to the Whitecaps. "He's a good talker and has got a presence with him as well," Robinson added. "The fundamentals you want any player to have and to do, he does very well. His footwork is excellent, his strength and his dropping. He's a defender, He loves clearing balls and he loves putting himself in situations to block the ball from going into the goal." But what of those weaknesses? "He should have more attacking attributes than he's got," Robinson noted. "One of my observations was that he probably should score more goals. In one of the games that I watched, he probably should have scored four goals from set pieces. He will bring an element of aggression in the opposition box as well as Kendall and Octavio. It's something we need to improve on as we haven't been good at set pieces for a long time now and we'll try and address that." Robinson has often talked about bringing in players with the correct character and the right mentality and he feels he's found another such player in Rodriguez, highlighted by their first chat together. "He wants to learn," Robinson said of Rodriguez's desire to improve. "One of the first questions when I sat down with him that he aimed at me was "how can you make me better?". From a manager's point of view, that's actually refreshing to hear. A player is asking you the question as to how you can make him better and what can you do to let him progress to the next level. He's got the right mentality and mentality in this game is a major thing." So all in all, it looks like a good addition for the Whitecaps. But there are some concerns, aside from establishing an immediate chemistry with Waston. As we mentioned, the Whitecaps defence last season was strong, solid and stingy. It was also quite unsettled in the centre, as it has been for the past few years. Robinson will be hoping that will come to something of an end now, with Waston and Rodriguez marshalling the middle of the box moving forward. We know that Waston is going to pick up at least a couple of suspensions over the season and could also be missing on international duty. Let's not even look at any possible injury jinx hitting that spot yet again. There will be changes in the backline as the season progresses due to the sheer volume of games as well in MLS, Champions League and Canadian Championship action. As things currently stand, the Whitecaps are heading into training camp next weekend with just three signed centrebacks, with Christian Dean making up the trio. O'Brien and Leveron were both taking up international spots and last season took home $371,187 between them. Veteran O'Brien took home the bulk of that on $280,000 and we're led to believe that the Caps offered him the chance to return to Vancouver this season on around half of that. Whilst O'Brien loved being with the 'Caps and was prepared to take some kind of cut, the feeling was that this was just too much of a reduction for him to consider and it looks pretty certain that the former Irish international won't be back. "Over the last few weeks, we've had very, very good discussions with Andy but we've been unable to come to an agreement," Robinson sadly admitted. "We're probably going to be moving in a different direction now and Andy's exploring things over in Europe at the moment. "After having discussions with Andy and his agent on a number of occasions, there was some very good talk. We have to be a club that moves forward at some time and the time is probably now for us. Unfortunately we haven't come to an agreement, so we move on." A player, media and fan favourite, O'Brien's departure will leave a void in the locker room as well as the middle of the defence. Sure there were times last season where he was starting to look his age, but his experience helped the younger players both on and off the pitch and we would have loved to have seen him come back and take on some kind of player/coach role. O'Brien made it clear though last season that he wanted to play and he still felt he had another good season of playing in him. The chances were he was going to have more of a bench role and the Whitecaps couldn't afford to pay big bucks to someone for that. They also couldn't risk signing a big money deal and then O'Brien going down injured with a season ending injury like DeMerit. Always a risk with a 35-year-old. But O'Brien looks set to not be the only defender moving on and Robinson admitted that talks with Johnny Leveron have not progressed well, with the indication being that the Honduran international is another one not likely to be back in Vancouver for the new season. "We're still speaking to Johnny at the moment," Robinson added. "We're going to have 40 plus games next year, so I want to build a strong squad. If that means that's with Johnny, then great. If that means it's not with Johnny, then we'll move on. At the moment we're in talks with him and his agent but we're not very close to agreeing anything. We're just keeping our options open on that one. "I don't know if we'll come to an agreement or not, which is why I've made the move [for Rodriguez] now." So, the Caps are down to three central defenders, but this isn't likely to be the situation for too long. "Ideally I would like to have five centrebacks on my roster because I know it will be a very long season and there will be injuries and suspensions," Robinson continued. "I've got three [signed]. The minimum I will require is four, so I hope over the next few days we can add a fourth. There could be a fifth." Whilst the Whitecaps have some age and experience in the fullback positions through Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey, it's a fairly young central defensive mix right now. Waston is 27, with Rodriguez 24 and Dean 21. They need to have an experienced head in there and Robinson hinted that that might be coming and it won't be from overseas. "It's a tricky dilemma bringing in international players, as we all know, because we only have a certain amount of players. Ideally I like to try and bring in international forward thinking players. My belief, and my coaches belief, with Diego was too good to pass on because he brings a quality that I think we've been missing and I know that he will step up to the plate. "Having said that, I've got Kendall, who is an international centreback, and also Diego now. It is important that we do keep some core guys, some American guys, some Canadian guys, which obviously we've got a lot of younger ones of them, but domestic players. "I will be looking at trying to bring a domestic centrehalf in because I think it is important. A lot of successful teams in Major League Soccer do have a lot of domestic players. I'm not shying away from that element. It's important to have that as well but I will be looking for a domestic centreback." But before the pro-Canadian player crowd get too excited, it doesn't look like Whitecaps Residency alumni, and current Canadian U20 international, Jackson Farmer is going to be that guy just yet. "Jackson is an option for us," Robinson admitted before adding, "I see Jackson more as a USL player for us next year. He needs a little bit more experience and a little bit more games in a competitive environment. Our USL team will help us to do that. He will be coming in preseason to get a little bit more experience with us but if I can add someone that's got perhaps a little bit more experience than Jackson and allow Jackson to get competitive games under his belt in the USL, that's probably the way I'm thinking at the moment." The Caps may also look at adding a centreback from Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, with Robinson admitting that they've identified five or six possible options from their scouting. In amongst all of this centreback upheaval, it should also be remembered that the Whitecaps' offseason additions are still in their early stages. Rodriguez is only the second new player to be added so far, but he's far from the last. "I'm still looking at two or three new additions," Robinson said. "There will be more faces coming in. Can I give you a definitive timeline on that? No. But we are in the works with a few targets." So with less than two months till the new season kicks off (CBA pending of course!), what does Robinson see as still the main areas of concern in the Whitecaps squad that he needs to address? "I want to try and build this squad as strong as I can," he said. "I want to have a pool of players I'm comfortable with, whether they're young or old. There are still three areas that I'm looking at. "I'm looking in a wide area, I'm looking at the centreback area and I'm looking at the forward area as well. I've got good options in the midfield areas, I've got good options in the number 10 areas, so it's just those three areas I'm looking to strengthen. "Hopefully I'll be able to do that by the time training camp starts. If it means me starting tomorrow by getting the player I want or have identified, then I'll do that. There will be four or five news paces, including the picks we have tomorrow, coming in in preseason." The Whitecaps player report back to training on January 24th. Exactly who will be there still remains to be seen.
  10. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  11. While others in MLS go down the route of bringing in big name and big money signings, to varying degrees of success, the Whitecaps have gone with a lower key and in-house development approach. Some critics accuse them of being cheap. That was an accusation surprisingly levelled by some out east following the signing of young DP Octavio Rivero last month. But if we're being honest, you're not going to get the likes of Kaka, Frank Lampard, or Steven Gerrard coming to Vancouver to play on a horrendous fake pitch week in and week out. You might not even see them coming here when their teams actually play in the city. What you will see is an array of lesser known South American talent and burgeoning homegrown talent keen to make their name in the game, and that's an approach that the Whitecaps won't be shifting from for the foreseeable future and the 'Caps approach to youth development is something that Lenarduzzi is particularly proud of. "Even prior to joining MLS, it was clear we invested a lot of money in youth development for a good three, four years in advance," Lenarduzzi told reporters at the 'Caps first media presser of the new year. "That was always our philosophy. Having said that, we also knew that we had to bring in players that were difference makers. "We decided that we want to be known as a club that develops it's own players and we've stayed the course in that regard. If you look at the U20 team and the U17s, and we have nine players on both of those teams that are either current Residency players or have been through our system and I think that speaks that it's starting to work. Now what we need to do is to get more players, like Russell Teibert, like Kianz Froese, and we need those players to be coming though on an annual basis." Producing a steady stream of quality young players is a key focus for the Whitecaps, and one which Lenarduzzi is well aware won't just help Vancouver to the success they desire, but also provide a big boost for the Canadian national team, at all age levels, in the process. "One of our goals is to try to have a conveyor belt of having players coming through our system and onto our first team," Lenarduzzi said. "But equally important, on to our national teams. We need to get back to the World Cup. "I think a lot of what will determine if that's a possibility or not is what we are doing and what Toronto are doing and what Montreal are doing, Edmonton, Ottawa, in terms of giving those players an opportunity to play and get better and vie for MLS spots and national team spots." Of the 20 players named in Rob Gale's Canadian roster for the upcoming 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championship in Jamaica, which gets underway on Saturday, nine came through the Whitecaps Residency program. Four are currently on the Whitecaps MLS squad, two others will be part of the 'Caps USL PRO squad this season and two more are currently away at college. Add in nine of the 20 members of Canada's U17 squad being part of the 'Caps Residency program at present and the footballing future is looking very bright for Vancouver, with Lenarduzzi acknowledging how far ahead the Whitecaps seem to be right now compared to their Canadian rivals in terms of youth development. "It's nice when you look at those numbers and you look at the representations from the other professional clubs, it's something at this stage that we can be proud of. But we're not going to rest on our laurels. We're going to continue to put the emphasis on development and I think as much as we want to be a club that develops players, we need for the coaching staff to play those players. "And in Carl's case, he proved that last year in the Amway Cup and probably the best example of that was not long after Kianz Froese signed a MLS contract, he's coming off the bench at half time in front of 50,000 plus people. That's when people will ideally look at it and go they're doing what they said they wanted to do. It's taken them time, but player development is all about time." And therein lies one of the key components to it all. The switch from youth football to the pro ranks and getting playing time. The Whitecaps may have six Canadians on their MLS roster, but none of them are going to be starters when the new season kicks off in March. They're not at that level yet compared to others in the squad, although Sam Adekugbe is arguably the closest. Even ahead of Russell Teibert due to squad positional depth. Lenarduzzi admits that there isn't too much point developing all this young homegrown talent if they're not going to get too many minutes on the pitch and sees that as the next step for the Whitecaps to take. "We've stayed the course and now we're starting to see the dividends from it," Lenarduzzi feels. "Ultimately, we will see the dividends from it when we have three or four or five of those guys in our first team on a regular basis but I've always suggested that development is time consuming. It takes time for players to come through and do what you want them to do at the first team level. You don't just snap your fingers and have players go from not playing to playing. We'll continue to do what we're doing. "I'd love to see Marco Bustos, Carducci, Kianz Froese coming on in MLS games, CCL games, Amway Cup games and getting the minutes that will determine if they're capable of playing at that level or not. We think they are but all we're asking for as a club from our coaching staff is if we're going to develop these players, and there's an opportunity to play them, let's play them and then find out whether they're capable or not." It's a position that Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson fully understands and is keen to remedy, but not to the detriment of both the player and a successful team on the park. "Money doesn't guarantee you success, as you've seen with a number of clubs," Robinson told reporters today. "I want to try and guarantee success but in the right way and I feel the right way is developing our own Canadian players through our Residency program. "We spent a lot of money on our Residency program. For that to come to fruition, there's nothing better for me and the club that we would like more than to develop them, play them in the first team and then maybe sell them on at a later date. That's going to be our model. We'll stick to that. We won't change our philosophy, I won't change my philosophy and we'll continue to try and strive for success." One of the crucial pieces to the development puzzle will be put in place with the 'Caps new USL PRO team. That team may be kicking off their season in a few weeks time but they don't have a head coach at the helm as it currently stands. That's a situation though that the club hope to have settled within the next fortnight. "We're still going through the process," Lenarduzzi admitted. "There are some candidates internally and as you can imagine, once people realised that we were in USL, we had a lot of resumes come from virtually all over the world." "We've narrowed the list down but we still need to do a little bit more work with the people that we have decided we'd like to interview further. Ideally we'll have a decision, by the latest, in two weeks." So, with a healthy amount of Canadians in their first team squad, some more promising ones on the horizon, a new USL PRO team set to kick off packed full of homegrown talent and providing the bulk of players for Canada's younger national teams, Vancouver Whitecaps certainly seem to be doing their bit for Canadian soccer. Could they do more? Perhaps. But they're streaks ahead of some of their rivals. But what of all those naysayers out there who like to say that the Whitecaps hate Canada and do nothing for Canadian football? "It's shocking to me, but that comes from a very small circle as far as I can gather," Lenarduzzi said. "I don't pay a lot of attention to that but whenever I hear that and I hear that we're not playing Canadian players, what I often do is turn that question back around on the person that's making those comments. "[i ask them] tell me of a player right now in Canada, that's not in our Residency program, that should be playing in our first team? And more often or not I get silence. I also believe that if you're going to make comments like that, you should also have the ability to back them up. A lot of people say it but a lot of people can't back it up and that's frustrating." Indeed it is, but ultimately, who cares? The Whitecaps will be the ones having the last laugh and the continued success.
  12. And there's still time to continue my Carlton Cole rumours and start a new Robbie Keane one. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  13. Have a listen! You can listen to this week's podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  14. Rennie used that April radio interview to blow his own trumpet for his achievements with the Whitecaps and to clearly have a not-so-veiled dig at what Robinson would have to achieve to be classed as what he felt was a successful replacement. "I kind of feel fine about how it ended," Rennie told Matt Sekeres in the interview. "I think that as a coach, you always think that given more time you could do more with it. The team I inherited was the worst team in MLS. It improved quite a lot in the first year and it improved again in the second year. "I felt that when I started we were probably about 40 points from being first in MLS and when I finished there we were nine points from being first and that's a massive, massive improvement. I'm a pretty harsh critic of myself and there's things that I'm sure I could have done better and I know that I could of, but I also think that generally there was a lot of success there and there was a solid platform now to build a good club. "So as long as they go on now and continue to develop, I think it was 11 wins then 13 wins, so they need to go 15, 16 wins to show that development and then you've got a solid MLS team. In Major League Soccer, it's a very, very tight league. You're not going to win every game and you're probably, even if you have a great season, lose 10 or 11 games a season, so I feel good about it." So let's just review what Rennie's achievements actually were and how Robinson actually stacks up with them. He took the worst team in MLS in 2011 and got them to the playoffs a year later. An excellent accomplishment, even though some felt that they eventually backed in. At the time, we said we held no sway with that. They didn't back in, they got in due to their early season form and the points they put up on the board. Rennie achieved the playoffs in his first season, so has Robinson after basically rebuilding the team. If you look at the starters for the Caps against Colorado, three were brought in by Rennie and six by Robinson (two players, Jordan Harvey and Russell Teibert, predated both). In 2012 under Rennie, Vancouver had an 11-13-10 record and 43 points. They made the playoffs with four points to spare, scoring 35 goals and conceding 41 along the way. They got their first MLS away win in Rennie's first road game in charge and got three for the whole season. The Caps kept 12 clean sheets over the season and eventually finished 5th in the West, 23 points behind the Supporters Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes, and were 11th overall in the MLS combined points standings. They failed to win a match against their Cascadian rivals, with three draws and three defeats, obviously failing to lift the Cascadia Cup. They also failed to lift the Voyageurs Cup and clinch a spot in the Champions League. A year later in 2013, Rennie guided the Whitecaps to their then highest ever MLS points total of 48 and their most ever number of wins, 13, but it still wasn't enough to get Vancouver into the playoffs and they fell three points short. Their overall record was 13-12-9 as they finished 7th in the West and dropped to the 13th best record overall in the MLS combined points standings. They scored their most ever goals in MLS with 53 but conceded their second highest total so far with 45, keeping seven clean sheets. They got their first ever win over a Cascadian rival and actually managed two that season, both over Seattle, including their first Cascadian away win. Still no joy in the Voyageurs Cup, blowing their opportunity to wrap it up at BC Place. So now we move to Carl Robinson's first year in charge. He's finished his rookie regular season with a 12-8-14 record and 50 points. That the highest points total so far, not just by the Whitecaps in MLS, but any Canadian club. Those 12 wins included three on the road and three against their Cascadian rivals (two of those being away victories). Rennie said in that radio interview that there would have to be 15 or 16 wins to show a continued improvement, which was of course just nonsense. Yes, the number dropped by one from last season to, which means nothing when you look at the fact that Vancouver still produced their highest ever MLS points total to finish 5th in the West and produced their highest ever finish in the Supporters' Shield standings of 9th. To finish the ninth best team in MLS, unbeaten against all Eastern Conference opposition and only losing three matches to those teams above them in the West (two to LA and one to Dallas), is one hell of an achievement for Robinson in his first year as a head coach. And, as we keep saying, all without an actual striker for more than half the year! Rennie said that even in a "great" season you'd lose 10 or 11 games. This season the Caps lost 8. The second best record in all of MLS. Still no Voyageurs Cup, but there is a CONCACAF Champions League spot to look forward to next year for the first time. And back to back Cascadia Cup in the bag. But the improvements to the Whitecaps under Robinson are measured in more than just stats, so let's move away from the numbers. Robinson promised to make the team younger and to develop youth. Now to many, including us, we took that to mean homegrown Residency talent of current and recent years. That was how it was looking preseason and you did feel it was going to be a major developmental year if that's how things panned out. They didn't and Robinson made shrewd signings to go with what was already there. Of the 28 players currently on the Caps MLS roster, 18 are 24-years-old or younger. That's one hell of a building block for future seasons and eight of those are 'homegrowns', including the latest additions of Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos. These players have all gained invaluable experience this season. Some will move on to pastures new in a few weeks time, but they'll be replaced by others (the likes of Mitch Piraux and Ben McKendry are waiting in the wings). Rennie talked a good game about young players but there was very little evidence of his development of them. There's also the harmony in the dressing room. It's certainly the best I've ever seen since covering the Caps from 2008. When you have experience players like Andy O'Brien and Pedro Morales describing it as "special", and a new addition like Mauro Rosales saying it's the best dressing room he's been a part of, the management need to get a lot of credit for building that with the addition of the right personnel. Back on the pitch, Robinson has brought a refreshing attacking mindset on the road, in general. Still not perfect and maybe still a bit one dimensional and easily read at times, but a major improvement in the entertainment factor. And it's brought results too. Things are by no means perfect. Robbo has perhaps been too loyal to some of his players this year, giving them too many chances that they simply haven't taken. He's shielded them from the flak that they perhaps needed to be hit with. Then there's the whole inability to land a striker, which still may ultimately cost them in the postseason, and the team has been a bit too predictable in their style of play on occasion and easily countered. But a rookie manager will make such mistakes and he will learn, and Robinson has done that as the season progressed. Martin Rennie and his team (of which Robinson was obviously a part) do deserve major kudos for turning the Whitecaps around from the worst team in MLS in a disastrous inaugural season in the league. Sometimes I don't think people gave them the proper credit or fully understood just what a big achievement that was. MLS parity rules help to some extent but the players and management still then have to get the job done. But give me Robinson's Whitecaps any day of the week. The players are more talented and exciting. The attitude throughout the squad is so much better. There is a real buzz at training and a real team spirit and that has transferred onto results on the pitch. There's been actual youth development. There's still a lot of work to do and the Western Conference is only going to get even tougher next year with the likely additions of Sporting KC and Houston at the expense of the clusterfuck that was Chivas USA. Robinson still has that difficult second album phase ahead of him that signalled the end of his predecessor. He's set the bar high with this rookie season and it's not over yet. Following it up next year is a big ask of any manager and Robinson will know that. Once you achieve success, there's no looking back and limited allowance for future failure. Having never won in Dallas, the Caps could realistically go one and out again in the playoffs. It would feel like such a major anti-climax after the intensity of the last five games, but whatever happens, how the Caps move on is the key now. And under Robinson, you can only have hopes for the future. Now the pressure really begins.
  15. Carl Robinson has already indicated that the Honduran will get the start for Waston, ahead of other choices Christian Dean and Carlyle Mitchell. It's a bit of a downgrade on Waston in terms of aerial presence, but then who wouldn't be?! Leveron though bring a calm, steady and usually reliable mindset to the backline. Just what the Caps could be needing in what could be a night of hot heads in Northern California. "He's ready, he's fine," Robinson said of Leveron's return to the team. "Johnny lost his place, not because he was playing poorly but because he went away with the national team, so sometimes you get penalised for being a top quality player unfortunately. "He was playing probably as well as he's played in the last two years. Unfortunately he picked up an injury, he's come back and Andy and Kendall have done great. "Kendall being suspended is a big loss for us. Johnny is a different kind of player but I've got no worries about him stepping in. He'll be confident as always, he'll defend right and hopefully he can fit in with the team we're going to pick." There is no doubting that Vancouver will miss Waston's presence, as I covered over on MLSsoccer.com earlier in the week, but having an international player like Leveron at your disposal to replace him, is a nice luxury for Robinson to have at this key stage of the season. It may not feel like it, but Leveron has made only three fewer appearances (15 in total) for the Whitecaps this season than he did last year. Robinson had been keen to keep as settled a side as possible down the stretch. Sometimes his hand is forced, but having that settled backline the last couple of games has been important. Leveron now has to come in, readjust and settle back into the swing of things pretty quickly, with a lot on the line. The man that will be directly behind him, goalkeeper David Ousted, is unconcerned about the enforced change. "The continuity's nice and you get to learn the people in there," Ousted admitted. "But Johnny's a good player and Johnny's shown before that he can go in and fill that spot. Like I said last week with Seba out, where's there's people out, others need to step up and Johnny has to step up now and we know he can do that." His centre half partner Andy O'Brien has been getting used to partner swapping these past two seasons, but O'Brien and Leveron have played multiple games together now and know each other's game inside out. "I played with Johnny before so hopefully we can get back in the groove we had prior to Kendall coming in," O'Brien told reporters at training. "That's what we've done well in recent weeks, the relationships across the whole team. Not only in the 11 that have started but the whole 18 squad and the guys that are not involved. They may have played together before, but defenders get a familiarity built up with each other. How they're going to play and move and pass. O'Brien has had that with Waston over the last eight games, so what kind of extra challenge does having to adjust to a new partner pose for the veteran? "It is different," O'Brien admitted to AFTN. "They're very different players in terms of their style. As I've said before, it sometimes isn't who you're playing with but who you're playing against and what do you need to do to counteract what they're doing. "I think there's a real team ethic that even if you're marking but you can intercept the ball, don't think you're happy enough just doing your job. Guys are filling in and there's been times where I've been playing a little bit higher than I normally would do, but guys are filling in. Whether it be a full back or whether it be Rusty, and likewise if strikers drop short the pocket in front of us is getting well protected in terms of the defensive screening. "Sometimes you have to do other people's jobs and I think a lot of the guys are doing that and when they are doing that, other lads are filling in, so it's working well." Exactly how much the Caps will be tested by the Quakes tonight is the unknown commodity. San Jose are a bit of a shambles of a team at the moment. A 13 game winless streak, two goals in their last four games, they've just sacked their manager and looked woefully out of form the last couple of matches. Can they find the scoresheet no matter who is playing in the defence? Can the Caps? 0-0 would do the job! There's always a danger going in to a game like this that last weeks heroics against Seattle could lead to a flatter performance against a weaker team. We have seen it all season from Vancouver. Having the pressure of knowing that they have to come away with at least a point is another factor as well. Robinson knows the pitfalls and admits to a little apprehension. "For me, this is a more difficult game than against Seattle away," Robinson told reporters. "At Seattle, no-one expects anything from us, obviously everybody expects us to go there [to San Jose] and get a result. But all the information we're getting out of San Jose is that they've nothing to lose. They're fighting for contracts those players. Dominic's going to be going in for next season, so they're going to be wanting to prove a point to him." The Whitecaps themselves would no doubt settle for a point tonight. But if they can get all three, then next week is set to be a barnstorming season finale. To get there, the defence will likely be the key. So keep calm and Leveron.
  16. If the Timbers get chopped down at home to RSL, then a victory at Buck Shaw Stadium, where they haven’t won in four attempts, would see the Whitecaps in the playoffs with a game to spare. A game where they can either try and keep momentum going against a defensively woeful Colorado side, maybe even grabbing some confidence boosting goals in the process, or rest up some key or close to suspension players like Pedro Morales. A Portland point against Salt Lake, would see them jump ahead of Vancouver on the tiebreakers, but the ‘Caps would then just need at least one point of their own against the Earthquakes to claim it back a day later. A Portland win (we don’t really even want to consider that option), would mean Vancouver falling back out of the playoff places and sitting two points behind the Timbers. But fear not, because matching the Timbers’ result, no matter what, see them back above the red line. Not getting anything out of this scenario is simply unthinkable. For all that Vancouver want their focus to be solely about themselves, Portland have perhaps an equal part to play in the whole race to the playoffs. "I said we couldn't look at Portland too much, we're little bit forced to look at them now," goalkeeper David Ousted told us at training this week. "It's about us finishing the job. "Win, draw or lose for Portland, we still need to go and get hopefully two wins to push our way in there. If we get two wins, it doesn't matter what Portland does. If we can focus on that, it's going to be easier for us. If they lose points, then good for us and we don't have to maybe make a win too, but still, we need to push our way in there and not hope that Portland loses." Carl Robinson has preached for weeks that all that matters is taking care of their own business and it doesn't matter what anybody else does if the Caps can't do their own job. He has shifted from that stand with two games to go, but him and his squad will most certainly be watching Friday's Portland result with keen interest. "I think my players will generally watch [Portland's] results," Robinson told us. "I watched them on Wednesday night [against San Jose]. We beat Dallas 2-0 and suddenly we were in a decent position and then they followed up with a result and then they followed up again with another result and then apparently the pressure was on us. "I just said to the guys, 'listen, it doesn't matter what anybody else does, we've just got to concentrate on ourselves' and we did on Friday [against Seattle] and we won the game. It changes every week and every game that goes on, a different result changes the dynamic of the playoff race. "If we win two games we're in. I'm trying to make it as simple as possible for them [the players]. Obviously I'll look at their result Friday and watch their game, because I love watching games of football, and if they win, then it puts a little bit of pressure on us. If they don't win it puts pressure on us because we need to get our result."
  17. "It's vitally important," coach Carl Robinson told reporters on Thursday. "Getting into the playoffs is the first goal that we set and if you manage to get in then it's being in form when you're hitting the playoffs. You see, year in, year out, a number of teams that get into the playoffs, sneak into the playoffs, when they're not playing very well end up going out. "It's important that focus is maintained. It's important that you do get a bit of momentum going into the playoffs because it is a lottery when you get there. It's just a one off game or a two-legged game if you get past that first stage and anything can happen. It's still a long way off, and it's a hard trek to get there, but we're willing to meet the challenge head on." The playoff race in the West looks like it may go right down to the wire and Vancouver know that if they are to make it to the postseason they will have to do it by producing some of their best form in the remaining matches. It's a factor which left back Jordan Harvey feels that can only serve them well. "That is an advantage," Harvey admitted to AFTN. "If you do get on form these last four games leading into the playoffs, that's huge. That's what most teams are successful with. We have to get in form, we have to get some more points and that will allow us to carry that [form] in." If Vancouver can clinch fifth spot in the Western Conference, they will likely face a first round playoff match away to FC Dallas or Real Salt Lake. Last Saturday's defeat of RSL gave the Whitecaps a slight mental edge over one of their prospective postseason opponents and they are unbeaten against Real Salt Lake all season, including two hard-fought draws down in Utah. The 'Caps are hoping for more of the same mental boost when Dallas head to BC Place this weekend. For veteran defender Andy O'Brien that psychological side of the game is one of the important keys for the Whitecaps down the stretch and beyond. "I think you need to be composed, especially from a mental point of view because there's so much emphasis in getting into the playoffs," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of pressure to get in there and then once you're in there, you've got a job to do and it's not as if you down tools when you meet one objective. "It's got to be a progression thing. We want to go, if possible, into the playoffs with four good results now and take that on to whoever we may play should we get there. It's important that we keep ourselves mentally prepared and physically prepared for it."
  18. Or are they right? Have the Whitecaps not been getting some decisions of late? Are the football gods still angry at games being played on fake grass under a closed roof? (Or is that just me?) Is all it is going to take is getting in the groove and then just watch these uncoiled springs go? I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck in football, and life. Every team can look back at the decisions that didn’t go their way, the calls they didn’t get, and of course some of them can cost matches and vital points. Are the Caps just getting a spell of these calls of late or are they simply not good enough to be fighting for the postseason this year and that makes for a good deflector? It is understandable why the Caps might be feeling this way. One thing has looked certain and that is that Sebastian Fernandez can’t seem to get a penalty call go in his favour to save his life. He was taken down in the box during the second half in Portland on Saturday when the score was still 1-0. That could certainly have been not just a game changer, but a playoff one. Simon Borg and the boys at MLS’ Instant Replay have certainly felt that the Whitecaps had been hard done by of late and although Caps coach Carl Robinson wouldn’t be drawn too much on the issue, he did point to their analysis. "I watch the Instant Replays and listen to their opinions and they're brilliant," Robinson told reporters at training on Tuesday. "Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don't know and I watch it, and it's two weeks now that the guys think that we should have had a penalty. We haven't and that's not masking over a disappointing performance for us. So we've got to move on and we will move on. "I think we're not getting that many breaks at the moment as I would like but that's no excuse." So is Seba paying the price for simulation earlier in the season, including that infamous face holding one in Portland in June that saw him land a one match ban? "Maybe. I'm not sure. I hope not," Robinson said. "I know referees have been told that if there's some simulation they must book players. In the last two games I think we've seen it against us as well, a little bit of simulation and refs usually do clamp down on it. I don't think that if anyone thinks anyone is diving or cheating or trying to gain an unfair advantage they should book them and if they don't it's a free kick. It's a very fine line." But bad breaks and bounces seemed to genuinely be how some of the Whitecaps players are seeing things right now and that the luck will change soon and the goals will start to go in and the points will go on the board. Never mind the horrible defending, uncreative midfield and impotent attack. When Russell Teibert was asked how the team viewed some of the goals that the Caps had been conceding of late, he didn't agree that there was a trend of poor marking and poor tracking back. "A fluke goal like the one in Dallas. How can you talk about that?," Teibert responded. "It's one of those things that sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way. Then we're in Portland, we're dominating the game and Valeri gets free and he hits a cracker that ends up in the back of the net. "Sometimes the ball bounces for the other team, sometimes the ball bounces your way and unfortunately for the past couple of games, the ball hasn't bounced in our favour. That's how sport is sometimes, that's how professional soccer is and you have to battle through it. "Maybe teams that don't have the locker room that we have, that don't have the belief that we have, would give up. But this locker room has a lot of belief, has a lot of character and we'll push through the tough times. We know we're going to make our way out of it." When your team’s in a rut, you like to think that it’s all going to turn around. Everything’s going to be just fine in the end if you have a little faith and believe. Unless you’ve had 30 years of watching and supporting East Fife. Then you know it’s all ******. I imagine TFC fans must feel the same. Believing you're going to get out it and actually doing what you need to do to get out of it are two different things altogether. Can the Whitecaps do that? Do they have the personnel to do that right now? "I think fans, us, the coaching staff all expect that at some point it's going to go in, right?" Steven Beitashour responded when asked if fans were just to grab onto the hope that things will change for the better soon and the necessary goals will come if they just keep the faith. Getting some of those calls to go the Whitecaps way would undoubtedly have helped in some games, but so would goals, and plenty of them. They can't rely on getting favourable calls to save their season, and nor should they according to goalkeeper David Ousted, who took a more realistic view on the recent bad beat stories. "I'm looking forward to the last five games, we've got a lot of decisions coming our way," Ousted joked at training when he was asked it the Whitecaps were due some luck. "It always evens out at the end of the season and I think it will. "We can't look at decisions not given or referees. We need to look at ourselves and if we're at it. If we can see after the game that we didn't get a decision or whatever it is, then we'll take it from there. But we have to put in a performance. We can't let the referee do it for us. "I still think everybody believes in this. We can make it in. I think Portland will drop points and we will be there to pick up those two points that we're behind." But the only way to do that is to get goals, goals and more goals. Maybe just five will do. One goal a week to secure three points a week. It is possible, but even managing one a game from the team right now is looking a little far fetched to many. Not Russell Teibert though, who felt that Vancouver played really well for the first 30 minutes down in Portland before fading. "I know you guys might be tired of hearing that and the end product is what we've been lacking recently, but we've scored goals all year long and it's inevitable that we're going to score goals until the end of the season. It's going to happen. It's bound to happen. "I can't tell you when. It could be this weekend. We could score four or five, we could score one or two. We know it's going to happen at some point. These are the times that are the most exciting. It's a big game for us this weekend against Salt Lake. No matter what happens in the week before we're putting it past us and we're looking forward." It's good not to have negativity in the dressing room and if the players don't believe in themselves, then no-one else is going to, but there also needs to be a dose of reality mixed in there as well. It may not make your life as happy, but it has to be done. No-one is expecting the players to come out and say "we're pretty crap up front" and yes, that wouldn't help anyone, but there has to be more offered than just blind faith. The fans are alright with having faith and hope, they just need to see Whitecaps players taking advantage of some charitable defences to help them keep it. Vancouver players and management are all saying the right things, now they need to back their words up with actions.
  19. We hear from those homegrown signings, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese about their new MLS deals and we get the thoughts of Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson on the pair. Those were the only two signings announced on Monday before the MLS roster freeze and Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi tells us why and talks about the USL Pro situation, the season run-in and more. Keeping with the young theme we hear from Christian Dean about his first MLS start in last week's game against Dallas and from the guy that scored Vancouver's goal down there, and who everyone hopes is going to go on another streak, Erik Hurtado. Turning attention to back to the remainder of the MLS season, we hear from Robinson and some of the players about being in a full playoff mindset already and how each of these remaining six games is already basically a playoff game if Vancouver want to reach the postseason once again. Robinson also looks ahead to this weekend's big Cascadia Cup clash in Portland and we hear from some of the players - goalkeeper David Ousted, centreback Andy O'Brien and midfielders Matias Laba, Mauro Rosales and Russell Teibert. A busy show for a busy week! Have a listen! You can listen to this week's podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  20. "They're fantastic signings for the club," Robinson told reporters. "I'm absolutely delighted to get those two on board, especially now with a couple of months to go till the end of the season because it's important. It's important for them to get to grips with what it's like being a MLS professional, getting used to the environment for January when they come because it's the progression I want as the manager of the club as well as what the club want. "I think it's important for the growth of this club that we see players coming through regularly. Not just one year, every three or four years, but every year. They're added to our already talented young pool of players that we've got. I'm delighted to have them both on board." It's a delight matched by both players, as they grinned from ear to ear throughout their first media scrums as pros. So now that they've had a small amount of time for it to all sunk in, how does it feel to have signed their first pro contracts? "[Monday] was an amazing day really," Froese told us. "It's surreal to say the least. It's a dream come true but the work starts now." That was a view echoed by Bustos, although it's their hard work already in the Residency program that has seen them earn their pro deals at 18-years-old. But now that the pair have that MLS contract, neither is going to be resting on his laurels. "It's a good feeling because I've pretty much put the weight off my shoulders for how hard I've worked for the past 10, 12 months," Bustos told us. "To know that I've got myself in the team for next season is a good step for me because that then pushes me to fight for a spot on the squad. That realistically, at the end of the day, I want to be in the 18 man squad and sooner, rather than later, be in the 11 man squad." Both players have impressed at training this year and they got an initial reward back in May when they started the first leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final in Toronto. Although a spot in the second leg was deprived of them due to a Canadian national team training camp, the experience that both got in that game against TFC gave them a taste of playing for the Whitecaps first team and left them knowing they could perform at that level and wanting more. "The experience leaves me with the thought that I can be here and I could play with the squad," Bustos said. "It makes me believe that I can get in the 11 man squad and it shows me that the coaches believe in me. Whenever the coaches give me the chance to get out on the field again, then I'll hopefully take that chance and give them everything." Froese agrees and the match helped them realise that they've arrived in football and are playing with and against world class players now. "When I saw [Michael] Bradley playing in the World Cup, I was like, 'yeah, I've played against him'!," Froese joked. "Obviously it just shows that we can do it and we can hopefully play, so it just gives us confidence to go and do it when the chance comes." And Froese may be getting that chance in the very near future. With six games remaining, Robinson has no qualms about pitching the young star into the mix, whether the Whitecaps are in the heat of a playoff battle or not, and the 'Caps coach has no doubts that he's already capable of playing at MLS level. "Kianz is very much in contention," Robinson replied when asked if Froese would only play if the Caps were out of the playoffs. "We don't need to be eliminated or out of it for him to get the opportunity. I think you see today in training what he brings. "We know there's areas of his game that need a little bit more focus. I just spoke to him at length about what we're going to do in the offseason, but he's very much in the picture between now and the end of the season. And rightly so, because his performances and his training have fully deserved that. So don't be surprised if you see him soon." Signing a MLS contract is already a dream come to true for Froese, but to then play right away and have the chance to shape the club's playoff hopes is taking it to another level altogether, but one he's excited at the prospect of and ready for. "That would be unreal," Froese said. "That's my goal for right now. To hopefully get to go on a trip with the team and just be a part of the team and help in any way I can. Obviously that's earned on the field, so right now I'm just focussing on staying consistent and hopefully I get a chance." Unfortunately, Marco Bustos won't get his chance to shine this season, having only signed a pre-contract for MLS that won't kick in until January next year. It's disappointing, especially with the top form that he is in right now with the Residency, but taking the long term view, this may see him signing a Generation Adidas deal with Russell Teibert moving off his. And in light of Major League Soccer's weird roster rules at the best of times, the Whitecaps didn't want to take any chances. "As you know, with the expansion draft coming up, it's a tricky time for all MLS clubs," Robinson told us. "With the protection rule of only ten players, maybe bumping two of them up at a certain time will give the possibility of me maybe losing one or two players and I don't want to do that at this time because I'm building here. "I can get one of them on the roster, which is why I think Kianz is slightly more ready than Marco, even though Marco scored five goals on the weekend and beat six men to get his goal of the season contender." And what a goal that was. If anyone needed convincing of the talent Bustos has and what he offers the Whitecaps, they should have seen his second goal against San Juan on Sunday. It may have been at youth level but he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and weaved his way past six players before coolly putting it away past the keeper. Has he scored a better goal than that? "I can't remember all the goals I've scored, but I think that's probably one of the best ones I've scored for the Whitecaps Residency," Bustos said. "Going through those bunch of guys and finishing was pretty cool." Bustos hit a hat-trick in Saturday's 3-2 win for the Whitecaps U18s over Seattle and followed that up with a brace against San Juan. With the minutes ticking down he had the chance to hit back to back hat-tricks, but could only look on as his shot cannoned off the left hand post. "It would have been nice to get the two hat-tricks but at the end of the day we won the game, so that's all that matters to me," Bustos told us when we ask him if he was disappointed at missing out on an impressive feat. Bustos has been given the captain's armband for the U18s this season and the attitude and knowledge sharing he has shown since training with the first team, played an important part in the decision to reward him with a MLS contract. The Whitecaps are always keen to see how the young players react when they go back into the Residency environment and Bustos' attitude has been exemplary. So how did the captaincy come about? "The two Residency coaches, Steve Meadley and Niall Thompson, had pulled me aside at the end of last season and asked me if I would take the honour of being the skipper," Bustos told us. "They talked to me a little bit about trying to build my leadership to make myself a better pro and I wanted to take the challenge. "Just to have that extra leadership skill in me and to lead by example and lead vocally, I think will make me a better player, so I wanted to take that opportunity to make myself better." He has already been leading by example, and not just with his five goals on the opening weekend, but Bustos hopes that he and his good friend, and fellow Manitoba boy, Froese can be good role models for other Canadian kids looking to make it in the pro ranks. "Knowing that me and Kianz have made it here will hopefully inspire other young kids to follow their dreams and to go forward and hopefully one day they could follow our footsteps," Bustos added. With more Residency homegrown talent on the horizon and pushing hard, I don't think he'll have to wait too long for that.
  21. There's a new king in town. Long live King Carl. Carl Robinson was officially confirmed as the new Whitecaps head coach today, so we're bringing you a Robbo heavy episode 31 of "There's Still Time", the AFTN Vancouver Whitecaps podcast. We chat about Robinson's appointment, what it means for the future direction of the Whitecaps and hear a cutdown section of his introductory press conference. Even though he had a jam packed morning, Carl made time to sit down with Steve and myself for a special podcast chat about his appointment, his managerial influences, who he might have his eye on to bring in, what his team will look like, the future for the young players at the club and lots more. And talking of the younger players, everybody agrees they need to find them more playing time, but where will they find it? We speak with Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi about whether the Caps will be getting their own USL Pro team any time soon. Have a listen. For now, you can listen to this week's podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  22. The move has surprised many, with Vancouverite Yallop expected to be a shoe-in for the Caps coaching job, ticking all the boxes that club's now infamous committee are looking for, in particular experience, success in MLS and a history of bringing on young players. You have to feel that the lure of an actual job offer was far better than playing the waiting game for what was a dream job in his hometown. We can only speculate as to whether Yallop expected to be installed by the Whitecaps right away and didn't want the uncertainty when it became clear he wasn't going to be without a full interview process. There's also that lingering talk that the whole "committee" aspect of the Whitecaps was putting off Yallop and the move to Chicago, who had already spoken to him about becoming the technical director at the club, would give him more freedom to make all the decisions and have complete overall control. In Monday's article where we broke the news of Rennie's release, we asked the question of Yallop - "was his 2012 Quakes a blip and he is a manager whose best days are behind him and he is coming to the team with outdated ideas that won't be a success here?". We'll find out next season with Chicago, but losing Yallop to the Fire may actually be a blessing in disguise, depending on who ends up applying for the job, and the Whitecaps should end up with a more modern and dynamic new coach. The Caps had confirmed that Yallop was someone that would be on their shortlist, but it now throws up the intriguing question as to who is on that list now and who will ultimately get the job? There's already a lot of sites out there listing and analysing candidates, so we're not going to bore everyone by overdoing that. Some names are available right this second (Bob Bradley, Gary Smith), whilst others are still in jobs (Bruce Arena, Dominic Kinnear, Jason Kreis). Tuesday's press conference was keen to play the "experience" card. Bobby Lenarduzzi, Jay DeMerit and Jordan Harvey all talked about the need for experience and you left feeling that the new manager would be more of a veteran than an up and coming young buck. Now that the dust has settled, and having given it a bit of thought after losing out on Yallop, I'm not sure that would necessarily be the best or only route to go down right now. For me personally, I would narrow it down to two candidates, either of whom I would be happy to see as the new Caps head honcho. My first choice is Jason Kreis. We first mentioned him as a bit of a pipe dream in a podcast back in May when we were sure Rennie was getting fired back then. The RSL boss has a lot of invaluable MLS experience and success behind him. He is only 40 but has been in charge in Utah since 2007. Whilst it is felt that he is currently at the stage of his career where he will be tempted by a new challenge, the downside is that he has been strongly linked with being the inaugural manager at New York City for 2015. But that is a whole season away. Would a manager like him be happy to not have a hands on, active role for a whole year? I love what he's done at Salt Lake, especially this year, where he lost key players, rebuilt his team, again, and whilst many thought he would struggle, he proved his doubters wrong and came close to winning the Supporters' Shield. He also has a track record for developing young talent, which is right up there along with results as to why the Caps brass felt that Rennie had failed. I think the Caps would love to have a guy like Kreis at the club and are bound to put feelers out to him, which I'm sure they already have. He couldn't come until RSL were out of the playoffs, which could be as late as December, not giving him a whole lot of time to make decisions on which players are kept and which ones are binned and would hopefully rely on someone already at the club adequately informed to help him make those decisions. And that person would be Carl Robinson, who is now my second choice for the job if we can't lure Kreis. This might surprise some because we were on the experienced manager bandwagon for the last few weeks. When we first got wind that Rennie was going, I didn't think Robinson was the right man for the job at this specific time, mainly down to him not having managerial experience as the leading man so to speak and we can't afford another project that doesn't work out. I could easily have seen Yallop grooming him for that position down the line before moving upstairs, but you know what, why not give him a shot? He's a great coach, respected and cited by players and I know for a fact that he is highly thought of by some of the Caps top brass. Talk with him and within minutes you know that he knows the game inside and out and has a passion to succeed. The huge advantage with Robinson is that he knows the squad. If the general feeling is that we fell just short, he'll know exactly what and who is needed to take us to that extra level and who needs to go now to achieve it. But could he get the necessary results and would he be given the necessary time if things started off badly? What I like about Robinson, and Paul Ritchie for that matter, is that they tell it like it is. There's no spin, just refreshing honesty. And do you know who else likes that? The players. Both are highly respected by the current squad, including the veteran players who know they've played at a high level and worked hard to get their coaching qualifications. If Robinson got the coach's job, I'd expect Ritchie to stay around as his assistant and would be delighted by that young and ambitious pairing and I think they would bring success if they are allowed to make the moves that are needed, which for me is still to clear out a lot of the deadwood and bring in up to 10 new players. You can be certain they'd play exciting and entertaining football both home and away, and from speaking with both of them in the past, they are very big on developing younger players and feel that bringing through young Canadian talent from the Residency is the only future for the Caps. But does Robinson stand a realistic chance or have the club painted themselves into a corner with the experience comments? How would promoting the assistant to a perceived failed manager look to the general fanbase? Are the owners bold enough to take the gamble with another young manager, and a rookie one at that? Or do they have to go out and get a "name" to appease and stop disillusionment? It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks, but as we keep saying, this next appointment is one of the most important in Whitecaps history and will define the future of this football club. It's added pressure, but with Yallop's Chicago appointment, they perhaps now have more time and are less rushed to make sure they get the right man in place. The powers that be can't afford to get it wrong. If they went for Kreis, Robinson or both, then I don't think they would be.
  23. We're launching our new series: Inside the MLS, today/tonight. The focus is on news/happenings on key figures around the MLS. Our first subject is Carl Robinson, ex of Toronto FC...now with the New York Red Bulls. In this interview, Carl and Red Nation discuss his recent training camp with Red Bulls, his upcoming MLS Season with New York, the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement between the MLS Owners and Player’s Union, as well as some of his thoughts on a variety of topics related to his time with Toronto FC. http://www.rednationonline.ca/podcast.shtml#carl
  24. A look at the Robbo situation amongst other issues: http://www.rednationonline.ca/exit_carl_stage_left_mar_8_10_column.shtml
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