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Tepid is probably not an unfair word to apply to most of MLS’s Eastern Conference in 2015. Between two expansion teams, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Montreal – CCL success notwithstanding, granted – the likely occupiers of the bottom half of the Eastern table don’t look like insurmountable obstacles. Keep in mind: one of those teams will have to make the playoffs in the new, expanded format for 2015. And TFC only has to finish ahead of four of the five to complete that task themselves. Now, this is Toronto FC we’re talking about of course, so please don’t imagine that I’m anything but aware of the ridiculousness of claiming that they really should make the playoffs. If the Reds are going to do it, however, taking points off those Eastern Conference opponents they need to finish ahead of is the way to go about the task. After missing out on Jermaine Jones last summer, Chicago ownership and management has made a faint hearted attempt to recapture some of the excitement that has waned in the Windy City by dipping into the designated player market in the offseason. On the other hand, many observers are not quite sure why Shaun Maloney is a designated player. The Scottish international had a number of successful seasons after coming through Celtic’s youth ranks, and a few respectable if unexceptional years after moving to the English Premier League, but is hardly a name brand beyond dedicated followers Scottish football and, at 32, unlikely to have undiscovered upside. David Accam, on the other hand, is an interesting signing, and in some sense the type of chance that some fans would like to see more MLS teams take. The young Ghanaian has been climbing the ranks of European football in Sweden after finding an unconventional route to the professional game by winning a contest to find undiscovered talent. So far Accam has been limited to a second half appearance in the Fire’s loss in San Jose, but his addition did add energy and directness to a largely lifeless looking Chicago attack. Finally, Kennedy Igboananike is another forward grabbed from Swedish football. More experienced than Accam, but still only 26, Igboananike has yet to complete a full 90 minutes in MLS or notch his first goal. Regardless of the designated players, it is homegrown signing Harry Shipp who is fast becoming the identifiable face of Chicago’s franchise. After a breakout season in 2014 the young American now seems like the possible difference between the Fire and increased irrelevance. A goal in San Jose and an assist on the Fire’s game-winner last week show Shipp’s importance: he’s literally been involved in all of Chicago’s goals to date this season. Putting out the Fire has never been easy for Toronto FC in Bridgeview as a failure to win in nine visits will attest. Stop Shipp, however, and this could be the time they finally leave the home of their Great Lakes rival with all three points.
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."
Rivero has been playing his football in Chile's Primera Division with O'Higgins FC for the past six months, where he scored 10 goals in 16 Torneo Apertura appearances and his performances had reportedly been attracting interest from top Chilean sides Colo-Colo and Universidad. You can see some of what was generating that interest, and what the Whitecaps have added to their squad, in the highlights video below: The striker came through the youth ranks with Uruguayan club Defensor Sporting before making his pro debut with Central Espanol in the 2012-13 season, scoring three goals in his 18 games. He made another move the following season, joining CA Rentistas, where he notched 10 goals in his 17 appearances for the Montevideo side. Rivero joins the South American ranks in the Vancouver locker room and comes to the Whitecaps as a young Designated Player, which on current terms would mean a cap hit of $200,000. As always, terms of the deal and transfer fee are currently unknown, but earlier reports out of Chile indicated that the player had a $3 million transfer fee attached to him. The striker will have at least one familiar face in the 'Caps dressing room in the shape of fellow Uruguayan Nicolas Mezquida, with the pair playing together for Uruguay's U17 side in 2009. Rivero's signing comes after undergoing a medical in Mexico earlier this week and the striker will arrive in Vancouver next year where he will be officially introduced to the media. For now, he is just delighted at the opportunity the move to the Whitecaps and MLS affords him. Now, in the clamour for the Whitecaps to add a goalscorer, it will be easy to expect immediate results and pile the pressure on Rivero to perform. He will undoubtedly be expected to hit the ground running and although a new league and playing environment always takes a bit of getting used to, MLS seems to suit South American talent and he has shown that he has what it takes to perform and score in top level leagues. We'll soon see and know if that can transfer to MLS with ease. By getting this signing done early, it will give Rivero a full pre-season to train and settle into his new environment, as well as coming in match fit. He will no doubt also have to live with constant initial comparisons from some quarters with Camilo, but the 'Caps look to have added just what was missing to their attack and there could be some more to come soon. At 6'2", Rivero is the big target guy that Carl Robinson was crying out for all last season. His highlight video above shows some really nice and composed finishes, along with some headed goals. The partnership he could form with Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales and the potential damage the three of them could do in MLS next season really is mouthwatering. The spine of the Whitecaps side for 2015 is looking very promising. With David Ousted in goal, Kendall Waston running the defence and Matias Laba just in from of him in the DM role, that's a solid defensive core. Add in Morales, Rosales and now Rivero and the attack is looking strong too. Robinson described the addition of Rivero as being "another piece to the puzzle", as he continues to build the squad he wants, adding "His skill set fits well with the way we want to play." Robbo and his assistant Martyn Pert were recently both in South America on a scouting mission. Robinson was in both Uruguay and Chile and it is believed that Rivero was his number one target from the trip. He got his man. What other pieces come out of the clubs South American and European scouting trips remain to be seen. Right now, Rivero become Vancouver third DP alongside Morales and Laba, but it has yet to be confirmed whether Laba will retain DP status next season. If he doesn't and the Caps can use allocation money to buy his salary down, that would free up another spot for Robinson to fill from his European reconnaissance. Which could be in the shape of another striker or winger. Factor in having another former DP in Rosales and that's a formidable side for what will be a formidable Western Conference next season. So well done Santa. Thanks for delivering the goods. Now, about that bike I asked for in 1978....