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  1. If you've been sitting at home feeling it's simply been too long of an offseason, then you're in good company. Nicolas Mezquida felt the same and couldn't wait to get back to Vancouver, back in a Whitecaps shirt and playing football again. "It was a long vacation but I was missing the training," Mezquida was quick to admit. "I missed that, I missed the dressing room, I missed my teammates, so I'm happy for the start of preseason and this season, for me, I think will be the best." With the first week of training camp in the bag, Mezquida headed down to Arizona last week with the rest of the squad, playing 150 minutes over the three games in Tucson against New England, San Jose and Houston. How did it feel to be actually playing football again? "Nice!," Mezquida told AFTN with a smile when we spoke to him after training on Friday. "We want to play. We've been training hard and everybody wants to play again. Personally, I feel good. I feel good with the ball the first game, although after the second game, we feel tired!" Mezquida has come back into the Whitecaps camp hungry, determined and fit. During day one of the on-field training, the 23-year-old surprised many of those watching by outlasting all of the senior players in the dreaded yo-yo test. He finished a narrow second overall behind Residency alumni Mitch Piraux. Those fitness levels can sometimes be the difference to a player getting more minutes than their competition as the season goes on, but Mezquida has always stood out at training. He was consistently one of the most impressive performers at training last season, but then failed to grab and secure a starting spot when he was given the chance on the pitch during MLS games. But he's already been standing out in the preseason matches played so far and in particular, he has linked up very well with new DP striker, and fellow Uruguayan, Octavio Rivero. Mezquida grabbed the assist in Rivero's second goal against New England in the first match in Tucson. The pair have shown an impressive understanding so early in their time playing together, although it isn't the first time they've been teammates. Both men played on Uruguay's under 17 national team back in 2009 and they know each other, and each other's game, very well. "I feel a connection because I've played with him before," Mezquida told us of his link up play with Rivero. "Playing with him is easy because he has good moves, so any player that plays with him, it's easy. I know him and I know how he moves, so it's easy for me to play with him and I feel happy to play with him because he understands me and I understand him." Rivero is still something of an unknown quantity. We've all seen the video footage of his goals, but can he do it on a cold, rainy night in MLS?! Mezquida has no doubts about the qualities that his countryman will bring to the Whitecaps. "Octavio the last year is fantastic. He scored in Uruguay, he scored in Chile. he can help our team a lot." Part of how quick an impact Rivero might have for the 'Caps will be shaped off the pitch and how quickly he can settle into his new surroundings. The striker's English is near non-existent, but he's already working on that. He's coming into a dressing room where Spanish is the second language though and the atmosphere is first class, so that all helps. As does having a known face to take you under their wing. Mezquida has taken on that role with Rivero and the pair were almost inseparable down in Tucson, with a clear bond between the pair off the pitch as well as on it. "It's important," Mezquida tells us. "Anyone who comes to a new country and doesn't know the language, if someone knows him it helps for on the pitch and outside. It's just important for him to get comfortable with everyone and else and I'll help with that and everything on the field and off the field." Carl Robinson has liked what he's seen from the pair, and the understanding shown could very well be Mezquida's ticket to more first team minutes this season, and possibly starts. As frustrating as it must have been for Mezquida to sit out on so much of the MLS action last season, he is happy to be patient and bide his time, knowing that if he continues to put in the work, his time will come. "I need to keep the hard work," Mezquida mused when we asked him what he needs to do to get into the regular first team reckoning. "I am waiting for my opportunity. I keep calm. I know that Pedro won't play every game so when I have that opportunity I try to give everything for me to help the team." He's not going to dislodge Pedro Morales any time soon, but Robinson has experimented with playing the Chilean deeper in the middle and the left wing option is still up for grabs and Mezquida could be the guy to take it. Although he's been categorised into the playmaker role, the Uruguayan says he feels comfortable anywhere across the attacking part of the midfield. "Last season I showed I can play. I need more games. I can play number 10 and in the midfield on the left and the right. So I try to give in training every day. I show Robbo, I show the coach, I want to play. I hope I can keep giving my everything in the moment I can play." If the MLS minutes still aren't immediately forthcoming for Mezquida, it is widely expected that he will have a key role to play in the Whitecaps' upcoming debut CONCACAF Champions League campaign in the summer, and having a chance to play in that competition is an exciting prospect for him. "I am excited because it's an international group," Mezquida told us. "It's very important for me, for us. It's very important for every player to play there." Mezquida and his fellow South Americans seem made for such matches. So much has been made about the Latino influence on the Whitecaps dressing room, and even with the departure of some of the South Americans, and the player that they all adored, Andy O'Brien, Vancouver's new additions seem to have the locker room ticking over as business as usual. "The dressing room keeps the same, with the energy and everyone happy," Mezquida confirmed. "Andy and Johnny leave and other ones have come in but the dressing room's kept the same." The other big departure of course was the man Mezquida came to Vancouver with - Sebastian Fernandez. Mezquida describes his friendship with Fernandez as "special" and although it was hard for him to find out he wasn't coming back, he knows that's football. Does he get the chance to speak to him much? "Almost every day," he answers with a laugh. "He wanted to come back again but there was another thing. He's missed here. "I miss him because we had a good relationship. He was a good friend and a good person. We miss Sebastian. Right now, two more players from Uruguay have come in. But I'm used to here. I know everybody and I'm happy here." Mezquida will be even happier if he is playing more this season, and you have to feel he will be. The midfielder is one of the hardest workers on the team at training and seldom seen without a smile on his face. After a season of finding his feet in his new surroundings, 2015 might just be the break out season for the Uruguayan, which would be a fitting reward for his hard work and patience.
  2. 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....
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