Carl Robinson's Squad – Year Three

It takes some time to build a team. This is particularly true in Major League Soccer, with its single-entity structure and various player acquisition mechanisms. Now entering his third year at the helm, the Vancouver Whitecaps are Carl Robinson’s squad, for better or for worse.

Robinson’s first two seasons made a strong case for the better: the club improving on its best point totals each season, culminating in a third-place regular season finish in MLS and a Canadian Championship, and qualifying them for a second season in CONCACAF Champions league. The biggest knock on an otherwise successful season was a lack of goal scoring highlighted by a failure to score a single goal in a two-leg playoff series with their Cascadian rivals, Portland Timbers FC. In fact, the Caps only managed three more goals than their previous season, a far cry from the 25 Robinson had targeted.

With Robinson’s first two seasons generally considered a success, expectations will be high for his third season. Robinson has built a squad that appears to have depth and has managed to retain most of the key pieces from last season’s squad. The major departures to date have been right-back Steven Beitashour and midfielders Gershon Koffie and Mauro Rosales.

Consequently, the biggest question marks entering the 2016 season will be the Caps ability to find the back of the net, and their strength at the right back. With the departure of Beitashour, Jordan Smith appears to be the front-runner for the starting right back position. The Costa Rican international made seven appearances last season, including four starts. He did not particularly impress, but coming in mid-season is rarely an easy transition in MLS. He will likely be given every opportunity to show he is a starter. Tim Parker showed he was capable of covering at right-back last season, but with Pa-Modou Kah another year older and Diego Rodriguez leaving, he will likely spend most of his time partnering Kendall Waston at centreback. Fraser Aird, the young Canadian recently acquired on loan from Rangers FC, will be expected to push Smith for a spot at the position. Given that he has only recently been converted from a midfielder to a right back and has not been able to secure significant minutes this season in the Scottish second division, question marks remain.

To bolster the attack, Robinson has brought in 25-year old striker Masato Kudo from Kashiwa Reysol of the J-League, and winger 31-year old winger Christian Bolaños from Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica. It will be interesting to see how Robinson elects to deploy his new attacking options. Bolaños was acquired using targeted allocation money (TAM), which means Robinson likely expects him to see significant time on the pitch. With Cristian Techera also being retained using TAM, we may see Techera on his preferred left wing (Bolaños having played primarily on the right) and Kekuta Manneh used primarily as a substitute. Kudo was reportedly on a salary in the ballpark of $300,000 during his last season in Japan. A similar deal with the Caps would make him a pricier substitute in the MLS world.

With the addition of Kudo, and veteran MLS forward Blas Pérez in training camp, one has to wonder if Robinson is eyeing up a two-striker formation as a secondary option to his favoured 4-2-3-1. The Caps have yet to find someone to push forward and effectively join the attack from a holding position beside Matias Laba. Laba, arguable one of the top defensive midfielders in MLS, should be more than capable of doing lone-duty at the defensive mid-field position, which would allow the Caps to add another attacking piece.

A change in formation would also give the Caps more flexibility in deploying their talent. While Manneh is an unlikely candidate as a lone-striker, and Mattocks has struggled for consistency in that role, a two-striker setup would play more to their strengths. Nicolás Mezquida also has experience playing as a striker and could be deployed alongside Rivero, giving him an opportunity to earn minutes without having to take the place of Morales.

Robinson looks to have given himself options, something every manager covets. How well he uses them is a question for another day.

Main Photo: Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images