From the MLS to the national teams to Americans abroad
In amongst the mountains of Vancouver something is stirring. Having last week announced Scotland international Barry Robson had signed a pre-contract agreement to join in the summer, the Vancouver Whitecaps are putting the finishing touches to an off-season they hope will allow them to really challenge in a competitive Western Conference.
While the deal may seem to have been completed rather quickly, head coach Martin Rennie admitted he’d been a longstanding admirer of Robson, but had been unsure of whether he could convince the player.
"I wanted him right from the start but I spoke to someone who said there's no chance you'll get him, so I kind of gave up on it," Rennie said last Thursday. "But I looked at it a bit more and thought 'maybe there's a chance,' and then he showed some interest."
With Robson’s former Dundee United teammate Paul Ritchie also on the coaching staff, the adjustment to life in MLS should be somewhat smoother for Robson and his family as they embark on life in the culturally diverse city of Vancouver. Ritchie also echoed the sentiments of Rennie and was keen to stress some of Robson’s best qualities: "Technically, he's very strong and he has a great left foot and provides a lot of ammunition from the wide areas," he explained.
As for the player himself, he already sounds enthusiastic about the prospect of Canadian life. Having spoke with former Middlesbrough teammate Kris Boyd about the potential move, Robson admitted to turning down an extension from his current club as well as several other offers in England in order to move West. “The league is rising and it’s getting better all the time,” Robson told reporters. “I can see some good players coming over now, and it’s something that’s been in my mind for a while. As soon as I got the offer from [Vancouver], it was a no-brainer for me.”
Robson joins the club as a designated player, the second Scot to do so this season after Boyd. Quite how much that will earn him remains unclear at this stage, with $175,000 being attributed to Vancouver’s salary allowance instead of the usual $350,000 - a consequence of Robson joining at the midway point of the season.
Even though he will arrive late, manager Rennie is far from disheartened at having to wait for Robson. “From the perspective of adding someone in July, I think it’s a good thing for us,” Rennie said. “At that point, we’re going to know exactly where we see Barry fitting in, exactly what position we want him to play. Barry has been a proven playmaker at the highest levels of the game for both club and country. He is a versatile box-to-box midfielder that can play in several positions, with the ability to create and score goals. Barry will be a great addition to our squad."
Although he is unlikely to take the captaincy from former Watford defender Jay DeMerit, Robson’s experience will serve as an invaluable asset. As well as Old Firm ties against Rangers, he has played internationally and in the Champions League - even scoring against Barcelona. Working best in a more advanced role, many on Teeside are sad to see the versatile Robson depart, believing the veteran Scot still had much to offer the club.
As for Vancouver, the transfer represents the club’s tenth acquisition during a busy off season. Change was likely to be the order of business after a somewhat difficult debut season in which the club finished bottom of the league. It’s fair to say the hierarchy of the club (which includes NBA star Steve Nash) will be hoping the new additions bring an upturn in fortunes for the side, who are still very much in their infancy.
While bringing in new players has been integral to the changes, keeping some of the current roster on the pitch has been of equal necessity. Vancouver’s premier designated player Eric Hassli garnered eight yellow and three red cards last season- which surprisingly didn’t seem to hamper his ability to strike up a bond with the fans.
Regardless, the former FC Zürich striker says he is keen to rectify the situation in the upcoming season. "That was a big mistake last year. This year is going to be good. Just two red cards," he said. While many - including his manager - will hope Hassli is joking, his partnership with compatriot Sebastién Le Toux could be vital for the ‘Caps this season, with the playoffs likely to be their minimum expectation.
As for Robson, his focus remains on getting current club Middlesbrough into the top tier of English football, with manager Tony Mowbray confident that his midfielder’s commitment will not wain in the coming months, adding: “We will all be sorry to see him go and we wish him all the best. His contribution to the team this season has been huge and I am sure that will be the case over the remainder of the season.”
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