VANCOUVER, BC – Coming to Vancouver in the off-season, midfielder Daigo Kobayashi didn't quite know what to expect from Whitecaps FC or from Major League Soccer.
After a career predominantly played in Japan, apart from seasons played in Norway and Greece in 2009 and 2010, the once-capped Japanese international anticipated making an immediate impact.
With a high level of technical skill, and the ability to run with the ball apparently glued to his feet, the 'Caps had that feeling, too.
After a 2012 campaign in which the club scored just 35 goals – the lowest of any team that qualified for last season's playoffs – more creativity was required.
Kobayashi was supposed to be a big piece of solving that creativity deficit. But apart from a few flashes here and there – notably in the club's two opening matches of this season where he picked up a goal and an assist in his only two points to date – Kobayashi has not delivered as he or the club had hoped for.
“It's probably been a little bit slower than he would have liked and we would have liked,” head coach Martin Rennie told reporters this week after a training session at the University of British Columbia. “It's quite different between MLS and the Japanese league...the J-League, it's possession orientated, there's lot of technical players.
“There's not that physical element that you get in MLS, and I think it's taken him a bit to get used to that.”
The player echoed his coach's evaluation of his struggles, and said his biggest issues of adaptation this year have revolved around the athletic, fast-paced nature of the league.
“I feel that Major League [Soccer] is not as easy as I thought,” Kobayashi told MLSsoccer.com in his ever-improving English after a training session. “Major League [Soccer] is more physical. [Opponents] have good speed, so I have to play simple more and faster more.”
Also dealing with a language gap from all but one of his teammates – Japanese-American midfielder Jun Marques Davidson – and the intense MLS travel schedule have also acted to slow Kobayashi's settling-in period.
But Rennie – who insisted we'd have to wait a while to see the best of striker Kenny Miller after his slow start to MLS life last season, a point he was spot on about – suggests Kobayashi will come good in time.
“The settling-in period has been quite long and so far he hasn't quite settled in to MLS the way that I'm sure he would have liked to,” Rennie said. “But that's not to say he's not a really good player and that we think he can really help us.
“It's just that it takes some players longer than others to adapt to the league and I think that's been proven with a lot of players over the years. We do believe he's got a lot of talent and that he can help us.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.