SEATTLE, WA – Daigo Kobayashi hasn't had the offensive impact this season that Vancouver Whitecaps FC hoped for when they brought him in this off-season.
The 30-year-old entered Wednesday's match against Seattle Sounders FC, which Vancouver won convincingly 4-1, with just two goals and an assist to his name from 28 MLS appearances.
But if the once-capped Japanese international plays like he did during the drubbing of Vancouver's Cascadia rival over their final two regular season matches and it propels the Whitecaps into the playoffs against all odds, then his signing will have looked like money well spent after all. The attacking midfielder assisted on two of Kekuta Manneh’s three goals against Seattle.
WATCH: Kobayashi's assists for Manneh
He didn't take long to make an impact in the Seattle match, heading through Manneh just 12 minutes in. He followed that up with a neat one-two again with the precocious Gambian youngster for his hat-trick sealing goal in the 54th minute.
Part of the problem with Kobayashi, according to head coach Martin Rennie, is he isn't a fit for the 4-3-3 that Vancouver has deployed for the majority of the season.
Rennie used the attacking midfielder as a winger to start the year and then as a more conventional central midfielder for a spell in the middle of the season. While technically gifted, Kobayashi lacks the speed of a conventional winger and the natural athleticism Rennie seems to favor for his central midfield players.
This has left Kobayashi on the fringes in recent times.
But the new diamond formation Rennie has adopted over the last two games, with Kobayashi sitting as the most forward midfielder, just behind the strikers, seems to suit him just dandy.
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“Daigo is a No. 10,” midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker told reporters following Wednesday's match. “I've always been a big Daigo fan. Technically he's such a great player. He's one of the best technical players I think in the league and a lot of people just haven't had the opportunity to see that yet consistently.
“But he can see a pass, he can make a pass and he's the perfect No. 10. He's one of the best ones in the league, and hopefully he'll get a bit more credit for his ability.”
As for Vancouver's hat-trick hero Manneh, he was quick to praise his set-up man.
“He's a great player,” Manneh said of Kobayashi. “He's smart, too. He has great vision. We've had a really great relationship off the field as well, we go out to eat and all that stuff as well. We just feel connected.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.