VANCOUVER, BC – Carl Robinson's substitutions last weekend in Utah helped change the game for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, with midfielders Nicolás Mezquida and Sebastián Fernández both finding their way onto the scoresheet in the closing minutes to salvage a vital road point against Real Salt Lake.
The performance of the Uruguayan pair has given Robinson something of a selection quandary ahead of this weekend's home game against San Jose (4 p.m. PT, TSN2).
It's a nice headache to have for a coach.
"Prior to Saturday's game against Salt Lake, they were very close anyway," Robinson told MLSsoccer.com. "I have 16, 18 players that are very close to playing. Whichever way I go, it'll be called squad rotation and I'll be resting some, I'll be leaving some out, or whatever, but I wanted that at the start of the year."
That competition for starting spots may be an inidication of a deeper Whitecaps FC squad compared to last season. A lack of consistent creative play in the midfield was pinpointed by many observers as one of the reasons Vancouver did not make the 2013 postseason.
Young Canadian Russell Teibert led the team with nine assists in 2013. But taking his stats out of the equation, his midfield teammates only produced one-third of the team's other 38 assists.
It's already clear that Robinson believes he can call on many of his players to come in and do that job this season, with Fernández and Mezquida leading the way.
"I could have picked any of the 18 I had on Saturday and my team levels wouldn't have dropped," Robinson continued. "It's important when you get the chance, you play well and you're in form and if you do that, then you'll stay in the team.
"Then, when I think that the levels are dropping slightly, I'll freshen things up. I can't freshen up 11 players – well, maybe I can. I won't, but I'll continue to monitor those two guys [Fernández and Mezquida], as well as [Erik] Hurtado and other players in training. They are very close."
Mezquida has made four appearances for the 'Caps in his debut MLS season, but has yet to start. Fernández looked to be Robinson's choice in the right midfield role, starting the first three games of the season, but he has been forced to mostly play substitute's role since.
"I'm always positive. If I have to be on the bench, I'm on the bench," Fernández told reporters through a translator. "It's the coach's decision at the end of the day, but I've just got to work hard in training."
Saturday's game against San Jose marks the first of three matches in an eight-day period for Vancouver. Two of those are on the road, including a midweek trip across Canada to face Toronto FC in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday (4:30 pm PT, Sportsnet One).
"I think you'll see near enough every player over the next month or so because we've got a lot of games coming up," Robinson told reporters. "Our next three weeks are very full, with the Canadian Championship as well.
"Everyone will get their chance and opportunity. As a player all you want is the chance to play and show what you can do, and most of the players will get that chance."
It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($294), half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.