The boys are back. Vancouver Whitecaps FC return to training this week at the National Soccer Development Centre, officially kicking off their 2018 preseason camp. Throughout the week, whitecapsfc.com will look at the different storylines to watch as the ‘Caps prepare for March 4.
One of the best and most intriguing aspects of the preseason, at least in my mind, is always the integration of new players.
And this year, the ‘Caps have a lot of them.
Carl Robinson and his staff have already brought in seven new players this offseason: goalkeeper Brian Rowe, centre back Doneil Henry, midfielders Efrain Juarez and David Norman Jr., and strikers Myer Bevan, Anthony Blondell, and Kei Kamara.
“Last year we had a successful year but fell a little short in the last game and we know that,” Robinson said earlier this month. “We had to reset. We did a lot of talking, and felt this was the way forward. There are a number of players coming in, and it hasn’t stopped yet. I’m still trying to bring in one or two more additions to make the squad stronger.”
The most recent addition was Juarez – a 29-year-old Mexican with 274 professional club appearances in Mexico, Scotland, and Spain, as well as 39 caps with the Mexican national team. He’s one of the players I’ll be watching closest as the ‘Caps work towards their season opener on March 4.
Particularly, I’m curious to see how Juarez fits into the ‘Caps midfield and whether he can establish himself as the “natural leader” that Robinson expects him to be.
Over the last few years, Juarez has spent a lot of time at right back but his preferred position is in central midfield and Robinson said that’s mainly where he will be used due to his technical ability and “energy and willingness to get into the opposition’s box.”
Regardless of where he plays, Juarez is said to be a team-first guy with an extremely high work-rate and engaging personality. He also speaks English, which should help ease his transition.
“The professionalism he brings to the table is very important,” Robinson said. “We need some leaders in the locker room. I need players I know will have the understanding of what I require, technically and tactically, and are able to pass that across to the team. Effy certainly fits that bill.”
Two more players I’ll be watching closely this preseason are Blondell and Kamara, who were both brought into help bolster the ‘Caps attack. Both are centre forwards, through Blondell can also play on the wing, so it will interesting to see if they can build some chemistry as a strike partnership if Robinson decides to play them as a tandem.
If not, then it should make for some healthy competition for minutes up top – something Kamara spoke candidly about when he met with the Vancouver media for the first time last week.
“For me, if I'm not scoring goals, put me on the bench,” Kamara said. "It shows me that I'm not doing well and I need to work a little bit harder. I can't wait.”
Neither can we.
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