'Caps welcome 'raw and exciting' Blondell back to training with Kamara sidelined

Anthony Blondell training UBC

VANCOUVER, BC – More than a few heads were turned an hour before kickoff on Friday night when Kei Kamara was absent from Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s teamsheet.

The 33-year-old striker had played a key part in Vancouver’s strong start to 2018, contributing directly to six of the team’s eight goals. But on Thursday afternoon, Kamara pulled up with an adductor strain towards the end of training, which ruled him out for Friday’s match.

And following the results of an MRI, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson told reporters on Monday that May 11 is being targeted for Kamara’s return, meaning he could miss three more matches.

“It’s a big loss,” Robinson said. “Any team that loses a key player, and he’s a key player for us, is going to be affected … losing Kei is a big blow, but we have to find solutions now to deal without him.”

The ‘Caps are hoping that Anthony Blondell could be one of those solutions.

Blondell was also unavailable on Friday due to a concussion suffered in the second half on April 7 vs. Real Salt Lake, but the Venezuelan striker has gone through the league’s concussion protocol and is back to full training with the team.

“He’s a hardworking player, he likes to run in behind,” Robinson said of Blondell. “He’s probably not as good at holding up the ball as Kei is, but there’s not many in this league that are.”

Whitecaps FC acquired Blondell in November from Venezuelan Primera División side Monagas SC. Blondell scored a league-leading 24 goals in 2017, helped his club win their first championship in their 30 years of existence, and earned his first cap with the Venezuelan national team.

But the ‘Caps were always going to take it slow with the 23-year-old, allowing him to get accustomed to a new league, language, and culture. Blondell has started one of his five appearances thus far.

“He’s an exciting young player,” Robinson said, “but he’s very raw.”

In Kamara’s absence, Robinson said that everyone will need to step up – not just Blondell. Another player who could come into the equation is Yordy Reyna.

The Peruvian attacking midfielder got off to an electric start to his MLS career last season, recording six goals and four assists in 11 starts. He has yet to hit his stride in 2018, but appears to have turned a corner after dealing with an injury over the last few weeks.

Blondell and Reyna developed some chemistry in the preseason on and off the pitch, combining on three of Vancouver’s four goals in a 4-4 draw with LAFC, and will be looking to rekindle that connection in the coming weeks.

“Having Yordy back … Brek has three goals, Bernie, Techera, Phonzie, Anthony and Erik, they’ve all got to step up now,” Robinson told reporters. “Kei was going to get a rest at certain times anyway. He gets his rest now that he’s injured probably for three or four weeks. Don’t expect to see Kei out of the lineup when he comes back.”

Next up for Whitecaps FC is a trip to Sporting KC this Friday at Children’s Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. PT on TSN2 and TSN 1040 radio.