Up for the challenge

When the final whistle blew on Saturday to draw curtains on Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake, the players shook hands and went down the tunnel.

It wasn’t long, though, before one of those players was back on the pitch, alone, wearing his Whitecaps FC tracksuit.

That figure at Rio Tinto Stadium was Barry Robson, doing extra sprints following the game to maintain his match fitness, should he be called upon for Thursday’s Knockout Round match against LA Galaxy (7:30 pm PT, TSN, TEAM 1040 radio).

It’s not something one would necessarily expect from a Designated Player dropped from the starting line-up in a crucial playoff tune-up match, but Robson explained it was business as usual for him.

“I’m a good professional, that’s what I do,” Robson told MLSsoccer.com after a training session at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex on Monday. “I need to stay fit. If I’m not in the starting team, I go out after a game and do work – my whole career, that’s what I’ve done.

“But the thing is, for me, I have to keep the body moving. I came on for 20, 25 minutes and it was more a bit of a run and a bit of a loosening to keep the body moving and keep myself fresh for Thursday.”

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While head coach Martin Rennie stressed it wasn’t a difficult decision to drop Robson and fellow DP Kenny Miller for the match against RSL, the tactician was full of praise for Robson’s reaction to being left out.

“Fantastic,” Rennie said of Robson’s actions following his exclusion from the line-up. “His attitude to it all and his response and the way he played, it was absolutely top-class. I was really pleased, and again today in training, he was brilliant.”

As a Designated Player, it hasn’t been an easy road for Robson so far. His arrival coincided with a dip in form for the club, and whether that’s partly down to him or merely a bit of bad timing on his part, he’s taken flak from certain quarters.

Still, there’s a good chance he could be back in the starting line-up on Thursday after adding a bit of an edge to Vancouver’s meek attack. It also likely plays on Rennie’s mind that Robson was the team’s stand-out performer in a 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy on July 18.

In that match, the 33-year-old was at his fiery best, scoring a cracking headed goal and clattering into David Beckham on more than one occasion to the delight of the BC Place faithful.

“You analyze the performance [on Saturday], you don’t just look at the result,” Rennie said. “You say, these things were good, this could have been better, what attributes does he bring that maybe we didn’t have? And also, I think he did very well when he came on and looked good on the ball.

“I think we’ve got a couple of decisions there to make.”

Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.