Aly Ghazal egypt

Robinson recaps a busy deadline day for Whitecaps FC: 'I want competition for places'

VANCOUVER, BC – It was a busy deadline day for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

The ‘Caps pulled off four different moves over the last 24 hours, dealing Christian Dean to Chicago Fire, acquiring Aaron Maund from Real Salt Lake and an international roster spot from New York City FC before using that slot to sign Egyptian central midfielder Aly Ghazal (pictured).

Earlier during this transfer window, which officially closed on Wednesday night, Whitecaps FC also added New Zealand international goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.

And each move had a common theme.

“I just want competition for places,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson.

“If players don’t enjoy competition, that means they’re mentally weak. You’ve got to be able to deal with it and it brings out the best in players. When we get down to pressure-cooker situations, you need your big players to step up.”

As Robinson said in the lead-up to Wednesday’s deadline day, centre back cover was one of the priorities for him during this transfer window. And that’s exactly what he got in Maund, a 26-year-old who has already played 79 matches in Major League Soccer – or 98 if you count CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup play.

“He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s quick,” Robinson said of Maund, who was RSL’s defender of the year in 2015. “I think I can help him tactically develop a little bit. We’ll just be asking him to play to his strengths and his strengths are pretty similar to Tim Parker’s.”

Robinson has been deploying Andrew Jacobson, a natural midfielder, at centre back alongside Parker whenever Kendall Waston has been away this year and he said the trio has been “excellent.” Now, he just has another option as the ‘Caps make their playoff push.

Whitecaps FC currently sit just below the red line in the West; however, their 1.48 points per game is actually tied for third best in the conference and – following Saturday’s visit to New England – six of their next seven matches will be at BC Place.

“We have a number of games coming up and it’s important I have players I know can play at this level,” Robinson added. “He’s been successful in this league for a reason.”

As for Dean, Robinson said the hope is that a change of scenery helps the 24-year-old, who was unable to find his feet with Whitecaps FC after getting selected third overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft – partly due to injury struggles. 

“What I can tell you is that he’s a good kid and we want him to do well,” Robinson said. “We’ve gone through some really, really good times and some really tough times with him. He’s shown his potential but he’s at the stage now where he needs to fulfil his potential.”

One of the keys for Robinson during this window was to find experienced players in their mid-20s who have already established themselves at the professional level. Marinovic fits into that category, Maund fits into that category, and so too does Ghazal – a 26-year-old central midfielder who started 112 of his 117 appearances in the Portuguese top-flight.  

Robinson said he made a “sneaky bid” for Ghazal last year before Chinese Super League club Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng FC swooped in with a big offer.

However, due to the new Chinese Football Association player regulations, which decreased the number of foreign players permitted to play, Ghazal did not make an appearance with Guizhou Zhicheng and instead agreed to a mutual contract termination last month.  

“It’s similar what I did with Yordy Reyna. I missed out the first time,” Robinson said. “And it’s similar to what I did with Christian Bolaños. I missed out the first time. But if you try hard enough, it eventually comes around.”

Like Reyna and Bolaños, the ‘Caps used Targeted Allocation Money to bring Ghazal into the fold, which says something about his quality. Robinson called him a “top player” who can play as a pure defensive midfielder, in more of a box-to-box role, or even as a centre back.

He also called him a leader.

Ghazal, in fact, was the first Egyptian player to become a captain of a top-flight European club when he wore the armband for Portuguese Primeira Liga side C.D. Nacional.

“Hopefully he can bring the group to the next level because we know he’s a key player,” Robinson said. “You don’t play at that level, at that age, and be captain if you’re not a good player. It will rub off on other people as well, which is good.”

Whitecaps FC conclude their three-match road swing on Saturday vs. New England Revolution (5 p.m. PT on TSN2 and TSN 1410) before returning to BC Place to face Houston Dynamo next Saturday, August 19 (7 p.m. PT – tickets still available).