For all the talk about the Whitecaps picking up a hard-working midfielder, the club seems to have taken the easy way out.
After all, the new big signing already has a Vancouver street named after him. Not exactly a great motivator when it comes to leaving behind any sort of legacy.
Jokes aside, there is no doubt the Vancouver Whitecaps go into their second season in Major League Soccer as a much improved side on paper.
The likes of prolific MLS goal-scorer Sebastien Le Toux and former Korean co-captain Lee Young-pyo have raised the standard and pedigree throughout the squad.
But even then, one piece remained missing: an experienced central midfielder able to dictate the pace of the game and contribute both offensively and defensively.
Manager Martin Rennie addressed that hole in a big way Thursday, announcing the signing of 33-year-old Scottish international Barry Robson as the club’s newest designated player.
Currently with Middlesbrough in England’s second division, Robson is known as a talented and industrious midfielder who has notched 98 goals in 492 career matches with Inverness, Forfar Athletic, Dundee United, Celtic and the aforementioned Middlesbrough.
He has also made 16 international appearances for Scotland.
Robson won’t join up with the Whitecaps until July, as he tries to help his current club win promotion to the English Premier League.
Middlesbrough currently sits eighth in the Championship, seven points off league leaders West Ham United.
Robson has racked up eight goals and four assists in 26 appearances for Middlesbrough this season.
Rennie expressed surprise that he was able to lure Robson, a “long-shot” target, to the West Coast of Canada but wasn’t complaining on a conference call Thursday.
For his part, Robson said signing in Vancouver was a “no-brainer” despite offers on the table from Middlesbrough and other European clubs.
“It’s been something that’s been on my mind for a while. As soon as I got the offer from Martin and [assistant coach Paul Ritchie] it was a no-brainer for me,” said Robson. “It was always my first choice. I think it’s a great place to come and play. The league is rising and getting better all the time.”
Robson and Ritchie played together at Dundee United and have remained close friends over the years.
Robson, naturally left-footed, said he can play anywhere along the midfield and Rennie is keeping an open mind about how to use his new weapon.
“It’s a good thing for us. We’ll see exactly where Barry will fit it,” Rennie said. “The good thing is his versatility. We’re pleased to have him.”
Robson doesn’t really care which midfield spot he takes up when he joins the club in the summer, joking that his favourite position is instead “in the starting eleven.”
A player of his class – especially one that claims he’s “hungry” and in the best shape of his career – should certainly warrant an automatic inclusion in the starting line-up, but Vancouver’s last crack at a mid-season designated player signing showed how difficult it can be for a player to fit in once the season is in fifth gear.
Of course, the departed Mustapha Jarju can only wish he had the experience of Robson so fans can be excused for being more optimistic this time around.
His mere inclusion is proof positive that fellow Scot Martin Rennie is putting together a formidable squad that could take the league by surprise.
Robson joins three players that have scored 10 or more goals last season (Camilo, Le Toux and Eric Hassli) and a backline led by international star Lee Young-Pyo, rejuvenated captain Jay DeMerit and ever-dependable Alain Rochat.
Add leadership in the form of Joe Cannon, a new lease on life for a happy Davide Chiumiento and clean bills of health from infirmary mainstays John Thorrington, Russell Tiebert and Atiba Harris and the Whitecaps just may be onto something.
Rennie even seems to have a great reserve of promising youngsters and solid depth at his disposal.
No one at the club will openly admit it this time, but the Whitecaps are clearly gunning for a playoff spot in 2012 and have set themselves up for success.
But then again, this is all “great team on paper” speculation.
And as club president Bob Lenarduzzi told me earlier this week, everyone thinks they have a winner in pre-season.
The proof will be in the Scottish pudding (if such a thing exists).
The Vancouver Whitecaps open their 2012 MLS campaign at home March 10 against the Montreal Impact.