BURNABY, B.C. — The first week of pre-season training for the Vancouver Whitecaps has seen no shortage of storylines.
The biggest one came barely just hours after the club’s first training session back on Monday, as the Whitecaps made it official: designated player Barry Robson would not be returning.
The official word was that the $600,000 man and his family failed to settle in Vancouver, with club president Bob Lenarduzzi dropping reasons such as the type of school system, MLS travel and his wife’s happiness into the mix. But it’s difficult to believe Robson’s disappointing on-field performance wasn’t at least part of the equation.
Then on Tuesday, the Whitecaps added six players through the MLS supplemental draft: University of Notre Dame midfielders Adam Mena and Michael Rose, Harvard University striker Brian Rogers, Duquesne University centre back Adam Clement, striker Joshua Patterson – also from Duquesne, and Amherst College striker Alejandro Sucre.
Mena and Rose both missed all of last season with torn ACLs.
Then came a busy Wednesday, with the Whitecaps adding Tom Heinemann, Paulo Junior and Corey Hertzog. Junior has seven goals and seven assists in 43 matches across all competitions for Real Salt Lake, while Hertzog has enjoyed a fairly fruitless start in MLS with five matches in 2011 for the New York Red Bulls.
Heinemann has a history with Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie, as the 25-year-old played under him with the Carolina RailHawks in 2010 before spending two dry years with the Columbus Crew, scoring three goals over 29 appearances.
At six-feet-four-inches and 190 pounds, it’s hoped Heinemann will offer an alternative attacking threat to Vancouver’s largely diminutive, speedy attacking group.
"He’s got that height and he’s got that aggression," Rennie said after a training session on Thursday. "He’s a little bit different to the other strikers that we’ve got. Also just his enthusiasm and the kind of personality he is, it’s important to have people like that in your group and in your team.
"I think he’s a little bit like Steven Lenhart for San Jose and obviously he’s not Steven Lenhart, but if he gets himself healthy and fit then I think he could be a really good MLS player."
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And with all of these additions, it seems someone will have to make way. Argentine defender Martin Bonjour appears to have made a return to his former Uruguayan club Liverpool after losing his starting spot late in 2012 to Andy O’Brien, although Vancouver has yet to make that official.
And it wouldn’t be a Vancouver sports franchise without a goaltending battle. Joe Cannon missed the first couple of days of pre-season as he was getting married, and returned Wednesday ready to fight for the No. 1 job he lost to Brad Knighton down the stretch.
"Every off-season presents its challenges and this one’s a very unique one obviously with how things ended last year," Cannon said. "Regardless of what happens on the field, in the locker room you’ve got to be someone that’s a voice – maybe a leadership role – but that’s for the group to decide… obviously with the experience I have, there’s going to be times where maybe some direction is needed, and if that happens, then I’m definitely there for the group."
While it’s difficult to see Cannon usurping the younger Knighton, who the club likely sees as its long-term starter in that position, Rennie insists the spot is still up for grabs and he hasn’t made his mind up yet.
"Right now it’s up to Joe and Brad to fight it out and see who becomes the No. 1," Rennie said. "Then if they are the No. 1, stay the No. 1. Joe has had a fantastic career but he’s also someone who brings great leadership to the locker room and he’s a really good guy, a really good character… he’s someone who’s right there in the mix – look at how many clean sheets he had last season."
And it’s not over yet. On Thursday, Japanese midfielder Daigo Kobayashi made an appearance at Burnaby Lake field to watch the Whitecaps train. He’s known as a creative player, which is exactly what Vancouver has been looking for since the departure of Davide Chiumiento midway through last campaign.
The once-capped 29 year old last played for Shimizu S-Pulse in the Japanese J-League in 2011. He has had some experience abroad having had a successful loan spell at Norwegian side Stabæk in 2009, where he picked up 13 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions with that club, as well as a brief tenure with Greek club Iraklis Thessaloniki, where he played just 15 games.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps FC for Goal.com. Follow Martin on Twitter