Camilo Sanvezzo’s dramatic departure from the Vancouver Whitecaps stunned the club and its supporters.
The Brazilian star striker forced his way out of town in unprecedented fashion, first practising with Mexico’s Queretaro F.C. before having his photograph taken in the team’s kit – all while he was still under contract in Major League Soccer.
With no other option, the Whitecaps finally sold the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner and his 22 goals in mid-January.
Viewed as a disaster by many, captain Jay DeMerit sees opportunity for the remaining strikers with the club’s pre-season training schedule already underway.
“With Camilo being gone, something we have to make these guys understand is there’s a spot open now,” said the veteran defender. “A lot of times, when you’re a competitor you look for opportunities to come in and make a difference.
“With that spot being open, there’s guys that have that chance. Ultimately as a pro you want that chance.”
One of those guys up front is 20-year-old Omar Salgado. The first overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, Salgado has been hampered by injury early in his career. Now healthy, he will be counted on, along with fellow strikers Kenny Miller, Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks, to pick up the slack.
“It’s one person less to compete with and we have to make up for those 22 goals he scored,” Salgado said after Friday’s fitness testing. “Between all the forwards we’re going to have to accomplish that.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling better than I have in the past year and a half so I’m excited about this year and excited about the start of the season.”
Although there’s opportunities up front with the Whitecaps, there are also many question marks.
Miller, the club’s only current designated player, was also hampered by injury last season and it’s unclear where the 34-year-old stands with his contract set to expire in June.
Mattocks, 23, fell out of favour with former manager Martin Rennie last year and blasted the team on Jamaican television after the season.
Manneh, meanwhile, burst on to the scene with a memorable hat trick against the Seattle Sounders, but it’s hard to pin your goal-scoring hopes on a 19 year old.
Miller, Mattocks and Manneh weren’t made available to the media Friday, but rookie Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said he’s pleased with the different styles his current stable of strikers provide.
“What they do is they offer me flexibility in the forward positions depending on what system I decide to play, which I know – having variations of players playing in multiple positions,” said Robinson. “Omar can play wide left, he can play centre forward. Kekuta can play wide left, centre forward or in the hole (behind the strikers), Kenny the same.
“Obviously disappointed to lose Camilo – losing 22 goals is a big thing – but I want players that want to be here and if he doesn’t want to be here then he shouldn’t be here. That’s put to bed now and we move on.”
And although he’s happy to sing the praises of his current strike quartet, it’s clear Robinson is eager to add more bodies to his attack.
“I think it’s no secret and part of it’s how I want to put my stamp on this team,” said the former Welsh international. “It might not be one, it might be two forward-thinking players and creative players. I think we’ve lacked a little bit of creativity over the last two years since I’ve been here.
“I think that’s what we need to do to incorporate the strengths of the players already here.”
To say Robinson’s first six weeks on the job have been hectic would be a gross understatement.
His baptism by fire started with the Camilo saga and moved on to the MLS SuperDraft. Now a week into training camp, which opened Monday at the University of British Columbia, Robinson has finally had time to breathe.
“It’s been different. It’s been exciting. I think the boys have bought into what me and the coaches have wanted to do,” said Robinson. “We’ve made it exciting for them. We’ve made it enthusiastic and they’ve put in the work.
“I don’t think you can really envisage anything after the first couple of weeks I’ve had on the job but it is what it is. It’s football, it’s soccer and you move forward. I’m excited with this group that I have.”
With 13 of the 23 players on the first team being 23 years of age or younger, one of the veterans Robinson will count on in his inaugural season will be DeMerit.
“One thing I always said was when I got an opportunity to be a manager, I will use the experience of the senior players,” said Robinson. “I’ve been there and I’ve done it and I know what senior guys you need to be important within your team, on the field as well as off the field.”
DeMerit, 34, showed his commitment and resolve last season when he suffered a devastating Achilles injury in the first game, only to return in time to try to help the Whitecaps in their failed attempt to make the playoffs.
“As older leaders of this group, it’s our job to help him,” said DeMerit. “There’s a lot of young guys here that need that little push sometimes or that bit of mentorship or that little bit of leadership.
“Myself and a couple of other guys will take that leadership role this year and we’re looking forward to it.”