Barry Robson could have continued playing soccer in Britain, but the Scottish international felt he could make an impact in North America.
So the 33-year-old midfielder signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday, the latest move in the team’s effort to improve following a last-place showing in its first Major League Soccer season.
“I didn’t want to come over there and not be able to contribute, so fitness-wise I’m as good as I’ve ever been,” Robson said. “I want to come over here and try and make a difference for Vancouver and show everybody that I’m a good player, I can help my teammates, and I can try to help the club get up the league as far as they can.”
Robson is slated to join the Whitecaps in July after completing his season with English League Championship side Middlesbrough. Robson said Middlesbrough, which is attempting to gain promotion back to the English Premier League, wanted to re-sign him, but he felt it was best for him and his family to move on.
“Obviously, they’re very disappointed,” Robson said. “I had a good relationship with the manager and the club did offer me a new contract. I’m sure the fans will be disappointed as well.”
Reports indicated Middlesbrough wanted him to take a pay cut. Robson said he had other offers, including one from an Australian League team, but Vancouver was always his first choice.
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie scouted Robson during a couple of games in December and did extensive research on him, but he felt it would be a “long shot” to sign him.
“We think that he’ll be a big part of what we’re doing,” Rennie said. “We think that he’s the kind of player that we need to add to our group, and we’re really pleased and really excited that he’s going to be with us.”
Robson has appeared 16 times for his country since debuting in a 1-0 friendly win at home to South Africa in 2007. His Scottish caps include the qualifying campaigns for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Robson has scored eight goals in 26 appearances for Middlesbrough this season.
Also a native of Scotland, Rennie said Robson is a proved playmaker and versatile box-to-box midfielder who can play in several positions while scoring goals. Rennie has identified midfield as a point of weakness with the team in 2011, when it posted just six wins under the fired Teitur Thordarson and his replacement Tommy Soehn, who is still with the team as director of soccer operations.
“I can play in the middle, I can play wide and I can play forward,” Robson said. “I’m very versatile. ... I can play pretty much across midfield.”
Robson has also played for Scottish Premier League sides Glasgow Celtic and Dundee United. Whitecaps assistant coach Paul Ritchie was a teammate of Robson’s with Dundee and helped convince him to sign with Vancouver.
Praising Robson for being humble and a team-first player, Ritchie called the midfielder a “fantastic addition.”
The Whitecaps will head to their final training camp next week in Orlando, where they will also play exhibition games against the Montreal Impact, which is preparing for its expansion season in MLS, the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City. Rennie said the team still could make more acquisitions between now and next month’s start of the regular season.
“Our squad is obviously getting close to what we want it to look like,” he said. “But we do still have some [financial]flexibility, and we have a couple moves that we can still make – if we decide to do that.”
Vancouver begins its second MLS season at home March 10 against Montreal.
Notes: The Whitecaps have brought in 23-year-old Ghanian centre back Nuru Sulley on a one-week trial. ... Unsigned Maltese forward Etienne Barbara, whose MLS rights were acquired by Vancouver from Montreal in January, is expected to miss two months as he recovers from an abdominal injury. ... The Whitecaps will close out their preseason schedule with a game against Rennie’s former lower-tier Carolina Railhawks squad March 4 in Cary, N.C.
The Canadian Press