Konnichiwa

Perhaps the widespread clamour for the Whitecaps to possess a striker capable of providing prolific and reliable goal-scoring - an atmosphere not entirely unique within this market - reflects the club's growing presence in the Vancouver sporting landscape. It is not a sophisticated or complicated premise, and maybe that's the reason why it's so infrequently elaborated upon beyond one sentence paragraphs and hysteric postgame tweets. When times become more turbulent than what we're used to it represents the easiest, if laziest, vision of resolution.

Camilo's insatiable 2013 campaign served as the catalyst for this hostile environment, and his sudden departure shortly thereafter only compounded the complex that it has become today. I know, yet another thing to blame Futboldermort for. There is nothing this fanbase wants more, it seems, than to recapture the same sort of influence the Caps have been missing since Carl Robinson took over as head coach. It's been elusive throughout his reign and each transfer window yields hope that a new arrival will stroll through the door and explain the meaning of our existence.

Robinson is unfortunate in this regard. He inherited the demand for Camilo 2.0 when he was promoted from his role as assistant, and the desire hasn't waned while he's taken the club to unprecedented heights in his first two years on the job. In this time he has achieved feats greater than any manager before him at BC Place despite lacking the kind of #9 that some consider as essential to life as oxygen. When many have been consumed by their anticipation of the second coming, the players filling Camilo's void have been curing lepers and walking on water in silence.

We have seen a number of different looks from the Caps as Robinson has honed his craft and experimented with a variety of styles, but the way in which he has used his chosen #9 has largely remained the same. There's been emphasis on selfless play within the function of the lone frontman - partly a product of instruction, partly owed to the team's culture being centred around that  mentality - which has produced positive results albeit at the expense of the striker's statistical output over extended stretches of time. An exchange that can occasionally be hard to view as worthwhile.

Robbo doesn't subscribe to the practice of building a side to fulfil the needs of a single attacker - reasonable when you can attract someone of Sebastian Giovinco's quality, less so when you're forced into adopting MLS's answer to Moneyball - and that's been just fine. This is the business we've chosen. When the Caps lose form however, that sentiment is not widely endorsed. Those inclined to overlook the overall contributions of our strikers are more excited by the prospect of adding substance to their narratives than they are disappointed by adversity in front of goal.


Octavio Rivero became the antithesis of the similarly maligned yet simultaneously revered Camilo, and had suffered from the collateral damage of the unreasonable expectations that surround Whitecaps forwards more than anyone else. He's gone now, straightening his limp as he walked out of BC Place, when in a vacuum he likely would have fetched a higher transfer fee years down the line after enjoying a longer and happier stay in Upper Cascadia. His only crime was enticing supporters to fall for that cruel mistress called hope with his prolific start to 2015.

Erik Hurtado has received significant minutes in the absence of El Cabeza after spending part of last term away on loan in Norway. He used that move as a learning experience and the player we see today exhibits more maturity in his body of work than the player who boarded the plane to Scandinavia. This rejuvenated Hurtado realizes the value of each minute he gets on the field and tirelessly endeavours to maximize the opportunity, far removed from his nonchalance of yesteryear. His reward? Becoming the latest in a long line of unfortunate scapegoats.

He may not be the definitive answer leading the line if the Caps have serious ambitions of contending for silverware, however that shouldn't overshadow his importance to Robinson at a time when he's been needed most. Although his finishing can at times be immensely frustrating, Hurtado has managed to shoulder a lot of the exhausting responsibilities that Rivero mastered; something that has been invaluable in maintaining balance despite losing one of the team's most integral parts halfway through the regular season. He is a sound backup and deserves greater respect.

The dream of resurrecting the Camilo figure has created two extremes among many observers. Anyone who steps into the ring and doesn't meet the desired criteria becomes yet another fall guy, and anyone who doesn't receive the same chances from the starting line-up (Perez this year, Earnshaw last year) is heralded as the answer to all of our problems. Almost every single criticism of signing Blas in the offseason has subsided to make way for the hope that he can singlehandedly save the day - which speaks to that prevalent desperation more than anything else.

Perez can be a crucial component of this team, and I celebrated his arrival as much as anyone before the season kicked off, but to identify him as a saviour isn't fair. While he remains an effective option in the starting XI depending on the opponent and his fatigue, injecting his physicality partway through a game to interrupt the tempo comes with better odds of paying dividends on a long-term basis. If he were to become the de facto first choice and inevitably failed to sustain his production, his intangibles would revert back to how they were perceived in the offseason.


This brings us rather conveniently to Masato Kudo, whose comeback from a horrific jaw fracture sustained in May shares the same heroic nature as Bruce Wayne's return to Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises. The likelihood of Kudo regaining his fitness and form so quickly seemed akin to the feasibility of Wayne's own recuperation and escape after being crippled and imprisoned inside a pit that only one person had ever escaped from before; a walk in the park compared to the outlook for Kudo's future in the moments immediately following his terrifying collision with Matt Lampson.

If Kudo mirroring that climb in his unexpectedly quick recovery was improbable, saving the day like Batman by becoming the type of striker the masses are shouting for is going to be damn near impossible with the comprehensive demands of the role in Robinson's system. However, all strikers aren't created equal. Masato isn't the same player as Rivero and Hurtado, and there aren't many parallels that can be drawn between Perez's style of play and his own. The properties of Kudo's game have introduced brand new dimensions with his return to availability.

This hasn't happened by coincidence either. In having a diverse plethora of options from which to choose from, Robinson has afforded himself much needed flexibility. It's created scope for the 39-year-old to adapt his approach to something we haven't been able to witness while Kudo's been out, and that news should be met with measured enthusiasm. With one of the most formidable back-lines in the league behind Rivero the Caps had a sustainable gig going forward last year. It's been far more difficult to reap the same rewards without the same foundation in defence.

It may be time to shift from the blueprint as Vancouver's unfamiliar defensive problems will necessitate some initiative to ensure postseason soccer and quality performance to go along with that. It's crucial that the Caps attempt to gauge Kudo's full capabilities up top and mould a role around that, rather than simply place him in a round hole. The promise of a long-term solution, as a replacement for Rivero more so than Camilo, warrants this investment, and the likely addition of Enrique Esqueda instead of a new Designated Player suggests that Robinson thinks so too.

Don't kid yourself, though. All of the admiration for Kudo's character - in lieu of him dedicating his goal against Orlando to the recently sidelined Kekuta Manneh as well as his general conduct since arriving - will soon be forgotten by most if he doesn't bring anything markedly different to the table than Rivero and Hurtado before him. He should, in theory, receive greater benefit of the doubt than Octavio did on account of the severity and trauma of his head injury, as well as his equally pertinent need to adjust to his unfamiliar surroundings. Whether he will or not remains to be seen.