PHILADELPHIA — Vancouver Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson has been on the job for less than a month, but after Thursday's SuperDraft it's evident he's already made a mark on his team.
Robinson took California center back Christian Dean, Jamaican Under-20 prospect Andre Lewis and Connecticut striker Mamadou Diouf with his three selections from the first two rounds and the resulting message was loud and clear.
"I've identified the three players I wanted, and I was lucky that it fell into place," he said. "These were three of the four or five that I wanted. I'm very excited to bring them on board and give them an opportunity. I will give my young players an opportunity this year. And I think they've all got something."
There's going to be a youth movement in Vancouver, where the majority of the team is already 23 and younger. And it's not necessarily borne out by economics or the need for roster overhaul (the 'Caps missed the playoffs by only three points last year). It's the basis of Robinson's philosophy for an athletic, fast and dynamic brand of soccer.
And so the new manager took the hulking Dean, a player who according to Robinson is "everything that top clubs in England are looking for in center backs."
And then there's the diminutive, but supremely technical, attacking midfielder Lewis, who came out of nowhere at the recent MLS Player Combine – "He reminds me of Kekuta Manneh, who we picked up last year, " says Robinson.
And he topped his haul with Diouf, a recent arrival to North America from Senegal via UConn and ever-eager to prove he belongs. The forward has already been won over by his new coach.
"He just said to me, 'I'm happy to have you there [in Vancouver]. I want you there,'" said Diouf, who is desperate to make up for a subpar senior season marked by injury. "That's what you need from your coach. Nothing else. And I have that from him. I'm happy … I'm ready to go. If it was tomorrow, I will go because I'm excited and I want to be there."
"I think connecting on a firsthand level with the coaching staff was a huge deal," Dean said about the one-on-one interview at the Combine. "I think during that interview I had a connection with the coaching staff … I really liked them a lot actually. They love young players and they like to build players. So I really like that."
The building starts on Jan. 25, when the draftees will join four more SuperDraft picks from next Tuesday's Rounds 3 and 4 and report for medicals ahead of a preseason during which Robinson will give them a fair shot at a first-team place.
"The ball's in their court," he said.