VANCOUVER, B.C. – Injuries have hit the Vancouver Whitecaps hard in the first two months of the season, sidelining some key attacking pieces, including offseason acquisitions Yordy Reyna and Brek Shea.
Reyna, acquired this winter from Austrian champions RB Salzburg, underwent surgery in February for a fracture of a fifth metatarsal in his left foot after he was injured in the Portland preseason tournament. He'd been pegged as a potential No. 10 for the team, and when he went down, so did a large chunk of Vancouver's midfield creativity.
That's meant the 'Caps creative load fell firmly on the shoulders of Costa Rican midfielder Christian Bolaños – although if that put any added pressure onto the veteran, he's said he's not feeling it.
"No, for me it's just really easy to create situations for the strikers," Bolaños told MLSsoccer.com at training on Tuesday. "I feel very comfortable in that part. I have to fight when I try to defend and to be in a good position when we play tactical.
"When you play away games you have to be very smart, so I just try to be in a good position all the time, with the ball and without the ball, to create space and to create chances for the strikers. That's part of my job, so I feel comfortable there."
After leading the team last year with eight assists – while also scoring five goals – Bolaños has had a slower start to his second MLS season, after taking longer than hoped to get fully match fit following an offseason knee injury. But the signs are there that the 32-year-old is getting back to his best and is the creative solution the Whitecaps need with Reyna out.
"He's very important to the team," head coach Carl Robinson said of Bolaños. "He's a top player. We've got him fit now, which is important. He can play multiple roles, whether it's wide, whether it's in as a midfield player, or whether it's just behind the No. 9 if we play a 4-2-3-1.
"He brings a quality that we need in our team, so wherever Bola plays, whether it's wide or central, he's a massive asset to us. He's been very good, but I still think he can score a couple of goals. But his quality has been very good in certain areas and he brings a calmness to our play."
Robinson has challenged his midfielders to get into the box more this season. That's a role that seems tailor-made for both Bolaños and Reyna, once he returns. It's something the 'Caps didn't see from Pedro Morales last season, with Robinson admitting that Bolaños and Reyna together offer "a little bit of quality that I think we lacked at certain times last year."
And while Bolaños is carrying the bulk of the Whitecaps creative play right now, he may be getting some help sooner rather than later, with the prognosis on Reyna's return looking promising.
"Probably a couple of weeks," Robinson said of Reyna's timetable. "We saw him on the training field today. We'll build that up this week and next week, and then we'll try and get him into some running and some little technical, tactical play then in the third week. So hopefully, [he'll resume full training in] the next three to four weeks."
Reyna's return would free Bolaños up to move back to his more favored role in the right wing, increasing the Whitecaps' creative options considerably.
"He just brings a little bit more quality," Robinson said of Reyna. "He's a final-third player. He's attacking. He likes to get at people individually, whether it's on the dribble or give-and-goes. He likes to score goals as well.
"We've got [players] coming back, maybe a new signing, or maybe not, so we'll have people that can affect the forward areas, which is really important. I'll have some nice headaches."