VANCOUVER, B.C. – Designated Players are brought in to make teams better. To make a difference. That's why they get paid the big bucks, but with it comes the extra scrutiny and attention, especially when they're not performing.
Vancouver Whitecaps captain Pedro Morales has come under a lot of that scrutiny this season. When the Chilean is on his game, as he was in his Newcomer of the Year winning season in 2014, the Whitecaps are flying. When he isn't, the 'Caps have struggled.
After an injury-plagued season last year, Morales hasn't come back firing on all cylinders. It's a fact he's very aware of, and one he's keen to remedy, dropping the surprising news that this may be his last year with the club and he wants to make the most of it.
"I [do] not feel very good this year," Morales admitted at Whitecaps training on Tuesday. "I've had a lot of problems, but it doesn't matter. I try to play always, without pain, and try and play good. Sometimes you play good, you play bad.
"The most important thing now is mentally for the last seven games and try to play hard every single game for the team, for myself, and try and enjoy every game my last year here in MLS."
That news may shock many Whitecaps fans, coming on the back of the club's announcement last August that Morales had signed a contract extension through 2016 with an option for 2017. There's been no official comment from Vancouver, but Morales was pressed on whether this will indeed be his last season at the club.
"Yeah, maybe, you never know," Morales added. "Football always changes. That is the reason I try to play every single game now without pain. It doesn't matter what. For the team, for me, it's very important the final games to play good against big teams at home or away."
Vancouver certainly need him to find his top form during the season run-in and 'Caps coach Carl Robinson is all too aware that he hasn't had Morales playing at the top of his game this year or producing what he is capable of.
"If you ask Pedro, he'll be honest enough to admit he needs to increase his levels a little bit. On Saturday I thought he did okay, but there were other players who I thought we outstanding. If Pedro's outstanding then we're a better team.
"I've got to help Pedro, he's got to help himself, and the team's got to help him... Hopefully Pedro, along with one or two others, can increase their levels and give us a better chance of winning."
Morales does lead the team in both goals and assists this season, with six of each. It's a far cry from the 10 goals and 12 assists he produced in his first season in the league, and hasn't been good enough to keep the Whitecaps in the playoff places.
Robinson knows he needs more, and he challenged the Chilean, and all his key players, to show their worth over the final games of the season.
"As I said, on Saturday I think he did okay," Robinson reiterated about Morales. "We're not in the stage for any player to do okay at the moment. We need our players to perform excellently. Some players have performed excellently, over the last two games especially, and they're rightly in the team. Now's the time for the big players to step up and Pedro certainly is a big player for us."