The offseason has been full of change on the coaching front for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but new boss Carl Robinson hopes some of the key on-field leaders remain with the club in 2014.
Robinson spoke about the status of defender Jay DeMerit and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker during a conference call with reporters on Thursday, and indicated both players are in his plans for the upcoming season.
"I spoke to Jay just before Christmas about re-signing and trying to get him tied down," Robinson said. "Contract negotiations with him and his representatives have been flowing very nicely and I think in the coming days or a week or so we’ll come to a conclusion on that."
DeMerit, 34, was the first player signed by the Whitecaps when they entered MLS in 2011. Injuries slowed him down in his first season with the club, though he still made 21 league appearances, and the club captain became an MLS All-Star in 2012 as the 'Caps made the playoffs. A torn Achilles tendon in Vancouver's 2013 season opener sidelined him for most of the season, though he returned to the lineup in September and started the final six games of the campaign.
Robinson mentioned DeMerit's health but did not appear to be overly worried about the defender's prospects: "Clearly, healthy he will be a big part of this club moving forward."
Instead, the coach emphasized DeMerit's leadership qualities in wanting to keep him for 2014.
"I made it clear on day one that Jay is a leader on the club and organization," he said, "and he’s got a lot of respect from everyone within the organization and I want him to be a part of that moving forward."
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With DeMerit out of the lineup for most of 2013, newcomer Reo-Coker took up the leadership mantle for the team and was a mainstay in the lineup, making 32 league appearances at several positions. Robinson indicated that he is planning on including the 29-year-old in his plans this season.
"The club exercised Nigel’s option, and until I’m told anything different I look forward to having him back, because he’s a big piece of this club moving forward and a huge asset for us," Robinson said.
"[Reo-Coker] is in good spirits. I told Nigel my plans for him. I expect Nigel to be back with a big smile on his face," the manager added.
Additional reporting by Dan Itel.