VANCOUVER, B.C. – Last season it often felt that if Pedro Morales wasn’t firing on all cylinders and on his game, then the Vancouver Whitecaps’ offense stuttered.
With 10 goals and 12 assists, the Whitecaps captain was a talismanic figure for Vancouver in his Newcomer of the Year debut season in MLS. Now, with just three goals and four assists to his name in his sophomore season, one would think the Whitecaps would be struggling.
That’s hardly the case for the Western Conference leaders, who are on a three-game winning streak that includes the last two games without Morales in the lineup as he recovers from a calf injury.
"We know we’re a very good team when Pedro’s firing and he’s on," head coach Carl Robinson told reporters at training on Thursday. "I think that’s clear for everyone to see. Sometimes he’s not on and sometimes he’s hurt and sometimes he’s marked out of the game. So we’ve got to find other solutions to try and win games of football. We’ve managed to do that the last two games.”
Robinson is happy with his attacking midfielder’s output, but would naturally always like more. What has been pleasing to him are the other players who have stepped up this season – making the Whitecaps far from a one-man show.
He pointed to midfielder Nicolas Mezquida stepping into Morales’ role in a 2-1 win at New York Red Bulls on June 20 and Mauro Rosales doing the same in a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution on June 27 as evidence of the team utilizing its entire roster.
"We need that,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a very tough two months ahead of us. July and August are scary, if I can say that. Everyone’s going to be needed, everyone’s going to be wanted and everyone’s going to get their opportunity."
Morales has often struggled to produce his best performances away from BC Place, and the Whitecaps are almost strengthened at times on the road with someone else playing in that No. 10 role. That’s not something Robinson will admit to, but he is happy with the quality and the depth Morales’ replacements have shown these past two matches.
"Different personnel bring different characteristics to the table," Robinson said. "I thought Nico had his best game for us against New York. I thought he was absolutely fantastic. That’s credit to him. He’s now developing into a superb player.
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"Some games bring different things. Mauro can play on the right, he can play on the left, he can play as a 10. Pedro can play a little bit deeper sometimes, which we’ve looked at for short periods in the season, but we’ll probably look at it between now and the end of the season as well. It’s just different characteristics."
Morales is again in doubt for Vancouver’s road game against the Colorado Rapids this Saturday (9pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS Live in US), as he struggles to shake off that calf injury. Robinson will make a decision before the team flies out on Friday, but if their captain isn’t able to make it, he’s happy with those ready to to step up and replace him.
"I’ve got no worries," Robinson said. "It is what is. It gives someone else an opportunity, but we’re just lucky we’ve got some results."