VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps learned their lesson from seasons past.
After previously failing to secure Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo into a contract extension, and eventually losing him in a transfer tug-of-war with Mexican side Queretaro, the Whitecaps don't want to find themselves in that position again.
Tuesday's announcement that they had inked talismanic captain Pedro Morales to a multi-year contract extension was in part a way to counter any unsettling transfer talk later in the year, but it's also just the latest part of the foundation that coach Carl Robinson is laying in Vancouver.
"We're trying to build," Robinson told reporters at training. "I said 18 months ago that you've got to build a foundation and you've got to put building blocks in place.
"We don't want to lose our top players. We've done that before and it hurts, so we're going to try and make sure that that doesn't happen. Pedro will be the first of hopefully a couple that we will try and tie down."
Morales has undoubtedly been a key addition for Vancouver since joining the club just before the start of last season, winning the MLS Newcomer of the Year award after a debut season that produced a team-leading 10 goals and 12 assists.
In 2014, if Morales wasn't on form, the Whitecaps often weren't on form. This season has been a different story, with the Chilean taking more of a backseat as players around him step up and contribute, with the form of Nicolas Mezquida in the No. 10 role keeping him out of the starting lineup after Morales' recent return from injury.
But having a rested, refreshed and "super fit" Morales back for the season's stretch run is something Robinson is relishing.
"He'll be able to fully contribute between now and the end of the season," the Vancouver boss said. "He'll play if he deserves to play. It's that simple. I've got a group of 23 or 24 players that are all fighting for places, and I think I've shown this year that I'm not afraid to leave anyone out.
"He's in a good frame of mind at the moment. He'll be putting pressure on the boys in the team at the moment. The boys on Saturday done themselves a hell of a lot of good because we played fantastically well without getting the result. So I've got some tough decisions to make, but good ones."
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Robinson challenged Morales in the offseason to up his game even further, particularly on set pieces. The Chilean has responded with several stunning free kicks this year, including Saturday's MLS Goal of the Week nominated effort at Kansas City.
But with five goals and four assists from his 19 appearances, Morales feels he can still be contributing more to the Whitecaps attack, and he's itching to get back into the starting XI to prove it at this crucial stage of the season.
"I feel like I can contribute a lot more," Morales said. "Obviously I was injured for a little while there, so now I'm ready to go and contribute back to the team the way I know I can.
"There's nine more games in MLS. We need to play well for qualification for the playoffs and maybe win something with the Canada Cup."