With just over a week to go until the start of the new Major League Soccer season, Vancouver Whitecaps are looking in not bad shape.
That's not to say that there aren't still concerns, like who the actual goals may come from, but the club are looking a lot better, more creative and stronger than they were just a couple of weeks ago.
The Caps are set at the back.
David Ousted has the starting keeper role all wrapped up and he will have a very experienced back four ahead of him in the form of full backs Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey and centrebacks Andy O'Brien and Jay DeMerit look to be the number one choice pairing to marshal the backline.
From the brief time that we have seen them together, Beitashour and Harvey will not be shy going forward, with the former expected to make a number of key runs up the right and deliver a number of assists from crosses, whilst the latter looks to continue his fine goalscoring form from his standout season last year.
That's a solid defence and add in new young defensive midfielder DP Matias Laba just in front of them and the Whitecaps shouldn't be leaking too many goal if they all play to their potential.
As we looked at yesterday, there is a big of a logjam in midfield, but a new number 10 is coming to spearhead the creative part of the Caps, with Malaga's Chilean midfielder Pedro Morales expected to be that man.
With those additions and the talented Uruguayan pair of Sebastian Fernandez and Nico Mezquida, Vancouver shouldn't be lacking in any creativity when it comes to chances this year.
Up front still seems to be the main issue.
Will Kenny Miller be healthy enough to lead the attack for First Kick? How long can he last and how long will he remain injury free to start the season?
A lot is expected of Kekuta Manneh and Omar Salgado. If they live up to their talent tags then the goals will come from them but it is still a subject for debate right now, with both getting in good positions but not taking chances in preseason so far.
Darren Mattocks could prove to be the man with the much needed X Factor, but Vancouver need to see the Jamaican from his rookie season and not his sophomore slump. He is a player that gets a number of chances, he needs to start converting them on a regular basis or his time on the west coast could come to an abrupt end.
There are still some battles to be won for places on the final MLS roster.
With no back up right back, South African Ethen Sampson looks to have beaten off his opposition to claim that spot but simply doesn't look to be MLS ready or quality and this could prove to be a worry for Vancouver, especially if Beitashour heads off to the World Cup with Iran for four to six weeks in the summer.
What Residency players make the step up and which players head of to Charleston and elsewhere on loan are still some questions to be answered.
With one game left in the preseason to have a look, head coach Carl Robinson looks pretty set on his final choice for his starting line up.
Whether those players
can do the busy, in what is a tough start to campaign, remains to be seen.
We'll get an indication in eight days when Vancouver
kick off their 2014 season against New
That said, Watson was through talking about Beitashour.
Barklage, formerly with the New York Red Bulls and before that, D.C. United, was taken in December's MLS re-entry draft. He'll get every chance to lock up the position on the field for San Jose.
Barklage said his contribution on offense for New York was what worked well for him in 2013.
"Put my work in on the defensive said, but also be able to push forward and feel a little bit free from that right back position," Barklage said. "I just look to keep on improving."
Barklage enters his sixth MLS season but saw most of his action in his career over the past two in New York. He's a goal scoring threat, but acknowledges he could be used differently with the Quakes.
"The forwards on this team like to work their butts off, so I think it's going to be a lot of service into the box," Barklage said. "That''ll give me a little bit more freedom on the flank."
Watson said the club was fortunate to land Barklage.
"He's at a great age (27). He's had bunch of good seasons after having injuries issues. Had a great year with New York," Watson said. "Brandon's a good technical player. He's a good defender, great character, can get forward and he's great at crossing the ball. He's someone that's going to fit in really well"
Barklage was with the club in Tucson, Arizona for the first phase of preseason training. He's focusing on getting match-fit and getting familiar with his teammates. He also had been looking for a place to live with his wife, an abode in the hills near Santa Cruz, Calif. his preferred spot.
"A little bit remote, which is right up my alley, " Barklage said.
Barklage joins San Jose at a historic time for the franchise. The club has new logo and jerseys in celebration of 40 years of existence, a new direction with Watson in his first full season and a new stadium that will be ready for the 2015 season.
"It's a perfect time to come in," Barklage said. "Next year is going to be the special year for all of us, so hopefully we're still around then."
(Photo: John Hefti)
Vancouver Whitecaps kicked off their 2014 preseason training camp on Monday with one less hole to fill after the key addition of experienced right back Steven Beitashour.
The Iranian international makes the move to Vancouver from San Jose Earthquakes for nothing more than allocation money, with Caps head coach Carl Robinson describing Beitashour as "arguably the best right back in the League".
The move is expected to see the defender's salary at least triple, but with a pressing need, and the large boots of YP Lee to fill, Vancouver will feel that spending some of the Camilo cash on the talented right back was well worth it.
Going into their preseason camp, Vancouver had a few pressing needs. Whilst Beitashour now fills one of those, another Earthquake, midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, was officially added to the Caps roster after being picked up in the second round of December's re-entry draft.
The additions will take Vancouver's roster for the training camp to 37, with more new faces and trialists expected as the days roll on.
It's certainly a young and somewhat inexperienced camp, as we covered on Friday, but what was evident from the first day of it is that Vancouver have a crop of top young talent hungry and eager to impress new Head Coach Robinson.
They've already impressed experienced English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, who said, "I'm excited about the young talent that we have. It's a great core for the club to have. We've got a young exciting team who are going to play exciting, attacking football."
One player who really stood out on day one was Residency midfielder Marco Bustos.
Touted as one of the players that will soon earn a homegrown contract, the Canadian U17 international made sure he wasn't resting on his laurels and previous reputation, pushing himself hard in the tests and working hard in the scrimmages.
All of the Residency guys looking to claim a spot on the MLS roster know that their attitude in the camp and desire to work hard for the holy grail are what the management team are looking for. No one is assured a place and Vancouver want to make sure they all earn one.
Although now a four year veteran of the team, Omar Salgado is almost like a rookie again as he fights back from two horrible seasons of injury woes.
Looking fit, sharp and hungry, Salgado could have a big part to play for the Whitecaps this coming season. Looking like he has bulked up, and clearly enjoying himself out on the training field, the Caps' first ever MLS draft pick is almost like having a new player on the team.
For Salgado himself, he just "wants to play," saying, "It's always really frustrating to be out on the sidelines and not playing. You're really not being able to do anything."
But despite the breakdowns in rehabbing his injured foot these past 18 months, Salgado isn't going to play scared or hold back out there.
He added, "At this point I don't really hold back any more. I feel really good. My foot feels really close to normal now. I feel 100%, so hopefully no more injuries for the rest of the season."
Coach Carl Robinson was happy with what he saw on the first day back, and his first day in charge, telling the AFTN podcast what he's looking for from the younger and fringe players over the next five weeks.
"I want to see a desire to earn a starting spot. I think competition for places is a must for any team and I think if you get those players in that second tier working hard trying to win spots it pushes players in the team."
A number of players will join the camp for the first time on Wednesday, including high rated Residency players Marco Carducci and Kianz Froese, and Canadian draft pick Mackenzie Pridham.
Fellow draft picks Andre Lewis, Mamadou Diouf and Michael Calderon will join up with the Whitecaps in Casa Grande, Arizona next week.
There's all to play for in the next five weeks, and if the young talent keeps up the impressive tempo, attitude and work ethic from the opening day, then Robinson may have some interesting decisions ahead of him.
“Steven is arguably the best right back in the league,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “He is fantastic on the defensive side of the ball and his ability to join the attack will make him a great addition to our club.”
"I'm very excited about this new opportunity," added Beitashour, who is scheduled to arrive in Vancouver on Monday night. "Whitecaps FC are an excellent club with fantastic supporters and a great stadium. From what I've seen the last few years and from my conversations with the coaching staff, this club is heading in the right direction. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone and I can't wait for our home opener on March 8 against the Red Bulls."
Beitashour, 26, joins Whitecaps FC after spending each of his first four professional seasons in MLS with the Earthquakes. In total, Beitashour started 86 of his 87 regular season appearances with San Jose, recording two goals and 16 assists during that period. In addition, Beitashour started both of San Jose’s playoff matches and recorded one assist in three US Open Cup matches during the Quakes Supporters' Shield winning season of 2012.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound fullback, who San Jose selected in the second round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, was named to the MLS All-Star team in 2012 and played the full 90 minutes, next to Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit, in a 3-2 win over English Premier League giant Chelsea FC.
Prior to joining MLS, Beitashour spent four seasons with the San Diego State University Aztecs, where he recorded eight assists in 57 total appearances, and also played for the San Jose Frogs of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League.
Born in San Jose, California, both of Beitashour’s parents are from Iran and he therefore holds dual American-Iranian citizenship. After opting to play for Iran, Beitashour earned his first cap in Team Melli’s 2-1 win over Thailand last October. He has appeared for Iran on three occasions and will look to play a part when they compete in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.