VANCOUVER, B.C. -- How do you replace 22 goals?
That's the question everybody's been asking since the Vancouver Whitecaps were pressured into a sale of star striker Camilo this offseason for a reported $2 million, $1.2 million of which will go to the club (the rest will head to MLS coffers).
The expectation from many is that the Whitecaps will go out and acquire another attacker, or perhaps a couple. That may very well happen, but there are three young players already on the books who will be looking to give new head coach Carl Robinson plenty to think about.
It's uncertain at this juncture who will partner veteran Kenny Miller in attack, but Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks and Omar Salgado will all be making a push to play up top or in a supporting offensive role out wide.
Show me the Manneh
Of the three players mentioned above, Manneh carries the most momentum into preseason ahead of the 2014 campaign.
The Gambian's hat trick against the Seattle Sounders on the road in October gained attention around the league, and if some reports are believed, put him on the radars of top English clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Having just turned 19, there's still plenty Manneh will need to do to round out his game – but he has pace and composure that no coach can teach.
His body of work represents a small sample size at this point, but if the forward can score as frequently in 2014 with more game as he did in limited action last year, there's plenty to be excited about if you're a Whitecaps fan.
“I want to be a big part of the team,” Manneh told Goal on Tuesday following a training session at the University of British Columbia. “I want to be an important player. I want to win trophies for the team this year as well, if we can.”
“[Camilo] has moved on and we just have to move on...it's an opportunity for all of our attacking players, not just me, so it will be interesting to see what comes out of it when the season starts.”
Jamaican me crazy
To say the 2013 season didn't go as Mattocks envisioned would be a massive understatement. Having stated his belief that he could hit the 20 goal mark in preseason, the Jamaican speedster finished the season with a paltry three tallies after becoming a peripheral figure under Martin Rennie.
While Rennie made it difficult for the player by never giving him consecutive starts beyond the first four games of the campaign, Mattocks did little to prove he deserved the opportunity, either in his performances or during training sessions.
The forward then compounded his troubles over the offseason by going on a bizarre rant on Jamaican TV, for which he has since apologized, in which he blamed Rennie and the Whitecaps for his disappointing season.
Given the coaching change, 2014 represents a true fresh chance for Mattocks. Robinson seems high on the player and with the departure of Camilo there is a real opportunity for the striker to get a steady run of games and win back the fans, many of whom called for the club to trade him following his rant.
“I think I just got to stay focused and work really hard, whatever it takes for the team to win or get three points,” an unusually subdued Mattocks told reporters this week when asked about the departure of Camilo. “It's a really good opportunity but at the end of the day, it's all up to me working hard and staying focused.”
Well, he's at least saying the right things.
There are casual followers of the team who are surprised when you tell them Salgado is still on the team.
And who can blame them?
Injuries have blighted the 20 year old's fledgling career, restricting the 2011 first overall MLS SuperDraft pick to just seven matches in 2012, and none at all last season.
Can he be depended on to be a prominent figure this season? That's probably a stretch. But if he stays healthy, he could surprise people. The once scrawny teenager now looks like a man, having filled out and grown into his 6'4 frame.
While Rennie's decision to use the player as a winger in 2012 looked inspired, the player looks more like a target man now. With fullback Steven Beitashour's arrival this week, a defender known for his crossing – a big target in the area will be essential, which could give Salgado a real shot at becoming a starter – or at least a role as an impact substitute if the team needs a new look.
Robinson, for his part, says he is open to playing the attacker both as a target man or as a winger.
“We have to account for 22 goals, between me, Darren and whoever will play,” Salgado said this week after a training session, acknowledging Camilo's departure will bring added responsibility. “There's a bit more pressure for us, but hopefully we can accomplish it.”
Manneh, Mattocks and Salgado represent little more than potential at this point, and all have a lot to prove. But if given the playing time and the service, it's not out of the realm of possibility that two of the three could hit double digit goal tallies.
Regardless of what happens, the ups and downs of this tantalizing trio and the competition between the threesome will surely be one of the more interesting storylines of the 2014 preseason – and just possibly, the season itself.
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