Sports Soccer

Camilo absence looms large at Whitecaps camp

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

Camilo Sanvezzo (right) will play an important role for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, said coach Martin Rennie. (TJ Chase, 24 hours)

Camilo Sanvezzo (right) will play an important role for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, said coach Martin Rennie. (TJ Chase, 24 hours)

In a way, the fog that encompassed most of the Vancouver Whitecaps' first on-field training session of the year Monday was symbolic.

Even with their pre-season underway this weekend, the cloud from the team's off-season drama and disappointment has yet to be lifted.

Sure, the Camilo saga is dealt with and done, but that didn't stop the players from facing queries about the 2013 Golden Boot winner's stunning departure — talking about the pressure the striker leaves on the other scorers and the situation as a whole.

Even club president Bob Lenarduzzi alluded to the obvious question, rhetorically asking, "With Camilo gone, how do you replace those goals?"

"There's nothing cast in stones at this point," Lenarduzzi said, answering himself while watching over his squad at Thunderbird Stadium at the University of B.C.

"As the pre-season evolves, we'll take a look at the players we've got in camp and make sure that we identify players that can potentially come in and fill the roles we're looking for."

But maybe more so than the seasons before, the Whitecaps head man was just excited to be able to talk about something new, something tangible on the field following the past two nightmarish months.

There now comes an opportunity to move on.

With the 'Caps taking to the pitch for the first time in 2014 — as they'll train in Vancouver until next Monday before heading down to Casa Grande, Ariz. — the focus is on getting acquainted with all the changes. Namely getting acquainted with the new coaching staff led by head manager Carl Robinson. Acquainted with the new faces — from draft picks to trial players to signings. And, of course, acquainted with the absence of some key parts, namely Camilo and defender Y.P. Lee.

"The first week is just getting the guys going, getting the legs moving, trying not to kill ourselves right away," captain Jay DeMerit said following a chilly training session. "It's making sure that everyone feels part of the group."

At the moment, the roster consists of 39 players — 24 of whom are under MLS contract — with the opening match of the regular season still about six weeks away. But there are holes to be filled.

The Whitecaps addressed one of those officially Monday by acquiring right back Steve Beitashour from the San Jose Earthquakes for allocation money. The defender, who Robinson calls "arguably the best right back in the league," slots into the spot left vacant by the retired Lee, and brings plenty of experience to a relatively young club.

The 26-year-old All Star has more assists (16) in the last three seasons than any other defender, appearing in 87 games with San Jose.

"He's a fantastic signing," Robinson said. "The way I'm going to play him, my fullbacks are going to attack. He fits that profile that I want perfectly."

The Whitecaps also announced the signing of "quality guy" and midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, a player they picked up in the MLS re-entry draft in December. Also noteworthy was the naming of Martyn Pert as a new assistant to Robinson, rounding out his coaching staff. The 36-year-old Norfolk native most recently served as the assistant coach with English Premier League side Cardiff City FC.

But while certain pieces are falling into place, there are still roster gaps — the biggest of which, according to Robinson, is creativity.

"Obviously I want to make the team exciting," he said. "The players that we've got supplemented with some creative players, then it will be exciting.

"You'll see over the next few days, and maybe weeks, that there will be additions coming in to help the rest of the guys. It's a work in progress."



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