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Martin MacMahon: Robson latest Whitecaps DP failure

Martin MacMahon: Robson latest Whitecaps DP failure

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As Barry Robson adds his name to the list of designated players who have made a less-than-stellar impact in Vancouver, will the club will hesitate to spend as freely in the future?

Yet another Vancouver Whitecaps designated player is leaving town with his tail between his legs.

On Monday, the Whitecaps announced Barry Robson was calling time on his Major League Soccer adventure, after he and his family struggled to adapt to North American life on and off the field.

For a struggling team, perhaps the tempestuous Scot would have been the perfect antidote – a catalyst to shake things up.

Unfortunately, the environment Robson entered in July wasn’t a team in need of a shift in personality – it was a crude, basic, machine that was grafting results out of minimal offensive output and an efficient defensive group.

Ugly, perhaps, but it was effective. Robson didn’t bring the guile the team so badly lacked – and still does – and seemed to ruffle feathers in a situation that had been working quite well before his arrival.

And so one of the Western Conference’s most efficient outfits went into tailspin.

But, despite his failure to succeed on the pitch, it was his he and his family’s inability to make Vancouver home that is being painted as the reason for his departure.

"When you come from another country, and you come with a wife and children, it’s a long way to come,” club president Bob Lenarduzzi told reporters on Monday. “Different school systems, different way of life. From a playing perspective, you’re dealing with distances you never had to deal with, where Barry played.

"You’re dealing with heat, humidity, and so all of those things combined have resulted in the decision."

Robson’s failure follows what has been a largely unsuccessful experience for the Whitecaps when it comes to designated players.

They signed the towering Eric Hassli just prior to their first season, and while he brought the highlight-reel goals a new team so badly needed – he didn’t score often enough – and struggled massively with discipline in the early going.

Still, he showed new fans how entertaining the game of soccer can be – and for that he won’t be looked back on as a total failure.

Then came Mustapha Jarju, a Gambian international that was advertised as a player who could play up front or in midfield – what Whitecaps fans saw was a man who looked more comfortable on the bench than on the field – although in Jarju’s defence he seems to have since resurrected his career in Belgium.

Last season, Vancouver opted to bring Robson and fellow Scot Kenny Miller in as designated players. Robson scored three goals in 18 matches, while Miller never looked like a player deserving of a $1.2-million salary.

Perhaps there is time now for Miller to find his scoring boots – but if the Whitecaps are given half a sniff at getting out of the former Rangers striker’s contract, expect to read stories in the coming weeks about another Scotsman who “struggled to settle.”

The question now is, will Vancouver’s failure to find value in designated players affect their willingness to go after big money signings in the future?

“I’d like to think we’ve applied due diligence to the moves that we’ve made in the past and can’t argue ... that there hasn’t been a success rate – a level of success we would have liked with designated players,” Lenarduzzi said. “But there’s plenty of other examples from around the league as well where designated players have not done well.

“From our perspective, you look at a club like San Jose [Earthquakes], and they don’t have any designated players and they win the league championship, and then you look at LA [Galaxy], who have three designated players, who didn’t win the league championship, but won the playoffs.

"As a club, we’re the second year into it now, and what we need to figure out from a recruiting point of view, what is it that’s going to allow us the best chance of success?”