Is bringing Daigo Kobayashi back for a second kick at the can after his dismal 2013 campaign the answer? Goal's Martin MacMahon weighs in.
I'm lookin' for my missin' piece
Hi-dee-ho, here I go
lookin' for my missin' piece
There are times when a children's book sums up the story better than any long-winded thesis ever could (although you'll get one here, anyway).
For the Vancouver Whitecaps, their midfield has, since the departure of Davide Chiumiento midway through the 2012 season, had a missing piece, and perhaps Shel Silverstein's work of the same name embodies the sort of quest the club has ahead of itself as it looks for its new creative spark in the centre of the park.
Last offseason, then head coach Martin Rennie sought to address the issue by signing once-capped Japanese international Daigo Kobayashi. Apart from excellent consistency in training sessions and a handful of impressive competitive outings, the player was an unmitigated flop – and at nearly $240,000 per year, he was a waste of cash and represented poor value in Major League Soccer's salary cap world.
But so desperate are the Whitecaps to find their missing piece, Kobayashi is apparently joining the club on trial down in Casa Grande, Arizona, where the club is currently going through its preseason motions.
Given there is no financial commitment, the feeling may be that there is nothing to lose by having a look at Kobayashi.
But the initial feeling from more than a few will be that at best this move seems uninspired, and at worst it's a colossal waste of time.
In a friendly or practice environment, Kobayashi looks fantastic. It's when the games matter and he's already under contract that he tends to wilt.
If he does return, it is likely that Carl Robinson will want to play the attacker consistently as a No. 10, in behind one or two strikers, as opposed to the more central or wing role he played at various points under Rennie.
The argument will go that playing him in a more advanced position will bring more encouraging results.
Proponents of bringing Kobayashi back, if they do exist beyond the theoretical world, would point to his wonderful performance in October, where he played a big role in Vancouver's 4-1 demolition of the Seattle Sounders, picking up two assists in a game most people remember for 18-year-old Kekuta Manneh's hat-trick.
That game wasn't in isolation – Kobayashi was excellent in the club's end-of-season run-in, picking up a goal and three assists in his last five starts.
But the question has never been about what the 30-year-old is capable of – on a technical level he was the best player in the Vancouver squad. That was clear in most training sessions. In theory, he's an artist, a genius. In practical terms, however, when the games got chippy, he went missing. When the team hit a tailspin, he didn't look to pull his less capable teammates out with a bit of flair.
He also had a habit of picking up little injuries. Some say those aren't a players fault, but in a long season, most players will be carrying some knocks or another, and often the best players aren't the ones that don't get hurt – but the players that are able to play through the pain barrier.
It's understandable that Robinson would seriously consider bringing Kobayashi back. He is such a temptation for anybody who believes in attacking football, as the Welsh coach says he does.
Last year Kobayashi was one of the most entertaining players to watch, when he was on his game.
It's just a pity those matches came so rarely.
But just as we learned in The Missing Piece, sometimes filling that hole doesn't really bring about any happiness anyway.
So let's just enjoy the ride, whether Kobayashi is along for the trip or not.