Who gets to play the coveted No. 10 role in Vancouver remains one of the biggest questions late in preseason. Mezquida and Lewis are two of the frontrunners.VANCOUVER -- As the march toward First Kick continues, starting lineups around Major League Soccer are beginning to take shape.
It's no different for the Vancouver Whitecaps, although with so many relatively young players competing for spots in the attacking third, how that area of the starting lineup will end up looking is somewhat of a mystery.
But as it becomes increasingly clear that Vancouver's likely formation will be some form of a 4-2-3-1 look under new coach Carl Robinson, the need for a creative force as as a central part of that offensive three behind a striker is obvious.
The gossip is that the Whitecaps are on the hunt for a No. 10 to play that role – possibly a designated player – but there are a handful of guys in camp who are trying to show they can at least play there if given the opportunity.
One such player is Nicolas Mezquida, one of two Uruguayans the Whitecaps signed on February 5 (the second player the club signed that day was Sebastian Fernandez, a player competing for a starting spot on the right wing).
Mezquida, like Fernandez, joined from Uruguayan side Boston River – his most recent port of call in a career perhaps best known for its near misses – he had agreed to join German side Schalke back in 2009 before pulling out of the deal, and then last year looked poised to join Scottish giant Celtic before the issue of a work permit provided an obstacle.
“I feel it's good,” Mezquida told Goal Canada in the stands at the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird Stadium through impromptu translator Paolo Tornaghi, the Italian goalkeeper expected to back starter David Ousted up this season. “I am very comfortable in the team, with the group, in the dressing room. I feel good – I like it.”
Still, there are understandably some differences and a needed settling in period for both he and Fernandez – specifically when it comes to the style of play.
“Here, the play is more fast and more physical and you run [more],” Mezquida said. “But every day I get used to the new style.”
Mezquida says he joined the Whitecaps because in his mind MLS is a constantly improving league that gets better year on year – the opportunity to work with a young coach in Robinson is also something that appeals to the player, who believes the fact the former Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls player is recently retired (Robinson's last season was 2011) will lead to a frank relationship between players and manager.
“It's good to have a coach that used to be a player just a couple years ago,” Mezquida said. “It's very positive – you can talk football very straight – it's a good communication.”
Another player looking to play in that No. 10 role or perhaps on the flanks of the offensive three behind a main striker is No. 7 SuperDraft pick Andre Lewis. The Jamaican has come up with 90th minute winners twice in recent days, scoring in a preseason friendly with the University of Victoria on Sunday before doing so once again on Wednesday in an intrasquad scrimmage.
Beyond his goalscoring prowess, he's also quickly becoming a fan favourite. He botched a backflip after celebrating his goal on Sunday but at the urging of the crowd pulled off more convincing acrobatics on Wednesday.
“I was just wanting to show them that it's something I'd done before and something that I'd done in Jamaica all the time when I scored,” Lewis told reporters on Wednesday after the scrimmage. “Things have been going pretty well. I get along with everyone – the players, the coaches. Each day is a good process here – I'm just adapting to the cold.”