Martin MacMahon: It's go time for Whitecaps DPs Miller, Robson

Designated players Kenny Miller and Barry Robson's arrival at the club coincided with a poor run of form. Can the pair silence the doubters in the club's upcoming homestand?
VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s go time for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ pair of recently acquired designated players.

Since Barry Robson’s first match on July 4, the club has a record of 3-8-2. He has started all but one of those matches -- the 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 18 which he missed due to a suspension earned for kicking a ball in the direction of an assistant referee.

The club has a record of 2-6-0 since Kenny Miller’s first match on July 18. In his eight appearances to date, five of which have been starts, he has scored just one goal.

Before Robson had kicked a ball in Vancouver, the club had a record of 7-4-5.

Of course things are more complicated than mere statistics. They always are. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the string of subpar performances from the club’s big-money men, and the club’s dropoff since the pair’s arrival.

Excuses like settling in, a lack of match fitness and learning the team’s system can be reasonably used for a time, but with each passing match it seems that grace period is coming to an end.

Certainly amongst an element of supporters.

Following the club’s most recent loss, a last-minute 1-0 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas on Saturday, Vancouver radio station TEAM 1040’s postgame show took a call from an irate fan shortly before going to a phone interview with head coach Martin Rennie.

In many ways, the caller’s exasperated rant against “Team Scotland” sums up what’s quickly becoming a refrain from those perplexed by the club’s midseason shuffle when it appeared the club was on track for a first-ever appearance in the MLS Cup playoffs.

“Who’s been saying this? The press?” Robson asked when posed the question if the club’s upcoming four-match homestand will be a good opportunity to silence some of the critics. “An element of fans? How many fans?”

There’s no scientific way to gauge the feeling amongst supporters, but those who interact with fans – whether online or on the radio – are hearing the criticism directed toward the duo of Miller and Robson.

While everyone involved in the game will have his critics, the volume and consistency of criticism directed toward these two is perhaps only comparable in recent times to that directed toward director of soccer operations Tom Soehn during the club’s ill-fated 2011 debut season in MLS.

A sampling of this discontent was on display this Tuesday, when columnist and radio reporter Tyler Green put out the question to his followers on Twitter: “Which player(s) has had the most positive and most negative impact?”

Of the 29 serious responses that Green retweeted which included both a positive and negative reply (no, a guy named Klazura’s headband won’t be counted for his dismay at Greg Klazura’s lack of playing time as a negative), 21 named Miller as having a negative impact. Robson was named eight times, and the pair was named in tandem as being negative factors on six of those occasions, with a few references to a “failed Scottish experiment.”


The disappointment many seem to be feeling with regard to these two is not a media-driven campaign as Robson hinted at – Vancouver’s sporting public is too intelligent to simply lap up what they read, hear and watch.

Rather, the increasingly critical media coverage during this five-game losing streak is a reaction to the results on the pitch and the tone of the conversation off it amongst fans and pundits.

As the questions came in this week at training about whether the introduction of these two players and the more general ins and outs at the club have caused the recent slump, Rennie suggested it was the schedule rather than the changes that have been the biggest factor in this rocky period.

“There’s a number of ways you can analyze it,” Rennie said. “One way to analyze it is, we struggled a little bit when we played five in a row on the road and then four in a row on the road. I think there was a spell in the middle there when the players who did come in played very, very well. A number of those games that we played very well were actually at home.

“My expectation is that we’ll see that again. I think it’s a tough league to adjust to for players coming in halfway through the season so that maybe would have been some impact but I think certainly at home there’s no excuses for that and I think we’ll see an improved performance.”

Rennie has set the storyline up as a tale of road woes rather than linking the struggles to the midseason additions.

With four games in a row at home, and three of those against Western Conference bottom feeders Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers, the path to the club’s first ever postseason appearance could not be easier.

It’s time to test Rennie’s theory.

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Canada.