I’ll be honest with you. When I was thinking about possible topics for my first Whitecaps XI article, the Blue and White were coming off a tough road game in Portland. The performance of two players stood out to me. The first one was Kekuta Manneh due to the quiet night that the young player had and the second one was Daigo Kobayashi because of the decent game he had in what was arguably his best appearance since the Whitecaps second match of the season versus Columbus back in March. I went with the former idea and you can read that article here.
If I had written this article last week, my take on the Daigo article was going to be something along the lines of “Is this the game that will turn Kobayashi’s season around?” When I reflected on it, I decided to give him one more game at home to determine whether the Portland fixture was the beginning of a steady improvement or just a one off ‘better’ game. Unfortunately for everyone, Daigo Kobayashi’s home showing versus San Jose was, yet again, a lackluster performance with little to no impact on either side of the pitch.
When the Whitecaps announced the signing of the former Japanese international in the off-season, I think I speak for most fans when I say that it took us by surprise. We did not really know anything about him except for the highlight reel posted on the team’s website. However, as the preseason rolled on, friendlies were played, goals were scored (who doesn’t remember that acrobatic volley against Charleston) and pundits cheered. I was impressed and hopeful.
This great run was quickly followed by that impressive goal against Columbus and the hope became excitement. But as quickly as it came, all of the sudden, the magic was gone. To make matters worse, he picked up an injury during the home game against Los Angeles. Ever since that second game of the season his contributions on the field became non-existent and his performance has many wondering if Daigo is really worth the hefty price tag he comes with and if there is even room for him in the starting XI.
So what happened? Where in the world is the Daigo Kobayashi he saw in February and early March? I did some research. There is a website called “YouTube” that has an incredible number of videos on any topic you could wish for. You should check it out. Anyway, in there, I found a few videos of Daigo playing with some of his former teams. I saw him dribbling, passing, shooting, sliding, recovering balls, scoring goals. I saw him playing in the wing, in the middle and inside the box. One thing became very clear to me. The man has quality, skills and some serious top-notch class. But we already knew that because we have seen glimpses of it.
So, I wonder why haven’t we seen the ‘real’ Daigo Kobayashi on a consistent basis in Vancouver? I have a few ideas. Maybe MLS is too physical for what he is used to. He needs room and time to pull a great through-ball out of the hat or to take on a player or two inside the box or on the wing and the nature of MLS just doesn’t give him the time he needs to make those exceptional plays. Maybe it is the turf. Maybe he has been asked to take on more defensive responsibilities than he is comfortable with. Sometimes I feel that his movement off the ball puts him too close to the ball, sometimes too far from it and sometimes he gravitates towards an opponent effectively marking himself.
What is needed to fix this situation, you ask? Unfortunately, I do not have the answer and neither, I think, do the Whitecaps or Kobayashi himself.
I do know, however, that I think it is worth waiting it out. Remember the Kenny Miller of last season? I think that the gamble of giving him some time to figure himself out in this league can be risky (and expensive) but if it pays off the way we think it can, it would be a great investment. How long should we (or the Whitecaps) wait? Well, I think that the most sensible thing to do at this point is to write this year off as a “settling season” and let’s hope that we find the Daigo Kobayashi that we know is in there somewhere in Vancouver in 2014.