Vancouver Whitecaps’ Pedro Morales is hungry for more

 

Injuries ‘very tough,’ but captain has high hopes for team’s offence

 
 
 
 
File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

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PORTLAND, Ore. – When he strained a calf muscle early in the Arizona portion of pre-season training, Vancouver Whitecaps captain Pedro Morales admits to being a little scared.

After losing much of the second half of last season to leg injuries that he just couldn’t get right, he had come back to Vancouver from his native Chile in early January to get a head start on his fitness. And now he was laid up again.

“Sometime, yeah,” he said Monday of being worried about his ability to stay healthy. “I don’t know what happened (in Arizona), for what reason.

“Sometime, I feel good one day, and the other day, injured,” he added, struggling in his third year with the Caps to find the right words to express himself clearly in his broken English.

It drove him crazy last season that he was able to start just three games after June. He was miserable. His legs, so crucial for a soccer player, weren’t co-operating.

“Very tough, very tough,” he said as he sat on a couch at the team’s hotel in Portland. “Soccer is my life, I live for playing soccer. My wife, she knows that football is my life. The last four months, when I feel injury every time … my mind is not good.”

After playing just 30 minutes in the Caps’ third game in Arizona, Morales played 65 uneven minutes on Sunday against Chicago. He committed a brutal turnover seven minutes in that led to the first Fire goal in a 3-2 loss and fired a shot way wide on a miskicked first-timer just outside the box. But he did deliver a well-placed free kick that was turned aside by a full-stretch dive by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Morales looked wiped when he came off, his conditioning clearly an issue right now. He then spent a good 30 minutes after the game in the ice tub and getting his legs massaged.

So as the Caps edge closer to their March 6 MLS regular-season opener, Morales’ health is a key question. How many games can they count on from the midfielder with the sublime passing instincts who, when’s he on, can be a terrific orchestrator on the attack?

“If Pedro is on, then nine times out of 10 we’re on,” head coach Carl Robinson said of the club’s highest-paid player ($1.4 million US in 2015) after Sunday’s game. “He’s trained the last five, six days and he’s been excellent. He’s shown us how good a player he can be and now it’s about transferring that to matches.”

Robinson has admitted that he’ll manage Morales’ starts, something that will be easier given the club’s upgraded depth, which includes crafty midfielder Cristian Bolano, a two-time World Cup veteran with Costa Rica.

Robinson started them together against Chicago in a 4-1-4-1 formation. They formed a central triangle with young Honduran Deybi Flores as the holding player.

As Robinson noted, “they got in each other’s way sometimes,” but it was understandable. They haven’t played a lot together. If they can develop some quick chemistry, it could be a potent combination because they both read the field extremely well.

“Bola and me are smart players, no?” said Morales. “We need more time, but Bola a very, very good player. It’s good for the team. When you have good players on the team, it’s more easy to play.”

Bolanos has also played extensively as a wide midfielder, which makes it possible for Robinson to play them together when he reverts to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, although that would force either Cristian Techera or Kekuta Manneh to the sidelines.

Asked if he can be a better player if he gets perhaps 24 to 26 starts instead of 32 to 34, Morales screwed up his face.

“I don’t know. I work to play every single game, but it’s the decision of the coach.”

No matter how much he plays, Morales likes the offensive potential of a team that scored just 42 goals his first season and 45 last season, good for 11th in the league.

“Sixty,” he said with a big smile when asked how many goals the club can score this season. “(Striker) Octavio (Rivero) 15, Blas (Perez) 10, me 10 more, Bola … this is good, so many options this year, tactics.

“We have players faster, smart. Strong defence. I think the team is complete.”

gkingston@postmedia.com

 
 
 
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File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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