New Whitecaps trio aims to create offence


Pérez, Bolanos, Kudo — a villian, gentleman and Japanese League newcomer — aim to create more flair and goals

Midfielder Christian Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Whitecaps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence.

Midfielder Christian Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Whitecaps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence.

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

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There was a moment during Sunday’s Whitecaps-Chicago Fire pre-season game that was almost comical. In reality, it was a moment that said a lot about the subtle game of new Caps midfielder Christian Bolanos.

The 31-year-old Costa Rican, a two-time World Cup veteran, collected the ball in midfield and just stopped moving, the ball sitting about a foot or so away.

In the press box, there were puzzled looks. Did the whistle blow? Had no one heard it but Bolanos? Was there an infraction somewhere? Perhaps a loose ball on the field?

No, it was just Bolanos toying with the opposition. He wanted the Fire defenders to make the first move, to come at him, thus creating a passing lane. There was no sense of urgency on his part. It was just about being cool and calculating.

“When you watch him play, he oozes quality,” says Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “He does that in the middle of the field and people say he’s sublimely confident.

“(Centre back) Kendall Waston does that and I go ballistic because I want my defenders to defend. It’s the old adage that in any team you need piano players and piano carriers. Each have an equally important role within the team. Christian’s role will be creating, scoring and making the team tick.”

When he wasn’t inviting defenders to challenge him, Bolanos was shielding off potential tacklers with so little panic that you wanted to race to the field and check for a pulse. He would simply turn his back and, with little movement and no hurried actions, he would wait until the right passing opportunity presented itself.

“You cannot go to sleep and when you wake up you got it,” he says of that ability to slow the game down. “It’s not like that. I get that experience because I play many games. Of course, I feel comfortable when I get the ball to slow down because you cannot play high (energy) all the time.

“You have to be thinking, play smart. That’s football, especially in this time when (the game) is so strong defensive. You have to be calm. That’s the way I play.”

Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Caps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence, to potentially add 10 to 15 goals to the 45 Vancouver tallied last season.

Rugged striker Blas Pérez, a 34-year-old Panamanian international, is the only one of the three with Major League Soccer experience, having spent four seasons with FC Dallas where he scored 36 goals in 78 games.

Forward Masato Kudo, 25, joins the Caps from the Japanese League, where he tallied 92 times in 287 games for Kashiwa Reysol.

Eight to 10 goals from each of them playing alongside, or in a rotation with, second-year striker Octavio Rivero would be huge. Bolanos can score, too — 51 goals in 360 league games in Costa Rica, Denmark, Norway and Qatar — but he’s primarily a playmaker, a crafty tactician who creates opportunities for others.

Fun in the streets

Bolanos grew up in a barrio outside the Costa Rican capital of San Jose. His family, which included an older brother, Jonathan, who played two MLS games with Chicago and in the old USL First Division, was poor. But it was still a happy childhood.

“It was very fun, with a lot of friends, enjoy all the time football in the street with my friends. I learn many things there. I’m very proud that I can make many things by football. I play World Cups, I play Champions League, so I make many good things for the young people to see that if you are focused and you concentrate and you go hard, you can make things possible.”

Bolanos joined storied Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa at age 17. He spent six seasons there, playing alongside current Caps centre back Kendall Waston in 2006-07, before moving on to Denmark and later Norway. Last year, he played 11 games in Qatar and 13 back with Saprissa before signing with the Caps.

Three times during his career it looked like he might play in England but it never worked out. Liverpool tried to sign him after he starred for Saprissa in the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup, but the Costa Rican side wouldn’t agree to a move.

A year later after a strong turn for Costa Rica in the 2006 World Cup, then-Premier League side Charlton Athletic signed him. But he couldn’t secure a work permit. In 2012, relegated Wolverhampton made a pitch, but that move fell through as well.

He rues the fact he didn’t get to play in the Premier League — “I was young, I dream a lot” — but notes that he still played 20 Champions League games with Copenhagen, getting to face the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea and Barcelona.

In 2011, his Danish side drew 1-1 with visiting Barcelona, then at the height of its domination. Bolanos was quick to exchange shirts afterwards with the Barca goal scorer. That Lionel Messi jersey now hangs in his mom’s home.

“It was sometimes tough,” he says of his seven seasons in Scandinavia. “Football in Denmark is very physical, a lot of running, so I have to change my mind a little bit. But it made me stronger.”

He has won 14 trophies in his career, including a CONCACAF Champions Cup, and led Costa Rica on a surprising run to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals.

Representing a country of just five million people, Los Ticos advanced out of a group that included Italy, England and Uruguay, and then defeated Greece on penalties. Few gave them a chance against the Netherlands in the quarters, but they did push the Dutch to penalties before falling.

They were crowd favourites in Brazil, silencing the doubters and inspiring a nation back home. “At that moment, we feel like we could go to the semifinals, even to the finals, even if we are Costa Rica,” he laughs. “I know it’s hard to understand, but that’s football. It’s nice to see the small (countries) win.

“In penalties against Holland, we feel like we wasn’t lucky,” added Bolanos, who was credited with creating the most chances for the Costa Rican side in the tournament. “But we make proud all the people in my country. It was a great lesson that we can fight to win something for our small country. A big memory for me.”

Bolanos says he was drawn to MLS by Robinson’s persistence. The coach chased him for two years. He also relishes the opportunity to continue to expose his family — he has a daughter, 13, and a son, seven, both of whom “speak better English than me” — to different cultures.

Despite his successes worldwide, Bolanos insists that he still has a burning desire to win.

“If I do not win anything, I am not happy. It takes time to make champions, but I hope we can make a good year in Vancouver and win the league in MLS.”

Kudo out, Pérez shines

Kudo has missed nearly two weeks of training because of an unspecified medical condition and might not be available for the regular-season opener a week Sunday, but Pérez showed in 60 minutes on Wednesday just what he can bring to the Caps in a 2-0 pre-season win over Portland. A villain in every opposing stadium, the physical, give-no-quarter striker drew boos at introduction and again whenever he drew a foul, appealed for one or committed an infraction.

It was against a second-choice Timbers squad, but Pérez won headers, did a wonderful job holding up the ball and scored a poacher’s goal.

He’s definitely a tough man to play against. But teammates love him, appreciating his attitude on and off the field. In the dressing room, he’s a joker and willing to share information with younger players. “Blas is a great player … and now playing with him, it’s crazy how Dallas let him go,” said teenage midfielder Marco Bustos. “To have him on our team, it’s something we’ve never had before. To have that, that’s an asset to us.”

It’s been asset accumulation for the Caps in 2016 — an on-field bad guy in Pérez, a still unknown in Kudo and a gentleman and proven winner in Bolanos.

Midfielder Christian Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Whitecaps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence.

Midfielder Christian Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Whitecaps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence.

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

Midfielder Christian Bolanos is one of three experienced attacking players the Whitecaps have added this season in an attempt to create more offence.
Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Masato Kudo.
Striker Blas Pérez, 34, is the only one of the three newest Vancouver Whitecaps with previous Major League Soccer experience. Below, forward Masato Kudo, 25, joins the team from the Japanese League.
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