When Daigo Kobayashi first came on trial and then signed for the Whitecaps during last winter it came as a bit of a surprise. It wasn't that many were surprised that we had signed him, but because we really didn't know that much about the man from Fuji, Japan. Before signing with the 'Caps the 30-year old midfielder had spent the majority of his career playing in the J-League and also had spells in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and the Greek Super League. During his time with Tokyo Verdy Daigo was a member of the team that won an Emperor's Cup and a Super Cup in 2004-05. After Tokyo Verdy was relegated in 2005 Kobayashi then moved to Omiya Ardija and became one of the club's star players before moving to Europe. Prior to signing with Vancouver he had returned to Japan where he had most recently been playing for Shimizu S-Pulse.
Kobayashi is known to be a technically talented and gifted player. When he was signed by the club there must have been some hope that he would fill the gap left by Davide Chiumiento, who was sold last year to Swiss outfit FC Zurich. Martin Rennie stated that he was pleased that Kobayashi was joining the team and that he was expecting him to create goals with his movement and his 'excellent final pass'. We did see his passing skills on show in the home opener against Toronto FC when he nicely teed up the ball for Gershon Koffie's winning goal.
So what have we seen so far this season from Kobayashi? In one of his first appearances for the club in a pre-season match against the Charleston Battery he scored a memorable goal. This was followed by an equally impressive strike in Week 2 of the MLS season versus the Columbus Crew. Kobayashi then found the back of the net again in the home leg of the Voyageur's Cup match versus the Montreal Impact. According to his all time statistics he has scored 42 goals in almost 340 appearances prior to this season. Should we be expecting him to score goals or is he the creative midfield player we've been looking for? I would suggest the latter. In a season that has been highlighted by injuries (Kobayashi himself has had an ankle injury that may not have healed 100% as of yet) and 'tinkering' of the lineup have we seen him at his most effective position or at his best for the Whitecaps? I don't think so. In this regard I see him in a similar place that Kenny Miller was last year, although Kobayashi had the benefit of having a full pre-season which was something that Miller could not take advantage of when he arrived here in mid-season. To a certain extent I think he is still learning how to play the physical MLS style of play and also I wonder if the 'Caps have found the right position to play him at. This of course has not been helped by the various lineups used by Rennie and injuries to the squad. The recent injury to Koffie and Nigel Reo-Coker's temporary move to right back have not helped consistency in midfield in recent weeks. In actual fact with Reo-Coker at playing right back for Young-Pyo Lee it was Matt Watson who was called into the side and stepped up for the matches at D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City with two very solid performances. Daigo was fairly quiet in the DCU match, but last night showed some of his early season form. Kobayashi's fans certainly hope that it is the start of a come-back because for a player who is earning more than Reo-Coker patience is starting to wear thin.
Finally what can we expect moving forward? That's a good question. Rennie is known for being patient with his players. I suspect that with the big match versus Seattle on Saturday he will return to a familiar midfield of Daigo, Reo-C and Koffie. If these three could find the same chemistry together that Russell Teibert, Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller have found up front this season then look out. But will we see that happen this season? I really cannot say, but I do know if things remain unchanged this discussion will go on for some time to come.