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Playing on Borrowed Time?

Some time ago, our Mark Dailey penned an excellent piece examining Daigo Kobayashi, his supposed role with the Whitecaps, and the trials he had undergone adjusting to a team seemingly in constant flux, and to life in MLS in general. At the time, Dailey pointed out that the midfielder's luck - and performance - would need to change. Well, more than a month onward, it hasn't.

It's been a long season of adjustments for Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Daigo Kobayashi.
It's been a long season of adjustments for Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Daigo Kobayashi.

As they say, "Numbers don't lie." So let's take a good hard look at them in Kobayashi's case: 20 games played, almost 1,200 minutes racked up, four shots on goal, and a total of one goal and a single assist. His scoring percentage of 0.08 is the lowest on the team among the goal scorers.

Kobayashi has played almost exactly the same number of minutes as the Whitecaps' now-hybrid midfielder, Gershon Koffie. The Ghanaian's account looks like this: 17 games played, six shots on goal, with two scores and three assists. Even both starting FBs have more in the way of points production than Kobayashi.

Kobayashi's salary? $238,833 in guaranteed salary - making him the highest-paid midfielder on the Caps, and the fourth-highest paid Cap overall, just a shade ahead of Nigel Reo-Coker.

Back in early July, Dailey wondered if Daigo should be looked upon as a goal scorer, or more of a setup guy. There's only one answer to that question so far, and it's a resounding neither.

In fairness, he has been a victim of circumstance to a large degree, but it must also be said that when he's had the opportunity to unburden himself from a pile of crappy karma he hasn't delivered.

When Kobayashi's signing was first announced in late January, I'm sure I wasn't alone in asking "Daigo who?" A little research later, and my tune had changed to "Daigo! Whoo!" A true international player, having garnered extensive experience in the J-League, the Greek Super League, and Norway's Tippeligaen. An attacking midfielder at that.

It was clear that the Whitecaps had signed someone who was, if not a pure replacement for Davide Chiumiento, a reasonable facsimile thereof. The old J-league highlights certainly backed up the notion, while the pre-season scorpion-kick goal definitely cemented the idea that we had a dynamic player and creative thinker on our hands.

Kobayashi earned a well-deserved assist on opening day, laying off crisply into the path of Gershon Koffie. He followed that up in Week 2 with the MLS Goal of the Week against a visiting Columbus side. Since then, it's been an uphill battle for Vancouver's #14.

Some of Kobayashi's initial success was down to Martin Rennie's preference for the 4-2-3-1 in the early stages of the 2013 season. Slotted into the middle of the three attacking mids, Kobayashi could make use of his greatest assets: superb vision and excellent final ball delivery. But, as the season wore on, and notably from the Caps' spectacular 3-0 defeat of the Galaxy onward, Rennie shifted heavily toward a 4-3-3, with a holding mid flanked by two (generally) attacking mids. With the center of the park now owned by a defensive-minded midfielder, Kobayashi has had to shift either out wide right, or more recently over to the left side of the pitch - since the Reo-Coker & Teibert connection seems to work so well.

It's no secret that Daigo's struggled out near the chalk lines, but he's not going to supplant any of the three forwards (Miller, Camilo or Teibert), who've formed a genuine chemistry, nor is he going to find himself in a central defensive role. He's got a skill set that seems tailor made for a 4-2-3-1, but that formation's not been on Rennie's radar for ages.

Kobayashi's plight seems somewhat reminiscent of the situation Eric Hassli found himself in last season: being a very square peg consistently being hammered into an exquisitely round hole, resulting in a long drought. Sooner or later, something's got to give.

At almost 250k per season, and not getting the opportunity to play where he plays best, I'm not so sure Daigo Kobayashi isn't playing on borrowed time.