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Familiar Faces On Trial in Tucson

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Former Whitecap Dane Richards is one of three MLS players on trial with the 'Caps during their preparations for the 2015 Desert Friendlies in Tucson, Arizona.

Did you know Robert Earnshaw played briefly for Chicago? I'd completely forgotten about it until I read his Wikipedia page.
Did you know Robert Earnshaw played briefly for Chicago? I'd completely forgotten about it until I read his Wikipedia page.
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you waiting for the next under-the-radar signing - a.k.a. the "Robbo Special" - to be announced by the Vancouver Whitecaps may not have to wait too much longer. While it's by no means a guarantee of a future signing, the Whitecaps announced on Monday that four trialists have joined the team for their pre-season training camp in Tucson: Kalif Alhassan, Cristian Cavallini, Robert Earnshaw and... Dane Richards.

Yes, that Dane Richards:

If you look very closely at that highlight, you can see me in the "family section" attending my very first MLS-era Whitecaps game. I have fond memories of that Richards goal, the Barry Robson penalty (dear sweet jeebus was it struck with venom) and the debut of Kenny Miller. For some reason, I have no recollection of Alan Gordon scoring a goal, but then again this is the "Goonies"-era San Jose Earthquakes which nobody cared to think about once Chris Wondolowski came back down to Earth... but I digress.

My point is this: the 'Caps had to trade proven MLS commodity Sebastien Le Toux to get Richards, only to see the Jamaican bolt for Burnley at the first opportunity. Richards would make one unsuccessful appearance for the Championship side for being loaned to (and eventually joining) Norwegian second division side Bodø/Glimt. In fairness, Richards was one of the key pieces in Bodø/Glimt's promotion back to the first division, where they stayed at the end of last season thanks to a six-point gap between themselves and 14th-place Brann. That Richards is now on trial with Vancouver tells me two things: one, he's no longer a necessary commodity at the highest levels in Norway; and two, the bridge was only singed, not burnt, when Richards left for England.  If he ends up signing, my patience will be exceptionally short for him to not only produce but show a commitment to the club. After all, they had to give up Le Toux to get him - a move that I didn't agree with at the time and certainly didn't agree with once Burnley came calling.

Elsewhere in the list of trialists, we find two former players from rival teams: winger Kalif Alhassan of the Portland Timbers and forward Robert Earnshaw of Toronto FC (and, ever so briefly, the Chicago Fire). Alhassan joined the Timbers for final season in USL in 2010; since the jump to MLS in 2011, he has five goals in 93 league appearances for the Rose City club. From what I recall of seeing Alhassan on the pitch during Cascadia Cup matches, his primary use was that of a sub with the rare starting role - even rarer once better talent began arriving at the club. While there might be some chemistry in reuniting with former Timber Pa Modou Kah, I can't see Alhassan sticking around with the club. Goodness knows the 'Caps have enough off-the-bench wingers as it is. The other former MLS player is Welsh-Zambian Robert Earnshaw, whose claim to fame is being the only player to have scored a hat-trick at every professional level of soccer in England, plus the FA Cup and League Cup. He has 58 international caps for Wales, more than 400 appearances and 150 goals under his belt in a professional career stretching back to 1998... really, the only stain on his CV is having played in the career-ruining quagmire that is Toronto FC. Even then, he managed eight goals in 26 appearances, which isn't to be sneezed at. As far as depth strikers go, Earnshaw has a solid track record at the highest levels of the game and would be an excellent veteran option for the 'Caps young striker core - assuming the price is right. If Earnshaw is looking for a big payday, he'd better not find it here.

The final trialist announced is a young one: twenty-year-old Cristian Cavallini, brother of Canadian Men's National Team member Lucas Cavallini. Cristian has been playing in League 1 Ontario and has "SIGN ME FOR WFC2" plastered across his forehead in blinking neon lights. Fingers crossed Cavallini the Younger impresses and makes it an easy decision for the 'Caps to increase their stock of young Canadian talent.

Speaking of young talent, one final note from today's announcement: SuperDraft pick Kay Banjo has "decided to pursue other opportunities outside of North America", as per the press release, leaving the Whitecaps with his MLS rights. Having not had any opinion of Banjo before, I have nothing further to add now and doubt I'll have anything to say later.