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After gruelling season, re-energized Morales ready to lead Whitecaps

02/18/2015 05:40 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - By the end of the 2014 season, Pedro Morales was running on fumes.

The Chilean midfielder joined the Vancouver Whitecaps last February immediately after a campaign with Spanish side Malaga, quickly becoming the captain and most influential player at his new club.

But with no down time to rest, and Major League Soccer's gruelling schedule that crisscrosses the continent, Morales began to wear down.

Now back with his teammates preparing for a new season, the 29-year-old is refreshed and re-energized.

"In any walk of life, if you had to work for 18 months non-stop without a holiday or a break ... you're Superman," said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson.

Morales scored a team-high 10 goals and added a club-record 12 assists with the Whitecaps in 2014 while helping to guide the team into the playoffs, where they lost to FC Dallas in the first round.

"I was feeling very tired (about) three games before the last game with Dallas," said Morales, whose English has steadily improved since arriving in Vancouver. "Now I feel good. It's a different league. So many flights, time difference. It's different.

"I had time with my family and got some good rest. I feel better for the start of the season and the start of the games."

The Whitecaps are back in Vancouver after a week of training in Arizona before heading out for three pre-season games at a tournament in Portland, Ore., beginning Sunday.

Morales' teammates said they are looking forward to seeing what he can do with his batteries fully charged as the Whitecaps continue to prepare for their opener on March 7 at home against Toronto FC.

"Pedro relished the chance to get some vacation and catch his breath," said goalkeeper David Ousted. "I think this year we'll see him rejuvenated and with a little bit more energy. That bodes well for the team."

Morales — just recently back from Chile after the birth of his second child — is the straw that stirs the drink in the centre of the park for the Whitecaps, distributing the ball for a club that prides itself on keeping possession.

"He's healthier than the last part of the season last year. We expect the best from him," said veteran midfielder Mauro Rosales. "He's the leader, he's the captain, so we have to follow him and try to give him the opportunity to be the best he can (be)."

Morales won't make any predictions in terms of goals and assists, adding that there is already "more pressure for me to play very well," but his coach is eager to see the 2014 MLS Newcomer of the Year take his game even higher.

"He's come back refreshed, he's got a new addition to his family so he'll have a bigger smile on his face," said Robinson. "But I've wanted more from Pedro because I see it daily how good a player he is. I do expect more from him, and I think he expects more from himself as well."

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