BURNABY, B.C. - It was the first day of training for a new season, but first the Vancouver Whitecaps had to take care of some old business.
Midfielder Barry Robson was noticeably absent Monday when the Whitecaps opened their 2013 Major League Soccer training camp. Team officials said Robson was away for "personal reasons" but later in the afternoon the club announced it had parted ways with the fiery Scotsman.
In a release posted on the Whitecaps' website the team thanked Robson for his contributions.
"Unfortunately Barry and his family never fully settled in Vancouver and we've mutually decided to move in different directions," Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps' president, said in the release. "On behalf of the club, I wish Barry the very best in the next stage of his career."
The Whitecaps signed Robson mid-season last year from English club Middlesbrough. He was given a three-year contract worth US$600,000 annually.
A fierce competitor, Robson drew criticism for ranting at referees and his own teammates. In 17 games the 34-year-old had three goals and two assists.
In the release, Robson thanked his teammates, coaches, staff, fans, and media "for making my experience in Vancouver enjoyable."
"I am now looking forward to returning home and beginning the next chapter in my career," he said.
Prior to the official announcement, Whitecaps' captain Jay DeMerit said that like a lot of elite players, Robson was emotional and vocal on the field.
"They are not doing it to be mean, they're not doing it to be ill-willed," said the Vancouver defender. "They are doing it because they care and they are passionate about their sport."
DeMerit spoke with Robson last year about the differences between playing in Europe and North America.
"This is a different culture over here than it is overseas," DeMerit said. "Unfortunately, people aren't going to change for him. He's going to have to change for people."
Also missing from the first day of training was veteran goaltender Joe Cannon, who recently was married; midfielder Russell Teibert of Niagara Falls, Ont., who is participating in a Canadian national team training camp in the U.S.; and Argentine centre back Martin Bonjour. There is speculation the Whitecaps are also trying to move Bonjour and his US$277,000 salary.
Among the new faces were strikers Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado, selected fourth and fifth in last week's MLS SuperDraft; and centre back Brad Rusin, who was signed earlier this month after playing in Denmark.
Manneh, of Gambia, and Hurtado, of Fredericksburg, Va., both bring explosive speed and goal-scoring ability to the Whitecaps. Vancouver scored just 35 goals last year, third least in the league.
Head coach Martin Rennie liked what he saw during the first practice.
"Both of them are similar in the sense they are fast, dynamic players," said Rennie. "They are both a goal threat.
"Both of them looked pretty sharp. I think it will take them a little while to get used to their surroundings and get to know all the players. I was impressed with them."
Manneh, who has trained with Chelsea and Liverpool in the past, was left shivering by the cool temperatures.
"I'm freezing," he said. "I'm not used to this cold. I can't feel my fingers right now."
Even with the weather Manneh was excited about joining the team.
"I can't wait to get a game going," said the five-foot-nine, 145-pound native of Bakau.
At six-foot-four and 210 pounds, Rusin adds some size to Vancouver's backline. The 26-year-old spent two-plus seasons playing for Rennie with the Carolina RailHawks of the North American Soccer League.
"He's a big guy," said Rennie. "He's had two years in Europe where he's developed even more.
"I think he will be an excellent player."
Rennie took over as Whitecaps' coach last season following Vancouver's disastrous 2011 MLS debut where the team managed just six wins and finished tied for the worst record in the league.
With Rennie at the helm the Whitecaps managed an 11-13-10 record in 2012 to finish fifth in the Western Conference and become the first Canadian team to advance to the MLS playoffs, where they lost to eventual MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
DeMerit said the team has a different attitude heading into this season.
"There is a quiet sense of confidence," he said. "You have a team that achieved a lot last year.
"We know we still have a lot to improve on, both from a player perspective and a team perspective. We can always get better. What we did last year is continue to build a foundation as we try to do this every year and make the playoffs every year and be a team that people will always respect."
The Whitecaps will train in Vancouver until Friday, then spent nine days in Arizona. While in Arizona, the team will play a pair of pre-season matches against the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo.