Kenny Miller

Vancouver Whitecaps showing their true capabilities with great MLS start

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have begun the 2015 MLS season with a bang, climbing to the top of the Western Conference rankings and holding the highest point total in the league after five games.

We once saw the Caps as a legitimate threat in the West when they seized a playoff spot by finishing in fifth place in 2012, when both Camilo Sanvezzo and former Wolverhampton Wanderer Kenny Miller were present as forwards.

However, it’s the team as a whole that wins games, and Vancouver just couldn’t mesh the piece together to successfully compete for the postseason in 2013, while their inaugural campaign in 2011 went poorly due to a last-place conclusion.

Could the end of 2015 mark the first time the Caps seize a top-three position in their conference? It very well could, as long as they remain consistent and potent enough on the offensive end to cancel out any major difficulties in defense.

[RELATED: Whitecaps 2-2 Crew–recap]

Manager Carl Robinson believes that performance maintenance will be necessary to stay unbeaten.

“I don’t want to be a good team one week and a very poor team the next two or three weeks. It’s about consistency,” he said to media following a spectacular 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy. “With young players you have inconsistency sometimes. My job, and my staff’s job, is to make sure we get them more consistent than not. That’s part of our focus here. We’ll enjoy it. It’s one game.”

According to Squawka statistics, the Whitecaps have the best attacking “performance score” (649) in the league, and the next highest total comes from the Portland Timbers, who have netted a sum of goals tied for third in MLS.

Robinson’s side acquired the skills of the game-changing scoring forward Octavio Rivero in December, and since playing in Uruguay for the majority of his young career, the 23-year-old was not highly touted coming to America.

But so far, he’s demonstrated his worth magnificently to a squad that lacked a dangerous forward in their failed quest to hit the playoff mark a season ago. Rivero has five goals in six contests and is currently the top scorer in MLS.

Although his individual ability in recent weeks has drawn widespread attention, the Caps have enjoyed above average performances from several other players, most notably midfielder Pedro Morales, the ex-Malaga man rivaling Rivero’s substantial impact.

Without Morales, the Whitecaps’ midfield would not function as dynamically, and no doubt, he would serve as a major piece to any MLS team’s aspirations for the Cup.

In cohesion with the Chilean, the rest of the squad have done their parts; Kendall Watson and Matias Laba have put in great defensive work, Nicolas Mezquida has ramped up 1-on-1 pressure and Kekuta Manneh has provided a considerable attacking spark.

Even against the Columbus Crew, despite falling a goal behind twice, Vancouver managed to fight back after both sequences, and showcased a focused winning resolve that disappeared at times in 2014.

Given the severe fluctuations in America’s top-flight, we don’t know whether or not the Caps end up faltering this year. Right now, they’re on fire, but heading into San Jose having just played a match on Wednesday, failing to get points would not come as a huge surprise.

The Whitecaps’ responses to losing scenarios will ultimately determine the path their season takes.

Third time’s the charm? Kenny Miller giving Rangers another go

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Scottish striker Kenny Miller has played all over the world but keeps coming home to Rangers.

A month after parting ways with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Miller has signed a one-year deal to bring him back to the Scottish Championship club where he spent 2000-01 and 2008-11.

Miller said he had plenty of options, but couldn’t say no to trying to lift Rangers back to the Scottish Premier League.

From the BBC:

“I have enjoyed so much success at this great football club and I am determined to repeat it again next season and beyond.

“Rangers is a special football club and we are on the rise again. I want to play my part as we look to get back to the top of Scottish football.

“I had a number of offers once I left Vancouver but I had my heart set on returning to Ibrox and I can’t wait to get started again.”

Miller has also played at Celtic, Cardiff City, Bursaspor and Wolverhampton amongst other stops. He scored 13 goals in 43 MLS appearances for Vancouver.

Designated Player slot open in Vancouver as Miller, ‘Caps part ways

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Carl Robinson’s lukewarm endorsement of Designated Player Kenny Miller now seems a bit of foreshadowing as the Vancouver Whitecaps terminated the Scottish forward’s contract on Sunday after the two sides failed to agree to an extension.

Miller said he wanted to get off the market “early doors” after scoring in Vancouver’s opener, and now he’s on the market earlier than expected since his contract ran through June.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“We are thankful for the contributions Kenny made both on and off the pitch during his time in Vancouver,” said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson. “He has been a great role model, a constant professional, and someone who I consider a very good friend. We wish him and his family all the best.”

Miller, 34, joined the Whitecaps in June 2012 and during his time with the club the native of Edinburgh, Scotland, made 45 appearances in all competitions, registering 13 goals and adding three assists.

Miller’s three goals are tied with Kekuta Manneh and Pedro Morales for the club lead, but he’s one of four Vancouver forwards to have scored multiple goals this year (Darren Mattocks and Sebastian Fernandez have also scored twice). His departure leaves midfielders Matias Laba and Morales as the ‘Caps only DPs.

MLS Picks: Could be a big weekend for goal-lovers in the United States

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Major League Soccer’s second weekend features the debut of three team’s seasons, including the much-publicized contest between Toronto FC and the Sounders in Seattle. Let’s take a look at what else is cooking and who could come out on top.

By the way, Los Angeles gets the weekend off after its CONCACAF Champions League match but San Jose and Sporting KC have to play on? Couldn’t MLS have at least pitted the two sides against each other? The CCL schedule wasn’t a mystery, was it?

New York vs. Colorado, 4p.m. ET Saturday
Despite a 4-1 loss in Vancouver to open the season, Mike Petke got a ray of sunshine this week when his new contract was formally announced. And now he can suit up his full lineup with Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave, away from British Columbia’s turf. Colorado has plenty to look forward to with new boss Pablo Mastroeni, new captain Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne moving back to center back, but it may not have much fun this week, testing its season legs out against a bitter NYRB. The pick: New York 2, Colorado 0.

Philadelphia vs. New England, 4p.m. ET Saturday
New England was on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline on opening weekend, while Philadelphia gave away a chance at full points against a strong Portland team. Maurice Edu is talking about making PPL Park a scary place, and the Union can get off to a good start Saturday. Jack McInerney kicked off his season with a goal en route to what could be another hot start for the 21-year-old. How many would he need by mid-April to raise a Klinsmann-brow? It’s early in the season but feels like a win here would be gigantic for new-look Philadelphia, especially after the Timbers tie. New England still looking for its form. Close one? The pick: Philadelphia 2, New England 1.

Seattle vs. Toronto, 4:30p.m. ET Saturday (WATCH LIVE ON NBCSN)
It’s the big one (though one gets the feeling many TFC matches will be treated as such this season, at least early). Reds captain Steven Caldwell told our own Joe Prince-Wright that the “sky’s the limit” for Toronto this year, and I tend to agree, even if boss Ryan Nelsen isn’t feeling the Seattle turf. And while it may take some time for TFC to find its form as a unit, they have the talent to stick it out in nearly any match. Subplots a-plenty here, and I expect Sounders keeper Stefan Frei to have his say in this one. The pick: Seattle 1, Toronto 1.

Sporting KC vs. Dallas, 8:30p.m. ET Saturday
KC held back some regulars in its CCL win over Cruz Azul this week, and that could pay dividends as they face a Dallas squad that barely held off visiting Montreal last weekend. I think it’ll take time for Oscar Pareja’s system to take hold in Texas and, while ultimately it should work out for Dallas, that won’t help against the reigning champs in a home opener, stung by a last-second loss in Seattle last week. Zusi time. The pick: Sporting KC 2, Dallas 0.

Houston vs. Montreal, 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
The last time these two teams met, things got extremely ugly. We’re talking throat-grabbing, kicking-out ugly. That match also sent Montreal home for the year, and none of the players involved in the fracas will feature this week, either for suspensions or injuries. It’s another week in Texas for the Impact, who will hope to be on the winning end after dropping a 3-2 decision to Dallas last week. Houston looked dominant against New England, and I suspect that’ll be the case again on Saturday. The pick: Houston 3, Montreal 1.

San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake, 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday
If I’m anyone associated with the Quakes, I’m crazy ticked off with MLS for giving my club a huge early season match just days after a pretty big CONCACAF Champions League tie. Come on, right? Now Real Salt Lake walks into Buck Shaw Stadium with a red-hot keeper and the No.1 slot in PST’s Power Rankings. This is a tough spot for San Jose, even at home. The pick: Real Salt Lake 2, San Jose 1.

Portland v. Chicago, 3p.m. ET Sunday
Chicago didn’t exactly impress in an opening loss to Chivas USA, but it was a cross-country trip to face an inspired squad. Portland’s a different animal altogether, especially in the confines of Providence Park. The Timbers opened the season with a tie against Philadelphia, and they’ll find more than a goal as they find the win column for the first time this season. The pick: Portland 2, Chicago 0.

Chivas USA vs. Vancouver, 7p.m. ET Sunday
This one could be a blast in an “under the radar” sort of way. Chivas was entertaining moving forward and, sadly for them, in defense against Chicago last weekend but picked up a huge win for head coach Wilmer Cabrera and company. On the other side, Kenny Miller and the Whitecaps played a smart match against New York that propelled them to a 4-1 win despite not having a ton of possession. This match has endless possibilities and I’m looking forward to one of those “Coaches’ fright, fans’ delight” matches. The pick: Vancouver 3, Chivas USA 2.

Vancouver’s Kenny Miller wants to extend his deal soon, but how long to keep the veteran?

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Lots of folks are loving life in Vancouver after the Whitecaps opened the head coaching tenure of Carl Robinson with a 4-1 throttling of New York this weekend, and you can count striker Kenny Miller among them.

The 34-year-old Scotsman scored twice in the win, and his postgame comments made sure to make mention that he’ll be out of his contract in June and would really like to stick around.

“Listen, it’s one game. As I said before, we don’t get carried away. It’s fantastic, we’re going to go away and enjoy it – but it would be great to be off the market early doors.”

Of course, he’ll want to strike while his boots are hot. Miller is a Designated Player, bearing the same mark as Pedro Morales and Matias Laba. So how long of a deal would it take to keep the elder of the three (Morales is 28 and Laba is 22)? That will play a big role in any decision on his future.

He’s making $1.1 million and has netted 12 times in 37 appearances for the Whitecaps. He’s three goals away from 200 in a  585-appearance career that saw him play for Rangers, Celtic, Bursaspor, Wolverhampton, Derby County and Hibernian before arriving in Vancouver.

Presumably Miller would rather get an extension that pushes his deal through this season and maybe next, and could play the “going home” hand if things don’t work out before June. He retired from international soccer after scoring in Scotland’s 3-2 loss to England last August, so his only business is club soccer.

The smart money’s on Vancouver getting him to stick around through at least this season, but manager Carl Robinson used a wary approach when discussing Miller’s desires in late February. It’s something monitor, especially if the Scot keeps scoring.