Vancouver Whitecaps Season Preview

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After an enthralling 4-2 win over Canadian rivals Toronto FC the rest of the season would be rather devoid of highlights as the Whitecaps would go on to have a dismal season, finishing last in the league with a 6-18-10 record.

There’s a positive outlook after a solid preseason this year going forward after Vancouver posted four shutouts en route to winning the Disney Pro Soccer Classic Tournament. With the season starting tomorrow, here’s our preview of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Key Additions
The Vancouver Whitecaps made wholesale changes to the organization over the offseason and no area was exempt. Not only did they reshape their front office and coaching staff, but a number of marquee acquisitions were made.

The biggest addition has to be South Korean legend Young-Pyo Lee. The versatile defender should become a cornerstone at rightback, a position the Whitecaps had trouble filling all last season.

One of the biggest surprises of the offseason came when Vancouver traded for Sébastien Le Toux. The former Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders forward comes to the Whitecaps as one of the league’s most consistent performers and should provide an offensive spark to a team that scored a league low 35 goals last season.

The team also announced that Scottish international midfielder Barry Robson had been signed to a Designated Player contract and would be arriving in Vancouver in June. The 33 year old is largely considered to be the best player for Middlesbrough, a team in the 2nd tier English league, and is known as an experienced and skilled veteran. His arrival should solidify a midfield that oftentimes looked shaky last season.
Three questions facing this team

  1. 1.     Will the back four stay healthy, or for that matter, the same?
    To count the number of combinations the Whitecaps tried on defense last year is no small task. From the revolving door of rightbacks, to the injury woes of our centrebacks, no one player played the whole season at the same position on defense. With chemistry being an integral component to a sound defense, it will be important for whoever the starting four is on March 10th to develop a good connection.
  2.  Who will provide the secondary scoring?
    With Hassli and Camilo accounting for 63% of the team’s scoring last year, someone else clearly needs to step up and provide some offense. That man may very well be Le Toux, but the Whitecaps need more players to create goals, lest the offense become stagnant.
  3.  Can they score off set pieces?
    Anyone who watched the Whitecaps last year knows that their ability to convert off corners and free kicks was abysmal. In order to take the step from basement dwellers to playoff contenders, it’s an area they’ll have to improve on. It would add another dimension to a promising attack and keep defenders honest around the box. 

Key Players

The Whitecaps will hope to get repeat performances from forwards Eric Hassli and Camilo this year, but there are handful of returning players and new additions the organization hope will step up.

Joe Cannon
The grizzled veteran had flashes of brilliance but at times was unimpressive letting in the occasional bad goal. If the Whitecaps are to improve on their 55 goals against last season, Cannon will need to perform on a more consistent basis.

Jay DeMerit
Vancouver’s captain had a season to forget, as he was rendered ineffective for portions of the season with a nagging groin injury. With the help of new Whitecaps physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, DeMerit should be over his past problems and will have to be a linchpin for a defense that was in shambles last year.

Young-Pyo Lee
The much-travelled South Korean comes to the Whitecaps with much fanfare, and not just because of his reputation. Rightback was a problem all of last season for the Whitecaps as they tried no less then five players at the position in an attempt to find a starter. There’s no question Lee is of a different pedigree when it comes to players we’ve previously tried at that spot; the question is will he be able to handle the transition to the more physical MLS.

Breakout player to watch
Darren Mattocks

The University of Akron speedster is guaranteed to factor into matches with the ‘Caps this year after a fine preseason showing. The second overall pick in the 2012 MLS Super Draft has pace and an uncanny ability to get in behind defenders. Such skills will be a huge asset coming off the bench, especially in the late stages against weary defenders. If he learns to become a bit less selfish with the ball, he could stand to be a very productive player.

Prediction

Western Conference Fifth Overall

Despite all the improvements, a new coach means a new system and that means time will be needed to adapt to Rennie’s strategies. Combined with the new schedule, Vancouver will be faced with some tough competition as Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Dallas and Salt Lake all have dangerous teams. That being said, it’s a much improved team over last year and with the talent that has been brought in, the Whitecaps have a very real chance at a successful season, and will likely challenge for one of the last two playoff spots.

Good Luck to Martin Rennie and to everyone at Whitecaps FC as they begin Round 2!

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