BY DARCY GREEN
Vancouver Whitecaps FC had what can only be classified as a disappointing 2013 season.
For a team that was placed in a playoff spot by many prior to the season, the ‘Caps fell short of their target, finishing in seventh place in the MLS Western Conference. It was not all doom and gloom for the Blue and White, however, as the team set a new club record for wins and points in a single MLS season. It was a bright spot on a rather dull year.
Then the offseason came.
Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo, the 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner who notched 22 goals last season, walked away from his contract with the ‘Caps and was subsequently sold to Liga MX side Queretaro after a drawn out fiasco that the ‘Caps had not expected to deal with.
The team also parted ways with head coach Martin Rennie and replaced him with assistant coach Carl Robinson after a brief flirtation with former United States Men’s National Team coach Bob Bradley. Robinson has put his stamp on the ‘Caps roster by focusing on youth and attacking players, and bringing in the Uruguayan duo of Sebastián Fernández and Nicholás Mezquida. The former Welsh international also brought in Young Designated Player Matias Laba via a trade with Toronto FC, who was forced to unload the Argentinian holding midfielder after signing Gilberto, Jermain Defoe, and Michael Bradley as Designated Players this offseason.
Here is a closer look at the Vancouver Whitecaps heading into the 2014 season:
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS SEASON PREVIEW
2013 FINISH: 13-12-9, 48 points (seventh in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: M/F Sebastián Fernández, M/F Nicholás Mezquida, M Matias Laba, M Mehdi Ballouchy, M Andre Lewis, D Steven Beitashour, D Christian Dean, GK Paolo Tornaghi
KEY LOSSES: F Camilo Sanvezzo, F Corey Hertzog, F Tommy Heinemann, M Daigo Kobayashi, M Jun Marques Davidson, D Lee Young-Pyo, D Brad Rusin, D Greg Klazura, GK Joe Cannon, GK Brad Knighton, GK Simon Thomas
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Matias Laba. The Argentinian midfielder was brought to Whitecaps FC via a trade with Toronto FC and will look to form a key partnership in the midfield with Nigel Reo-Coker. Although primarily known as a holding midfielder, the Young Designated Player will also be expected to jump into the attack in Robinson’s new offensive system.
PRESSURE IS ON: Darren Mattocks & Omar Salgado. For a team who lost the league-leading goal scorer this offseason, the goals are going to need to come from elsewhere. This is where Jamaican international Darren Mattocks and 2011 draft pick Omar Salgado come in. Both players are expected to carry some of the goal scoring load this season, with Mattocks looking to get back into his 2012 form and Salgado looking to finally become the big-bodied striker the ‘Caps want him to be.
Much of the ‘Caps success this year will revolve around their ability to make up the 22 goals scored by Camilo last year and their adjustment to the new attacking system Carl Robinson has instilled.
The ‘Caps backline remains largely intact, with captain Jay DeMerit, Andy O’Brien, Johnny Leveron, Jordan Harvey, and Carlyle Mitchell returning. Although YP Lee has moved on, the team replaced the hole left by the Korean international with former San Jose Earthquakes right back Steven Beitashour, who should seamlessly replace Lee and is not afraid to get involved in the attack.
In the middle of the park, the key addition made from within MLS was Matias Laba, who will look to provide steady possession in the holding midfield role. Canadian Russell Teibert will be looking for a key role in the lineup for the second straight season, and Nigel Reo-Coker will likely continue his dominant play from last season. With the addition of Laba, Gershon Koffie may be the odd man out in a log-jammed midfield and will need to prove he deserves a spot in the team’s starting eleven.
In the attack, the ‘Caps have a plethora of youth to use up top. With the additions of Fernández and Mezquida, and the return of the youngsters Kekuta Manneh, and Mattocks, the Whitecaps will have a solid amount of speed and technical skill in their attacking play this season. The question that remains is where the goals will come from. Striker Kenny Miller will be expected to carry some of the load, as will Mattocks, Manneh, and perhaps Salgado. However, it is unknown whether the young attacking core of the team will be able to make up the 22 goals lost with the departure of Camilo.
If all goes right for the ‘Caps, the team will challenge for a playoff spot. However, it may be a tall task for a team that has so many questions surrounding it going into the 2014 season.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP