Vancouver Whitecaps kick off their 2012 Major League Soccer season Saturday against Canadian rivals Montreal Impact at BC Place. After finishing rock bottom last year, Vancouver will be hoping for a massive improvement this time around. With an off-season of transformation, both on and off the pitch, Michael McColl looks ahead at what the season may hold in store for Whitecaps supporters.
All Change For Vancouver:
The off-season has been a frenetic one for the Vancouver Whitecaps. The club has an all new management team, 12 new players and changes in front office personnel, as it aims to improve on 2011′s last place finish.
Club president, Bob Lenarduzzi, knows it was a disappointing season, but is certain that the team can learn from its first year mistakes.
“We didn’t have a good year and we all need to take responsibility for that. I honestly think that all of us, myself included, underestimated the level of play in MLS,” he said. “Over the course of a 30-plus game season, there’s a quality in MLS that is certainly much greater than I think we had anticipated. We won’t make that mistake this year.”
New head coach Martin Rennie is the man charged with turning the Whitecaps’ fortunes around and the Scotsman has been quick to bring in a mix of players known to him and talent from around the world.
Perhaps Vancouver’s biggest signing of the off-season was All Star striker Sebastien Le Toux, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. The experienced target man has a proven goal scoring record in MLS and is set to form a mouthwatering partnership up front with fellow Frenchman, Eric Hassli.
New designated player Barry Robson will be joining from English side Middlesbrough in July and will look to bolster the Caps’ push for the playoffs.
Pre-season has gone well. The club won the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando last weekend, with four wins and four clean sheets against MLS opposition. Expectations are running high for what Vancouver can achieve this season, but Rennie is unphased.
“I’m not too concerned by other people’s expectations. For me it’s just about managing our team and managing what we’ve got to do,” Rennie said. “We believe we’ve got a good team and we want to make sure that every time we step on the field we compete as hard as we can, so that all of the fans and everybody associated with the club is proud of what the guys do.
“I believe that’s a realistic goal for us to go out every game and compete and have a good chance.”
The Spirit of the West:
With MLS now boasting 19 teams, following the addition of Montreal, the league has moved away from a balanced schedule.
That means more regional matches for Vancouver against Western Conference rivals and a tougher schedule.
The gulf in quality between the Eastern and Western sides in MLS has continued to grow in recent seasons, and looks big again in 2012.
For Vancouver to break into the playoffs, they have to successfully compete with the West’s “Big Three”: LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake.
The star-studded LA Galaxy are fresh from winning last season’s MLS Cup and the return of David Beckham, along with Robbie Keane, Juninho and Landon Donovan, make L.A. the team to beat again. On paper, L.A. should run away with the title but thankfully soccer is played on grass (and turf).
Seattle Sounders have qualified for the playoffs in each of their three years in MLS but have struggled taking that final leap to be championship contenders. Could this be their year? They’ll be tough in the regular season but it looks like it will be the same old story in the playoffs and their squad seems weaker.
Real Salt Lake
The Whitecaps have a real shot for at least a third place finish in the West. Real Salt Lake stand in their way. They are still packed with talent and hard to beat at home. Last year injuries were the downfall of RSL but the team is finally starting to look healthy and are looking for a strong bounce back.
Vancouver’s squad looks infinitely better than the rest of the West. Chivas, Colorado, Dallas, Portland and San Jose are the teams that Vancouver need to consistently beat if they are to do anything this season.
This year’s Western conference match ups will definitely be the games to watch and the fans will be turning out in numbers to do just that.
The Whitecaps squad has a more experienced look to it this season, but there are still some young, rising stars to watch out for this year:
Michael Nanchoff – Last year’s second pick in the SuperDraft never really got a chance to show us what he can offer. Rennie has known him since his high school days and is a fan. Nanchoff impressed in pre-season in a central midfield role and could become a regular in the game day 18.
Bryce Alderson – A product of the Whitecaps’ excellent Residency program. Alderson has broken into the Caps MLS squad as a Generation Adidas player. Still just 18, he may not see many MLS minutes but could feature in Voyageurs Cup squads. Mature and assured in pre-season, he hasn’t looked out of place against older and more experienced opposition.
Greg Klazura – Overlooked in the SuperDraft, the Caps picked him up in the second round of the Supplemental Draft. Described by Rennie as “a project”, Klazura has continued to develop and impress in training camp. Will mostly be right back cover, but can play in defence and midfield on both wings.
Martin Rennie’s teams have been known for both their attacking and defensive qualities. Four clean sheets in pre-season indicate the gaps at the back have been plugged. Rennie likes his teams to build from the back and break quickly on the wings. It’s going to be an exciting season and there will be goals. Lots of them.
Dates for your diary:
May 2 & 9 – Voyageurs Cup semi final v Edmonton (2 legs)
May 16 & 23 – Voyageurs Cup final (2 legs)
May 19 – Seattle at BC Place
May 26 – Whitecaps at Portland
July 11 – Whitecaps at Toronto
July 18 – MLS Cup winners LA Galaxy visit BC Place
Aug. 18 – Whitecaps at Seattle
Aug. 25 – Whitecaps at Portland
Sep. 29 – Seattle at BC Place
Oct. 21 – Portland at BC Place
Oct. 27 – Last regular season game at Real Salt Lake
Nov. – MLS playoffs
Dec. 1 – MLS Cup
Fancy a flutter?:
Confident in the team that Martin Rennie has put together? Bodog have the Caps at 33/1 to win the MLS Cup. UK bookmakers have the Caps at 40/1, down from 66/1 just a few days ago. The squad is also sitting pretty in the official MLS Power Rankings. They’re currently No. 6 on the index, after spending most of 2011 near or at the bottom.
5 Keys To Success:
Stay Healthy – The injuries last season were crippling and hit any attempt at a settled line-up. Jay DeMerit and John Thorrington are two key players that need to stay healthy this season. If they can’t, top quality replacements must be found.
Build A Fortress– No team will go deep in the playoffs if they can’t win at home. BC Place needs to become a formidable fortress and the fans can play a huge part in that.
Road Warriors – No away wins last season was a major reason for the last place finish. Four wins pre-season in Orlando, and four clean sheets, may be the start of a change in fortunes on the road.
Depth Charges – The squad seems deeper in strength than last season and it will need to be for the inevitable injuries and hopefully a Champions League run.
Spread The Wealth – Camilo and Hassli accounted for 63 per cent of Caps’ goals last term. The rest of the team needs to contribute. The additions of Le Toux and Mattocks should help, but the team needs to average more than last season’s pitiful goals per game ratio.
Despite last year’s failings, player acquisitions have kept expectations high. The West will be a battle, but the Whitecaps should make the playoffs with the talent at their disposal, with 3rd or 4th place in the West a real possibility. The Voyageurs Cup should finally find a home in Vancouver, bringing the Caps’ first Champions League run.
About the author:
McColl began writing about football in 1989 and has freelanced for
various newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK. He moved to
Vancouver in 2007 where he currently pens the “Away From the Numbers” blogs on Canadian Soccer News and contributes to Prost Amerika. Michael is also a member o the North American Soccer Reporters association.
a proud member of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club, though his
views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the