MLS ’12 Preview – Vancouver Whitecaps

Ahh, we’re almost here!

Last night’s CONCACAF Champions League showdowns really revved things up for me. There is something unique about the North American game. While not everyone is high on it, give them time…it’s getting there, and last night was proof.

We will run a predictions post tomorrow, something that we all like to forget come the end of October (unless we happened to be right).

So anyway, this is our last team profile. I was joking the other day with Robert Hay, that perhaps I should earn the de facto title of “Canadian Correspondent,” since after previewing Vancouver I’ll have profiled every north-of-the-US-border team. Honestly, I think the Canadian teams have grown by leaps and bounds this offseason, and we could be in for some surprises from those clubs. So let’s get to it…eh?

TEAM: Vancouver Whitecaps F.C.

COACH: Martin Rennie

LAST SEASON: 6 – 18 – 10 = 28 points, 9th Place Western, 18th Overall


Vancouver is heading to its second season, and it’s been a crazy ride for the team. They’ve gone through two head coaches, a couple of DP’s who each had their issues in 2011, and have stockpiled a vast arsenal of forwards. They haven’t shied away from investment, and now in their permanent home at B.C.Place they’ll be searching for their first MLS Cup Playoff appearance in 2012.

COACHING STAFF AND FRONT OFFICE: Rennie takes over as Head Coach after three successful seasons with the Carolina Railhawks. The youthful Scot has a resume that is built to impress, earning his UEFA coaching licenses after his playing career was cut short. But results on the pitch will be the true test. Rennie enjoyed success in the lower divisions, including a 2011 NASL campaign where the team finished with the best regular season record. Thomas Soehn is the Director of Soccer Operations. He filled in as coach after the firing of Teitur Thordarson. All the signs point to a top-class organization from the top down.

KEY PLAYERS GAINED: Vancouver continues to acquire attacking talent. They selected Darren Mattocks with the second pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, and he should develop into a great forward. They also sent allocation money to Philadelphia for Sebastien Le Toux, who is in the last year of his contract. Adding these two to a forward corps containing Eric Hassli, Omar Salgado, and Atiba Harris should make for an interesting squad selection for Rennie.

The Whitecaps also grabbed some help at the back, signing experienced South Korean right back Lee Young-Pyo. He has had 127 caps for the South Korean team, and spent several seasons playing in Europe. They also signed Argentine center back Martin Bonjour, who played for Rampla Juniors. It appears that both Bonjour and Lee will figure significantly in Rennie’s plans at the back.

Rennie also appears to have quite a bit of loyalty to former players. He signed several former Railhawks, including Etienne Barbara, Matt Watson, Brad Knighton, and Floyd Franks. Jun Marques Davidson was a former Carolina player who moved back to Japan, but Rennie signed him away from Tokushima. He may start a bit in central midfield. They also picked up Greg Klazura in the Supplemental Draft, and signed HomeGrown prospect Bryce Alderson.

Last of all, the Whitecaps have signed Scottish midfielder Barry Robson to a pre-contract as a Designated Player, and he will head over in the summer to play at B.C. Place after two seasons with Middlesbrough in the Championship. He may be a welcome addition once the transfer window opens.

KEY PLAYERS LOST: Of course Montreal had to make room for all these new acquisitions, and one of those let go was second D.P. Mustapha Jarju. He never really fit with the club. Jeb Brovsky was selected by Montreal in the Expansion Draft, thus leading to the signing of Lee. Nizar Khalifan was selected by Philadelphia in the Re-Entry Draft. Most of their other losses were at depth positions. They traded away Jay Nolly and Shea Salinas, while. Greg Janicki, Jonathan Leathers, and Peter Vagenas were released after they were not selected in the Re-Entry Draft.

PROJECTED STARTERS: Based on their 1-0 victory over Toronto F.C. in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, Rennie seems to favor a 4-4-2 formation with plenty of attack on the wings.

Joe Cannon will be the starter between the posts. The central defense is led by the captain, Jay DeMerit. Soehn used a rotation of backs to pair with DeMerit, but Bonjour may see the most playing time of the bunch. Carlyle Mitchell and Michael Boxall are also possibilities. Lee Young-Pyo should start at right back. Alain Rochat was the first choice left back last season, with Jordan Harvey a second option.

In the midfield, it appears that Rennie will be using forwards on the wings. Sebastien Le Toux will probably play on the right, while Camilo Sanvazzi will get playing time on the left. Davide Chiumiento also needs to fit in their somewhere. In the middle, Davidson and Gershon Koffee may very well start for Vancouver in central midfield, with John Thorrington and Floyd Franks as additional options. Once July hits, expect Robson to start pulling minutes from these midfielders.

Up front, Eric Hassli and Darren Mattocks are likely starters, but again there are plenty of options from which to choose. You could see Le Toux up front one game, and on the right the next. Rennie can be creative with the likes of Camilo, Chiumiento, Hassli, Mattocks, Atiba Harris, Long Tan, and Le Toux all very capable up front.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Camilo led the team in goals last year, and should shine for the team again in 2012. The big question is if he’ll have the same number of chances with all of the quality depth at forward. It could be a struggle for all of the aforementioned strikers and wingers, finding enough playing time to maintain a solid form. But at 23 years of age, you’d think that aside from Mattocks, Camilo would be the guy the Whitecaps feature in their offensive plans.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: Vancouver may still have weaknesses at the back, but they should be a very entertaining team to watch. You could end up with five pure attackers on the pitch at any one time based on this roster. If they can remain organized in front of Cannon, they could be a dark horse for a First Round bye.

WORST CASE SCENARIO: As I’ve alluded to, with all of these great attacking players, the struggle could be playing time, not to mention chemistry. There is a saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Rennie is going to have a task to keep these players happy, and know how to pull the strings to get them into the right positions. If Vancouver struggles in this capacity, they would probably drop to the 7th or 8th position in the West.

PREDICTION: I think Vancouver will finish out of the playoffs in the tough West, but will finish an improving 6th Place in the Conference.


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