2012 MLS Insight: What does the year hold for the Whitecaps?
The team has been radically transformed from last year’s first edition from the coach on down. Ultra successful Scot Martin Rennie stepped in to assume the reins, and he has wasted little time molding the ‘Caps into an entertaining, attacking outfit.
The eye opening performances in their championship run at the Disney Pro Classic and other exhibitions with several newly acquired members initially point to a rapid climb up the conference standings.
However, other teams have also improved and it won’t be so easy to find those points while the team gels.
Rennie came to Van City from the second level NASL’s Carolina Railhawks where he established first rate coaching credentials, landing a USL-1/ NASL league title and a trip to the Championship playoff final.
He likes flexibility in his line-ups and hs renowned as a highly motivating man manager who establishes tight relationships with his players.
Several of his loyal ex-Railhawks in fact will be attempting the jump up to MLS after Rennie brought them up to play in his system.
It will be interesting to see how many of these lower division recruits will be able to cope with the elevated talent level in MLS.
Joe Cannon is a solid, intelligent veteran who saw off competition from Jay Nolly last year to solidify his hold on the No. 1 jersey. Brad Knighton was brought in by his previous manager Rennie from Carolina to provide competition and an experienced back-up. There are not too many concerns here.
There has been the greatest measurement of improvement here with the dramatic upgrades in personnel with Young-Pyo Lee and Martin Bonjour, who both have considerable experience internationally.
The return to health of Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat, who both played well at times last year, is essential to success. These four have worked well as a unit in pre-season so far. They have a tidy mixture of defensive smarts and also feel comfortable on the ball.
New fullback recruit Greg Klazura, Kiwi Michael Boxall, Trinidadian Carlyle Mitchell and Jordan Harvey provide a young quartet of defensive depth. All four also have the capability to push forward in support.
This area of the squad remains the biggest question mark entering the season, as the additions to the team here do not yet mirror the improvements elsewhere.
But the unit has held its own in Vancouver’s exhibitions. Gershon Koffie, Jun Marques Davidson and the oft-injured John Thorrington anchor the midfield. They are characterized by their hard work and will need to cycle the ball quickly to the talented front line to remain effective.
The skills of natural forwards Camilo Sanvezzo and Davide Chiumiento will also be utilized in the centre of the park to supplement the attack. Major signing, and Scottish international, Barry Robson will bring another welcome dose of talent later in the summer.
Further reinforcements will likely be required, but watch for Canadian youth international Bryce Alderson to make some occasional cameo appearances this season as he matures.
This area is the Whitecaps main strength. There is a wide range of talent that allows Vancouver to adopt a number of different tactical approaches. French duo Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux are both strong in possession and distribution, while Darren Mattocks provides speed and trickery.
American youth international Omar Salgado and (yet another) ex-Railhawk Etienne Barbara have a good sense of positioning and bring depth to the striking positions.
Vancouver has seriously upgraded its talent level. Defenders Bonjour and Lee, along with the charismatic Le Toux, have in particular injected some newfound confidence. Martin Rennie also brings an air of success that is expected to permeate the dressing room.
Look for the Whitecaps to move up substantially from the basement to the fourth position this season in the Western Conference behind the talent laden squads of the LA Galaxy, FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders.
The team will also play an exciting brand of soccer that should fill BC Place.
The depth up front provides options for the front office and Rennie should the team need to make a trade later in the season to shore up the midfield, or another area.