Next week, we will have the more detailed Vancouver Whitecaps season preview in place as the new MLS season fast approaches. To whet the appetite however, we will make some early season MLS predictions on what the 2012 season could look like.
Despite having an already loaded front line with Davide Chiumiento, Eric Hassli, Camilo Sanvezzo, Atiba Harris, and Omar Salgado, the Canucks front office and coach Martin Rennie have increased competition with the drafting of Akron college sensation Darren Mattocks and the signing of French striker Sebastien Le Toux.
Though the selection of Mattocks makes sense seeing as he was the most talented player available in the draft (providing trade flexibility), it has been more perplexing to see the addition of Le Toux.
Vancouver desperately needs help in the midfield, so Le Toux seems to be something of a luxury signing, barring a deal or movement of another striker into midfield.
Pre-season training and the exhibition match with Seattle also pointed to a 4-2-3-1 attacking line-up that could paper over the thin midfield of Vancouver.
Under such a set-up, if it was workable, look for Eric Hassli to retain his position at the top of the formation if it holds, with the other attackers interchanging according to whoever is on form.
Therefore, we can predict that Hassli will likely be top scorer as his style of play is much more different then the rest of the forwards, so he will play more.
Chiumiento has the capability to drop back into midfield at times as cover and for his playmaking, so he should see considerable playing time and take second place in goal scoring. The wild card is Le Toux, who may connect well with his French compatriot and come into third or higher in scoring.
This will be disastrous for Vancouver as there has been no upgrade here, and the team may even have taken a considerable step backwards, if middle of the park positions are to be sacrificed for a more offensive role. The forwards had better be willing to drop back to cover defensively or it will get nasty.
John Thorrington and Jun Marques Davidson covered the 2 spots in the 4-2-3-1 in the pre-season game against Seattle and looked overwhelmed at times as the Sounders made adjustments at the half once they had seen Vancouver’s formation.
The backline looked better against Real Salt Lake in the second pre-season 1-1 draw.
The thing to watch will be how Vancouver is able to play the ball out with a weak midfield.
Amway Canadian Championship
Look to Vancouver to ease comfortably past their first round opponents Edmonton FC of the NASL, but to struggle against likely final round participant Toronto FC for the lone Canadian spot.
CONCACAF Champions League
Unless the Whitecaps can sort out their midfield issues, they will not be able to beat out the other entries for Canada’s sole CONCACAF Champions League spot. Even if Vancouver was able to nudge out Toronto or Montreal they would not be able to secure passage from the group stage with more experienced teams from the US, Mexico, Honduras, etc. These teams are better organized, especially in the middle of the park.
Vancouver has improved in spots, but much more work is required and development of personnel, and not to beat a dead horse here, but that improvement in midfield is critical for long term success.
No amount of flashy ornaments up front will cure that ill, and so dreams of winning their first MLS title are still officially on hold.