Sophmore Slump? No Way!
The Vancouver Whitecaps are experiencing resurgence in their second season in Major League Soccer.
As of Wednesday evening (July 4) when they defeated the Colorado Rapids 1-0, they have passed their points total from all of last season, at exactly the half-way point.
With only a few shaky performances (home to D.C. United) and fewer poor performances (away to Galaxy), the Boys in Blue seem destined for a playoff spot.
There are a few major factors behind this:
Last season, the Whitecaps couldn’t seem to find any offense if forwards Eric Hassli and Camilo weren’t on the pitch. This season however, the pair have either come on as subs late or not seen the field at all more than they have started matches.
Hassli, the pricey designated player, had a string of six straight matches where he came on as a sub, after starting 21 last season.
Through those six matches, the ‘Caps scored eight goals. That is close to a quarter of the goal total from the entire squad last season. Due in large part is the additions of superstar Sebastien Le Toux and second overall pick Darren Mattocks.
This rings true through the entire roster.
Natural right back Jordan Harvey can also come in to hold a lead in the midfield. Designated player Barry Robson recently arrived from his season with Middlesbrough, so the midfield will be solidified for the second half of the season.
On the back line, South Korean international Y.P. Lee has done an excellent job at left back, allowing Alain Rochat to return to his right back spot. Newcomer Martin Bonjour and captain Jay DeMerit have been outstanding in the middle, and a large part of Joe Cannon‘s record setting clean sheet streak.
2) Joe Cannon:
Cannon started the first game in our inaugural season, then gave way to Jay Nolly and didn’t get a start again until June 1 against Chivas USA. Nolly and Cannon then went back and forth, until a 4-0 defeat at D.C. United paved the way for Cannon to get the last 10 starts of the season.
This season, however, is completely different. Nolly is gone to Chicago, traded in exchange for the Fire’s first round selection in the 2013 Supplemental Draft. Brad Knighton came with Martin Rennie from Carolina and is Cannon’s backup now.
In the first 4 games of the new season, Cannon didn’t allow a single goal, and set the new MLS record for most time without allowing a goal to start the season.
Since his streak was broken in San Jose, he has collected four more clean sheets and more importantly the ‘Caps sit fifth in goals allowed (19) as opposed to third last year (55).
Having the two time MLS goalkeeper of the year behind a young team will be crucial in a playoff push.
3) Road Warriors:
In the Whitecaps first season in the MLS, they collected 5 out of a possible 51 road points. They didn’t collect a single victory outside of Empire Field/BC Place. Whether it was a lack of confidence or uncomfortable surroundings, the team really struggled on the road.
It is a different story this year, where the ‘Caps collected their first road victory in their first try, defeating Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center, on the back of captain Jay DeMerit‘s first goal as a Whitecap.
Since that match, it’s been more of the same, as they’ve now collected 12 out of a possible 27 points at the halfway point, with only 3 defeats. With the fortress that BC Place has become, if they can be road warriors through to October, the Whitecaps will be in good shape.
After two years coaching the Vancouver Whitecaps of the NASL, Teitur Thordarson was given the head coaching position with the Whitecaps. After less than two and a half months, he was let go from his position.
Director of Soccer Operations Tom Soehn took over, and, while the team didn’t do any worse under his guidance, they didn’t improve.
More importantly, the coaching of the team worsened in my opinion. When highly touted Designated Player Mustapha Jarju arrived in Vancouver, there was excitement that the offense could finally produce without being carried by Eric Hassli and Camilo.
Jarju had netted 34 goals in 99 appearances with Belgium’s R.A.E.C. Mons, playing strictly as a forward. After a lackluster debut against Manchester City in the World Football Challenge, he got his first MLS start against the San Jose Earthquakes.
After two more starts producing nothing upfront, he wasn’t active for the next two matches.
This is an area where I believe new Coach Martin Rennie will improve. A real coach, not front office personal, would try Jarju out wide, or even on top of a midfield diamond, but Soehn gave up on the Jarju experiment.
The poise of this team is the most subtle change in the Whitecaps this year.
Last year, too many times a player would get the ball and panic with it, often losing it while putting themselves in a poor position to defend. This year a sense of calm is on display.
Jay DeMerit is healthy and a rock on the back line.
The entire team is growing together and more experienced as well.
No longer is the team giving up the ball carelessly, and on the rare occurrence they do, they’re still in great position to win it back.
Midfielder Gershon Koffie is the best example.
Last year he went through some growing pains, but this year he has established himself as one of the best players at winning the ball in the entire MLS.
Watch out MLS. The Whitecaps are coming.