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15 March 9:12 am

With three MLS teams returning from bye weeks after their CONCACAF Champions League exploits, MLS Rivalry Week is gearing up to be a potential windfall for Fantasy Managers. Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders are all back in action and expect to see some high scoring affairs. A word of caution when making your picks this week however, as Round 4 falls on the same week as World Cup Qualifiers for many players, so expect to be without some of your international stars. Make sure you plan ahead!

With that being said, on to this week's players and featured team of the week:

 

Graham Zusi ($9.7m), Sporting Kansas City – Normally when you pick a midfielder and he doesn't get on the scoresheet you expect the worst. Fortunately for those of you who have Zusi in your lineup he's proving otherwise. With 10 crosses and 7 key passes he controlled the entire pitch last week against Toronto FC and walked away with 8 points. We expect Zusi to continue his stellar play versus Chicago Fire as he doesn't look to have missed a beat from last season.

Jeb Brovsky ($4.7m), Montreal Impact – Former Whitecaps FC defender Jeb Brovsky is not only playing well for Montreal but he’s also a bargain for Fantasy Managers. At only $4.7m he offers tremendous bang for your buck. Facing Toronto FC in Montreal is a good match up for the young American. Even if he picks up the typical 60+ minutes of playing with an additional 2 defending bonus, coming away with 4 fantasy points at his price is a brilliant return on investment.

Team of the week (Round 3), Los Angeles Galaxy – Fresh off their dominating performance in CONCACAF Champions League they now face a favourable opponent at home in Chivas USA. With Chivas being notorious for low scoring, Carlo Cudicini ($5.5m) looks destined for a clean sheet.

We like the bargain of Todd Dunivant ($5m) on the back end, although if you have a bit more to spend, then Omar Gonzalez ($6.1m) is your guy. Sean Franklin ($5.5m) is a player to watch, as a listed defender Galaxy appear to like playing him in the midfield.

Robbie Keane ($10.5m) is currently owned by 33% of the league. The Irishman will turn into the player Fantasy Managers either hate and fear week in and week out, or the player they ride into the sun with. We prefer the latter as we rather not worry about him exploding against us on any given week.

 

As always, keep an eye on injury report updates HERE and don't forget to watch this week's edition of MLSsoccer.com's fantasy show: Starting Lineup (below). Good luck in Round 3.

For more information on prizing and how to sign up for the Official Whitecaps Fantasy League click: HERE

19 January 4:23 pm

Preseason is upon us once again. We are gearing up for a quieter-ish, more spacious, hopefully not rainy February without Dad. Preseason is preceded by off-season, it’s exact opposite. We go from loads of time together to next to none in a matter of days. It starts with physicals and team meetings and quickly goes full force to two-a-days and team trips that are two weeks long. While it’s exhausting for the guys and we see less of our men, it’s still something that I think everybody is ready for. You can only have so much time off before you start feeling antsy. And I don’t have to cook as much in February, so at least there’s a tradeoff.
 
It can be lonely, and long, especially as a newcomer. Last year that was me. In fact, tomorrow will mark one year since our arrival in Vancouver. It’s amazing the difference a year can make. Last year at this time I was packing frantically while getting ready to fly cross country with a 9 month old and a 2 year old. I had no idea what Vancouver would be like, or how it would work out for us. I didn’t know if I would find friends. I was optimistic though, and luckily my intuition proved to be true as Vancouver has treated us well. So thank you, Vancouver, because now this preseason will not be as lonely.
 
It won’t be as lonely due to the friends we’ve made, the church we go to, the other soccer wives who are in the same boat, house projects, Evelyn’s preschool days, the downtown library, apartment neighbors, trips to Whole Foods and walks outside. Some days I fee like my life is super hard and stressful, but then I read that list and realize I probably just complain too much. Our lives have been made full. There are good days and bad days, and there will surely be a mix of both during preseason, but who escapes that reality? What I’m realizing more and more is that contentment and joy are choices, and I can either choose to embrace this preseason and take advantage of all the fullness we’ve been blessed with, or I can choose to wallow that my husband is gone for a handful of days and I might have to take the trash out more. There are worse things.
 
Besides, if preseason goes as quickly as off-season did, it’ll be over in a snap and before I know it I’ll be back to cooking on a regular basis.

Cat Watson
Wifey to 'Caps player, Matt Watson. Mommy to Evelyn and Theo. Cook, maid and laundry lady to the aforementioned parties. Oh, and I take pictures. And blog. (www.catwatson.com.)
 
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17 January 1:54 pm

When it comes to finding players, there is one thing that you can never coach or develop. That my friends, would be speed.  You either have it or you don’t.

So with the fourth and fifth picks in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, Martin Rennie and his staff went with Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado. And what did the ‘Caps acquire with these two youngsters? Speed.

And that is exactly what we could use.

So as 'Caps fan Bill Pollard said on our Facebook page, "Show me the Manneh!", or in Erik's case, "Show me the E-Money!"

It's time to make it rain.

A CHANGE OF PACE

Last year when Dane Richards played for us on the wing (especially at home), his speed really helped our possession game. It opened things up for the ‘Caps as teams were wary of the threat of balls over the top. That’s what speed can do for you and what Manneh and Hurtado can give us if they are used on the wings.

But when Richards was out of the lineup, or when he was shutdown, there were numerous times when our ‘Caps simply looked like they had run out of ideas going forward. We did not look like creating any chances on goal and there were few options on the bench to change things.

What these two draft picks give Martin Rennie and his staff are more options, a change of pace. Because of this, the team will ultimately be in a position to be more versatile and less predictable.

THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT

Yes, we are talking about two young players who’s first priority will simply be to establish themselves in their first MLS season, but they could not be in a better place to fulfill their potential.

I feel that one of Rennie’s great strengths as a coach is the way he handles players and how he teaches. Younger players obviously have more to learn, and the most successful ones are more receptive and eager to be taught their trade.

We know that coach Rennie is big on bringing in character players, so you can bet the work has been done on these two young players to make sure they have the desire and work ethic to take their game to the next level. I really feel this is a great fit that is going to provide a lot of excitement and joy for the team and the Vancouver fans.

You need only to look at the job done with Omar Salgado last year by Rennie and his staff. Salgado looked ready to establish himself as a consistent contributor when he started four games in a row before getting injured. Look also at the way they handled Darren Mattocks and Gershon Koffie, who both had stellar seasons.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT?

Now, will Manneh and Hurtado come into the team and do what Mattocks did last year? Well the answer is that they don’t have to.

We already have a number of pieces in place, experienced players, so there can be a patient approach to easing these players into the lineup.

But when they do get on the field, they will get the chance to show that one quality that really frightens defences, that speed that each has in abundance.

I can’t tell you how excited I am with our new additions. We couldn’t ask for more than to bring in young guys with speed that want to make an impression!!!

Remind you of anybody? ;)

16 January 6:15 pm

After sifting through all of the reports at the MLS Player Combine and reading through the various final Mock Drafts, I’m feeling confident that this will be a strong 2013 SuperDraft for our ‘Caps.

‘CAPS SHORT SUPERDRAFT HISTORY

In our first ever MLS SuperDraft in 2011 we had control of our own destiny with the number one pick and we chose Omar Salgado, who I feel would have made a big impact last season had he not got injured.

Last year the consensus was that the top two prospects were Andrew Wenger and Darren Mattocks – who both seemed to be worthy of the top selection. In the end we got Mattocks, and I’m sure like me, you’d likely agree that things turned out for the better for the ‘Caps.

THE PRESENT

This year there is much debate about who should be number one, and where all the players will land in the draft. With this uncertainty, that essentially makes our #5 and #10 picks more valuable.

If we hold on to the picks, there could end up being some very talented players left on the table as teams debate their best course of action, rather than having little thought to do with a surefire selection. Meanwhile, Martin Rennie and company are also fielding a number of trade offers as coaches will be urgent to move up to secure the player they fancy.

That leaves the possibility of making a trade for one or both of our picks that could land us a quality MLS player that fills one of our needs.

NEEDS

In the end, it doesn’t really matter how we acquire a player – whether through our draft picks or through a trade – as long as we get players that can help our team.

Rennie has gone on record as saying that he would like the team to create more chances next year. Vancouver has a solid foundation at the back and for the most part has established itself as a hard team to beat, which is a good formula for success. But the team would benefit by adding a couple more creative players on the wing or in midfield.

SUPERDRAFT FOR A SUPER SEASON

We already have two players from the draft in Omar and Darren who are destined to be important players for this team, and I believe that they will both have even bigger seasons than they had last year.

This year’s Superdraft should see the addition of either another exciting prospect or two coming out of college, or a proven player through a trade helping our team make another run at the playoffs and beyond.

It looks like we’re set up for a successful SuperDraft, and that’s yet another important step towards a successful season.

07 January 1:30 pm

With a new year upon us, Cat Watson returns to take us off the pitch and into family life with 'Caps midfielder Matt Watson.
 
2012 was an extraordinary year. A year full of new. New city, new team, new friends, new apartment, new weather, new adventures. It went by too fast and now my baby girl is in preschool and Theo is nearly two. How did that happen? 
 
Still, there is a lot to be excited for in 2013. I’m excited to welcome back old friends and meet new ones. I’m excited to continue to watch my kids grow and explore and say funny things. I’m excited to watch my husband and his teammates play and win at BC Place. I’m excited for another beautiful, humidity free summer. I’m excited to visit the East Coast and my family and childhood friends, and hopefully show some of them the goods the West Coast has to offer as well. I’m excited for babies being born this year. I’m excited for growth and progress and yes, even more change, in whatever form it comes in, because it’s sure to come. 
 
But, as I think about excitement, I’m not sure that’s fully how I want to welcome 2013. Excitement is exhausting. The state of being in it is, at least. I’ll be sure to get burnt out, and disappointed when things that were supposed to be exciting, aren’t. Instead I want to enter this year hopeful. 
 
I’m hopeful that this year I will be joyful, creative, contented, thankful. And all this even when things don’t go as I plan, or when I feel discouraged and frustrated. Excitement easily varies based on circumstances, but hope is solid, and constant, based on what is true. 
 
I’m hopeful to live in the moment and not compare myself to others, to remember that these days pass quickly and snuggles won’t come so easily so soon. I’m hopeful to be excited for my friends when good things happen to them. I’m hopeful to remember I have much to be thankful for. I’m hopeful to focus on the positive, because it can be found in every situation. I’m hopeful to read and write and create and not limit myself this year. I’m hopeful to not feel defeated when I can’t because kitchens still need cleaning and little people still need loving. I’m hopeful for date nights and beach days and Spring walks and good food and music. I’m hopeful, simply, to focus on the good, and to remember that there is hope in the midst of the bad. 
 
A hopeful 2013.
 
 
02 January 5:22 pm

2012 will be remembered as a year of firsts for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Major League Soccer (MLS): getting our first away victory, winning a game by four goals for the first time, and of course becoming the first Canadian club to make the MLS Cup playoffs.

The ‘Caps also set a record for the longest shutout streak to start an MLS season and collected the most regular season points ever by a Canadian MLS team.

So why should we expect 2013 to be even better?

There are plenty of positives to look forward to, but the challenge will be even greater. Having made the playoffs last season, the Blue and White will now be viewed as a more dangerous team, so they certainly won’t have the ability to sneak up on anyone this coming season.

With that said, I was really impressed by Martin Rennie’s first year in charge. He and his coaching staff did a tremendous job last year improving the team and building a winning mentality.

While his squad will be in tough this year, I can see them building on last season’s success and taking another step forward.

And I will give you my reasons why.

1.    It starts at the back, Part I

From a goalkeeping standpoint, right now we are stronger than last year. You may be asking how since we have the same guys in net. The difference is that we now have two guys who have both proven themselves more than capable of getting the job done.

Joe Cannon has been a great goalkeeper in this league for some time and was outstanding when called upon last season. Late in the season, Brad Knighton stepped in and showed that he too is a quality starter, consistently coming up with solid performances down the stretch. With two guys that they know they can count on, the ‘Caps can’t go wrong.

2.    It starts at the back, Part II

On defence we saw Jay Demerit and Andy O’Brien establish a rock solid partnership down the middle, which looked great against eventual MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy. With Martin Bonjour also gaining a great deal of experience as a starter last year, and Carlyle Mitchell now with a number of games under his own belt, the centre back position looks quite strong.

It was also great news when Young-Pyo Lee signed on for another year. With more emphasis on keeping him fresh for the whole year, I expect him to be even stronger than last season – when he was named team MVP. Throw in the consistent play of Alain Rochat and the ever-improving performances of Jordan Harvey at left back and the ‘Caps are set to have a very reliable backline.

3.    Hungry young talent

Our talented younger players are a year older and will be looking to establish themselves as legitimate MLS players, recognizable around the league. Gershon Koffie (21), Darren Mattocks (22), and Omar Salgado (19) will be leading the youth brigade. With the talent they have and their willingness to learn and to be the best, it can only bode well for our ‘Caps.

And right behind them we have Russell Teibert (20), Caleb Clarke (19), and Bryce Alderson (18) chomping at the bit to get on the field. These are three very talented homegrown youngsters and with the right mentality, each of the three is capable of making a big step up in 2013.

4.    Stability

Unlike last year, Martin Rennie goes into his second season in MLS with less tinkering to do, and a more established squad. There were many players that were playing in MLS for the first time last season, all while making a new home in Vancouver. Making things harder for some of those players was the fact that they didn’t join the team until midseason.

Going into preseason this year, there will be much more of a settled squad that knows what MLS is all about and will not be surprised by the travel, time change, and climates that this league will throw at you.

And let’s not forget the stability of the coaching staff and technical staff, all of whom will be back again this season with a full year of MLS experience. They now all have a much more comprehensive understanding of the wants and needs of a grueling season.

5.    Home Field Advantage

The ‘Caps improved greatly on their home record from 2011 to 2012 and will look to continue that trend in 2013. Last year’s improvement was partly due to the fact that the team had a full season at BC Place, but the biggest reason was the raucous, intimidating atmosphere created by fans.

As the team continues to improve, so too has the fan support. Ultimately, that will always be one of the biggest keys to success.

With only two months until the season kicks off against Toronto FC at BC Place, there are many genuine reasons to be excited once again. The first two years have been a rollercoaster ride, but I am predicting a Whitecaps FC team that will give us many thrills that will top anything we have done in MLS so far.

Whitecaps FC 2013 MLS season tickets start at $349, plus applicable tax and a $10 processing fee per order. To secure a seat and for additional information about Whitecaps FC MLS season tickets, including Pitchside Club and suites, call 604.669.9283 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.

28 November 4:24 pm

 

The 2012 MLS Cup (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT on TSN and TEAM 1410 radio) will be contested by the same teams as 2011, at the same venue.  But don’t expect the same game.

Yes, once again LA Galaxy will host Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center, with the Dynamo hoping to overturn last year’s 1-0 defeat to the Galaxy.

There are many storylines coming into this final, but none bigger David Beckham’s last game in Major League Soccer.  This will be the final chapter of his playing days in MLS – a league which he’s done a great deal to help grow.

The ultimate question, however, is not so much about Beckham, but rather if Houston can turn the tables from last year and win this MLS Cup rematch.

A different Dynamo

Houston will go into this MLS Cup a more confident team than the last time they were here. A year ago the Dynamo had to deal with the absence of their most influential playmaker, midfielder Brad Davis. Not only do they have Davis ready to play this time around, but they can go into this game knowing that they can field a more potent offensive lineup.

Last year Houston sat back and allowed the Galaxy to carry the play, hoping they would catch LA on the break. It never really worked and the Dynamo never really looked like scoring, but they did keep the game close, which gave them the best chance to win.

Houston are now a more comfortable team in possession of the ball. Players like midfielder Boniek Garcia offer something different from last year, using his dribbling skills to attack defenders or make quick runs to get in behind the defence. 

Another key player will be striker Will Bruin, who has continued where he left off in the regular season by finding his scoring touch with four goals so far in the playoffs.

It’s quite clear to me that the Dynamo now have players to compliment the skills of Brad Davis, and this should change their approach from last year to be more of an attacking threat.

Motivation or distraction?

As for LA Galaxy, they will go into the game as clear favourites, however they will have to contend with the distraction of it being David Beckham’s last game in MLS. That being said, they’ve had to deal with intense spotlight ever since Beckham joined the team, so this should be nothing new for them.

The Galaxy have been the best team in MLS during the second half of the season and they are playing like a team that believes they are the best team in the league.

Facing a more attack-minded Houston team could end up playing right into their hands, as they have shown that they’re a very devastating team on the break, especially with Landon Donavon on the team.

There is hope for Houston, and they need not look further than LA’s last game. It was evident in the second leg of the Western Conference final that Seattle did not fear the Galaxy counterattack, as they committed players forward to overcome their 3-0 deficit. Mind you, they were at home.

However, Seattle probably would not have been so bold had Donovan been in the lineup. He is the most important player to LA’s counter with his speed and decision making in the final third.

His partnership with Robbie Keane has been, at many times, unstoppable.

Conclusion

In the end, the key to the match will be whether or not Houston can contain the Galaxy counterattack. They definitely can’t sit back like they did last year, or they’ll be inviting trouble. On the other hand, they’ll need to be selective about when to push numbers forward or else they’ll be cut apart by the speed of Donovan and skill of Keane.

It’s a delicate line that Houston will need to toe if they have any chance of spoiling the Beckham finale known as MLS Cup 2012.

In the end, I think that LA are just too strong. They’re the best team in the league, they’re at home, and they’ll have the buzz of Beckham’s last game spurring them on.

PREDICTION: LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo

23 November 2:21 pm

Martin Rennie and his coaching staff will be racking up the air miles as they continue to look for that special player, that diamond in the rough, that player that could take them to the next level. To do so, they will be using all their contacts and scouts to get good leads on potential players that could make their mark with the ‘Caps in Major League Soccer (MLS).

I had the chance to sit down with assistant coach Carl Robinson who had six successful years playing in MLS and now has the chance to scout and help bring the right kind of player to Vancouver.

Carl has built up a great number of contacts around the globe through his playing days, which he relies on now to keep tabs on players throughout the world.

“We get maybe 50 players a week sent to us as foreign players realize more that North America is a great place to live and MLS is a good league to play in,” explained the Welshman. “We will go and watch a player four or five times before we make a decision.”

Building a team

When Whitecaps FC coaching staff head out to scout players they obviously have a plan. This isn’t just a one-off plan, its part of an overall map for the club’s success.

Robinson talked to me about their short, medium, and long-term plans.

Last year they worked off a short-term plan of getting the ‘Caps turned around from a last-place finish in the club’s inaugural MLS season. The goal was to make the playoffs.  Mission accomplished.

Now they can move forward with their medium and long-term plans as they look to make the ‘Caps a team that makes the playoffs every year and starts challenging for the MLS Cup.

To do that, you need the right players, and that’s where scouting comes in.

What does it take?

Aside from the obvious requirements of talent and soccer-playing ability, many off-the-field factors determine whether a foreign player will have success here.

The first thing Robinson mentioned was the adjustment players have to make in coming to North America. It has been said before that MLS is very different to many other leagues around the world. It’s been called a very athletic league, and when you combine that with other challenging factors, you can quickly see why there are a number of good players that have had trouble adapting to playing in this league.

It can take players up to six months to settle down. First off, they’re in a new country with new teammates, and if they have a family, that adds another level of adjustment. From there players must conform to a different playing style, travel, time change, and different climates that they will play in.

So before deciding on whether to bring in a player, coaches will want to feel comfortable that he’s capable of making these adjustments.

To find that out, Whitecaps FC coaching staff will first talk to the manager of whichever team their targeted player is playing for. This allows them to do a background check on a player to see what his attributes and character are like. After all, Rennie has always preached that he wants to bring in character players.

What’s on the horizon?

With the offseason providing a window of time away from training and preparing for matches, Robinson will be doing some traveling as he continues to scout for talent, having already been to South and Central America.

A possible trip to Africa could also be on the cards. Robinson would hope to find another gem like Gershon Koffie, who had a solid 2012 season for the ‘Caps.

“You find that the young African players are usually very raw, but if you can find a player that is willing to listen and work hard to reach their potential you can find that special player.”

And if he and the rest of the coaching staff are successful in finding a diamond in the rough, it could help make the ‘Caps a cut above the rest of the competition.

14 November 4:50 pm

While the players are departing all over the globe to begin their offseason break, it is certainly no time off for our coaching staff. They have lots of work to do as they look to put next year’s team together, which will mean scouting trips across North America as college tournaments get under way, and trips around the world to unearth that next gem of a player.

Scouting through the college ranks will be very interesting this year since we have two first round picks in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft (#5 and #10) that could really fit some of the team’s needs for next year. The NCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament begins this Thursday evening as 32 teams will begin their quest for a spot in the College Cup, taking place in Hoover, Alabama, on December 7 and 9 – the weekend after MLS Cup.

When you think about the last couple of MLS SuperDrafts it is exciting to think what type of impact players we could draft with our two first round picks. We’ve already seen great young prospects join our own team in the form of Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks. However, while those picks were number one and number two overall, there are often diamonds in the rough that can be found outside of the top couple of picks.

Look no further than this year’s Eastern Conference finals where two young draftees have been key figures for their respective teams. Will Bruin of the Houston Dynamo (11th overall in 2011) has scored four goals already these playoffs, while Nick DeLeon of DC United (7th overall in 2012) has come up with a pair of timely goals to lead his side.

These playoff performances are no surprise either.

DeLeon played in 28 games this season, scoring six goals and adding four assists for United. Bruin, meanwhile, had a solid rookie season in 2011, playing in 25 games and scoring five goals while adding one assist. This past year he showed that he’s taken his game to another level by scoring 12 goals and adding four assists in 32 games to establish himself as a regular starter.

It’s not just midfielders and strikers who are valuable in the draft. Chicago’s ninth overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, defender Austin Berry, started 28 games for the Fire and chipped in three goals.

These are the types of players our coaching staff will be looking for as they scout the NCAA tournament. With a year in MLS under their belt, Martin Rennie and the rest of his coaching staff now have a better understanding of what they need to help take Whitecaps FC to the next level.

Having two picks in the first round is a big opportunity for the ’Caps and they’re working hard to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

So while the players get a well deserved rest, our coaches are putting in more air miles to ensure we get the most out of the offseason.

06 November 3:51 pm

The second year in Major League Soccer for Vancouver Whitecaps FC was marketed as Round 2. We had a new coaching staff, some new players, and lots of optimism going into the new season.

Preseason had gone well in Arizona and Florida and everybody wanted to get the season started. Martin Rennie – in his first year coaching in MLS – liked the look of his Whitecaps FC squad and felt his team could challenge for a playoff spot. Getting there would be no easy task though.

Fast start

The season began in fine fashion as our ‘Caps won their season opener at BC Place with a 2-0 victory against expansion side Montreal Impact. Optimism was high, but we all certainly knew that an opening day win does not make a season (see 2011 opening win vs. Toronto FC).

The next game, however, provided further proof that this would be a historic year. The boys got their first away win in MLS by beating Chivas USA 1-0 on a Jay DeMerit header. This was a sign that the mentality of this team had changed; Rennie was slowly but surely building a winning culture.

The next two games would end up as 0-0 draws, which meant the ‘Caps remained undefeated and had shut out the opposition in every match. The run of form continued as the team achieved an MLS record for longest shutout streak to start a season.

It was a great start for the team, but this was only the beginning. Much work remained.

Proving their mettle

April saw the ‘Caps hit with their first taste of adversity. A blown lead and first loss on the season at San Jose and a home loss to Sporting Kansas City could have sunk the ship early, but Vancouver persevered. The Blue and White grinded out a pair of 1-0 wins, at home to FC Dallas and on the road to Columbus Crew.

The early season success altered expectations. Suddenly fans and media were dreaming big, how good could this second year team really be?

Lessons learned

The season was steadily moving along until the ‘Caps faced off against Toronto FC in the Amway Canadian Championship finals. A 2-1 aggregate loss to the team that would end up finishing dead last in MLS was nothing short of a massive disappointment.

Having been brought back down to earth, it became easier to reflect and evaluate. Clearly there was still work to be done.

Rome was not built in a day

Despite the positives from the first portion of the campaign, questions also remained from fans, media, and the club itself. What is the ultimate goal for this team? Is winning the only thing that matters? What about entertainment value, many asked? Was the team scoring enough goals? What about the young players, shouldn’t they be playing more? Why aren’t there more Canadian players?

These are all important questions that need to be posed and each of them are part of the values that the club is looking to instil moving forward. But it can also be easy to lose sight of the big picture. This remained only the second year for the club in MLS. All of these questions will be answered over time, but only so many aspects can be managed at once. Building a winning team, an entertaining team, a team filled with Canadian talent on the field – it’s all a process. For now, the most important thing was to allow coach Rennie to put his own stamp on this team. He has built a winning culture at every club which he’s coached, but that takes time and patience. If he could get this team to the playoffs in his first year, it would be a massive achievement and a big step in the right direction.

Tough decisions

Many coaches would not tinker with a team that was picking up points fairly regularly, but Rennie had made it clear that he was not just building for this year; he was looking at a team that could be one of the best for years to come.

Tough decisions had to be made before the season, and it was felt at the midway point of the season that more changes were needed.

This was not an easy time for players to come into the team. It’s never easy to adjust to a new team, a new city, a new culture, and a new league. It’s especially difficult to do it in the middle of the season during a stretch of nine out of 13 games on the road.

Results were mixed, but sometimes it takes one step back to take two steps forward.

Making history

With 39 days away from home and a rough winless stretch, it would have been easy for the team to fall apart and look for excuses, but you never heard that from the coaches or players. The team showed great resiliency, and in the end the season’s body of work achieved the main goal at the beginning of the year – a first ever playoff spot for a Canadian MLS club.

Their reward? A date with the defending MLS Cup champions, the star-studded LA Galaxy, on the road no less.

In the end the boys gave them the fright of their lives – probably much more than they expected. Not only did we score an early goal, but we also nearly doubled the lead to 2-0 with 20 minutes to go. Unfortunately it was not to be, as the Galaxy eventually came back to win 2-1.

I was so proud of the performance in our first playoff game and it just reinforced what I already knew: we belonged in the playoffs after competing all season long in a tough Western Conference.

Final thoughts

We have a coach in Martin Rennie who is not afraid of making big decisions. Of course not everyone will agree with every decision – you can’t please everyone. And not every decision will be correct either. As a coach you make some choices that will work and some that will not. The key is that everyone learns from the process. That is why I am really excited for next year. 

This team has come a long way from last year and has shown it can compete with the best teams in MLS. Now Rennie and his coaching staff have a season under their belt and are more familiar with what works in this league. They will also have a squad of players that are also more accustomed to playing in North America, with the physicality and the travel.

Of course there will be more changes, but having made the playoffs this year, expectations will again be raised. There will be highs and lows again next season, as there always will be, but I’m confident that the best is yet to come.