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.
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.)
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.
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? ;)
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.
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.
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.
The 2013 season opener is less than two months away and with the announcement of the schedule today comes a lot of anticipation and excitement as we look forward to a number of marquee matches.
With former players such as Sebastien Le Toux with Philadelphia Union (July 27) returning to BC Place, and with rivalries growing against other clubs, there will be a sense of familiarity throughout the 2013 home schedule.
Our home opener has been public for a while now, and I’m sure like me you are all looking forward to getting off to a fast start against our Canadian rivals Toronto FC, just as we did in 2011 when we were victorious by a 4-2 margin.
Of course it’s not going to be an easy game, but BC Place has become a fortress for us and with the added incentive of Eric Hassli and Terry Dunfield coming back to play in front of what should be a sellout crowd, it does not get any better than that.
I’m confident that we can kick some TFC butt.
KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE…
With the Cascadian rivalry heating up on and on the field it’s easy to see why many ‘Caps fans will have these matches highlighted on their calendar.
Portland Timbers will visit us twice this year with the first game on May 18. We have some payback to give to the Timbers and these two games could go a long way towards bringing the Cascadia Cup to Vancouver.
As far as our other Pacific Northwest “friends”, we will have to wait until July 6 for the only visit of Seattle Sounders FC.
If these games are half as good as last year, it will be well worth waiting for.
TO BE THE BEST
Memories of that playoff match against LA Galaxy still linger.
When the two-time defending MLS Cup champions come to town, those will be matches that you will not want to miss.
LA will be making two visits to BC Place this season and we will be looking to get our first win against the Galaxy in MLS, which nearly came in the playoffs last year when we were 1-0 up entering the last third of the game.
As we’ve seen in the past, battles between these two teams will be open and attack-minded. And while Beckham has moved on, this is certain to be another star-studded Galaxy squad led by world-class striker Robbie Keane.
MORE IN-CONFERENCE CLASHES
April 13 and September 28 should be two mouthwatering matches as Real Salt Lake roll into town. Salt Lake are always a team that like to pass the ball and attack teams, home and away, so it should make for some entertaining games.
August 10 we will see the high flying San Jose Earthquakes – who finished as the top team in the 2012 MLS standings – come to BC Place and provide our fans with lots of thrills. The Quakes were last year’s top scoring team with an impressive 72 goals scored. The ‘Caps will look to remain unbeaten at home against reigning MLS leading scorer Chris Wondoloski and his Earthquakes.
This promises to be another thrilling season, and with four exciting Western Conference clashes (Portland, Seattle, and Colorado twice) at the end, we’re sure to see the season end with a bang.
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.
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.
(Photo provided by Toby Gorman/NEWS BULLETIN)
If you’ve read my blog before then you have surely heard me mention the vision that the ownership group of Vancouver Whitecaps FC have for the club and for the game of soccer here in Vancouver, and in fact across the province and country.
They are very passionate about the direction they want the ‘Caps to go in, and one of the main goals for the club is to continue to develop the grassroots level of the sport.
These are certainly lofty goals and ones that will take a great deal of collaboration. Yes, Whitecaps FC can take a leadership role in this, but it is impossible for the club do this on our own.
There has always been a belief in the ‘Caps organization that in order to be successful we need to be developing our own young players, and that means building partnerships around British Columbia and beyond.
Last week I had the pleasure of going to Nanaimo for the announcement of a new Whitecaps FC Island Academy Centre in partnership with Harbour City FC. There was certainly a buzz surrounding the announcement and a ton of enthusiasm from locals that there was now support and collaboration from the ‘Caps.
Creating these academies means the club is building relationships in these communities and hopefully becoming an asset, as well as providing some leadership in player development.
Vancouver Island joins the ‘Caps academy centre network that includes Vancouver, the Okanagan, and the Kootenays, with more to be added in the near future. Make no bones about it, Whitecaps FC are intent on branching out near and far to help grow the game to nurture young players who could one day star for the Blue and White.
There are many challenges for those who live outside of the Lower Mainland. It’s sometimes hard to get high level coaching or the competition they need week in and week out. These academy centres will not solve every problem, but it will establish a clearer pathway to achieving soccer success.
These communities now have a firm belief that their young players can not only dream about taking their soccer to the next level, but will have an opportunity to do so.
Remember, I too was once a boy who closely followed his favourite team and dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player.
Now there are many more kids in BC who can have good reason to hold that same dream.
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.
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
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.
The 2012 MLS Cup final will be a rematch of last year’s final: LA Galaxy versus Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center, the same venue as last year. If that’s not remarkable enough, then consider that these two teams finished fourth (LA) and fifth (Houston) in their respective conferences during the regular season.
What does this mean? Well for one, it turns out that home field advantage wasn’t much of an advantage at all.
Sporting Kansas City in the East and San Jose Earthquakes in the West won their conferences by five and nine points respectively, giving them home field advantage right to the final. Both teams had strong regular seasons, especially at home, which they would be relying on come playoff time. However, both SKC and San Jose would lose their first round matchups to much lower seeded teams in the playoffs and see their season come to an abrupt end. Kansas City had 10 more points than Houston and San Jose had 12 more points than LA.
When you see what LA and Houston have done it is easy to discredit the regular season. Of course, here in Vancouver we painfully remember the eighth-seeded LA Kings powering past everything in their way to win the Stanley Cup.
So what does home field advantage mean in a two-leg series? Well, you get to play the second match at home, which means you know what you have to do to win in front of your crowd, and if it goes to extra time or penalties you have the advantage of playing on your home field.
The problem with this is that you really need to get a favorable result on the road in the first game so you don’t have too much of a mountain to climb in the return leg (see DC United and Seattle).
You also have to consider that the team that has home field advantage has to travel twice. First to their away match, then back home. The lower seeded team gets to stay at home for the first match, without traveling, and then embark on a single trip for the second game.
DC United were a strange exception this season. They were the higher seeded team, but due to Hurricane Sandy they ended up hosting the first game in DC, with the return leg moved to New York. And guess what? That ended up working out just fine for United, as they had a 1-1 draw in the first leg before winning a thrilling 1-0 game in the second leg.
In the end, DC would fall in the Conference final when the tables were turned and they hosted the second leg after being faced with a 3-1 deficit from the first game in Houston. It proved too much to overcome.
Same thing happened to Seattle. They fell 3-0 to LA Galaxy on the road. A valiant effort saw them pull within a goal at 2-0 in the second leg, but a penalty kick awarded to the Galaxy broke their backs.
You could say that Houston is a team built for the playoffs and that the Galaxy have the best talent in the league, and that’s why they are preparing to battle for the MLS Cup again.
But the results of the MLS Cup playoffs are sure make teams think about how they approach the long and hard MLS season and what is the best route for progressing into the postseason.