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.
A familiar face to Whitecaps FC fans was appointed to an important role in Canadian soccer on Tuesday, as Tony Fonseca was named the Canadian Soccer Association’s new Technical Director.
The former Portuguese international, who was a Whitecaps FC player and head coach (2002-2004) during the club’s United Soccer Leagues First Division days, has been tasked with overseeing ‘the technical growth and development of soccer in Canada’. No small job…
The timing of Fonseca’s appointment is important, as Canada look to chart a new course after last month’s qualifying exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. His understanding of the Canadian soccer landscape will be invaluable to addressing the many challenges of his new role.
With the responsibility of establishing new technical policies for Canadian soccer, Fonseca’s influence on player development - particularly at the elite level - will be closely scrutinized by the media and Canadian soccer supporters alike.
Canada’s three Major League Soccer clubs are currently in the business of elite player development and have expressed a willingness to strengthen their relationship with the CSA on this key issue.
Creating a productive player development system through strong collaboration will be essential to Canada’s ability to produce top players at the professional and international level.
Fonseca knows the good work that Whitecaps FC Residency, Toronto FC Academy, and Montreal Impact Academy have been doing in recent years, and is keen to establish a strong partnership between these elite soccer stakeholders.
Where the biggest challenge may lie is in further educating those involved in grassroots soccer across Canada that a different player development pathway is desperately needed. In other words, making those individuals rethink the way they see grassroots soccer in their own communities.
The CSA and Canada’s professional clubs know they have a role to play in this regard and that making such changes will be difficult. However, what should excite Canadian soccer fans is the strong desire that now exists to implement real change.
Congrats Tony and best of luck!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
So that was the season that was…
The build-up to last Thursday’s inaugural MLS playoff game had that familiar postseason buzz that ‘Caps fans know all too well. What was also exciting to see was the amount of attention that Whitecaps FC drew from being in the playoffs.
Of course, the Blue and White filled a certain void (no NHL hockey) for Vancouver sports fans last week, and although it did not result in a win in LA, the performance of Martin Rennie’s side left some good feelings.
The feedback from media and supporters after Thursday’s game was one of pride, as most were aware of the tall task that faced the ‘Caps against the star-studded Galaxy.
The contest required spirit and commitment from Vancouver, and that was seen in abundance at The Home Depot Center. By giving the defending MLS champions a severe test of their credentials, Whitecaps FC might have even played a key role in the destiny of this year’s MLS Cup title.
Traditionally, playoff exits leave an empty feeling. In this case, however, there was an acknowledgement to the efforts made by Rennie’s side in LA and indications by observers of how it offered a glimpse into a promising future.
Vancouver Sun sports columnist Iain MacIntyre was particularly struck by what he witnessed on Thursday, as he drew comparisons to where the club was in 1977 and how it built towards an NASL Soccer Bowl title by 1979.
There was also an intriguing - some might say prophetic - tweet from former ‘Caps and Seattle Sounders FC head coach Alan Hinton (@alanhinton11): “Whitecaps FC will within two years be the number two franchise behind Seattle in MLS…I know, I have been there!”
As for yours truly, the 2012 season was one where every match offered an opportunity to Whitecaps FC. Building and growing as an MLS outfit were, in many ways, the club’s objectives this season. In other words - 2011 was about establishment; 2012 was about strengthening.
Clubs that have shown steady growth in MLS are usually amongst the league’s elite. While that challenge lies in front of Whitecaps FC, this second season suggests Vancouver are now following a similar path.
While it would have been nice for the playoff journey to continue, much was achieved this season. What is really exciting is how things can improve even more, starting in 2013.
Hunger and desire are bedrocks of successful sides, and it would not surprise this soccer scribe if those are the driving influences behind a memorable Whitecaps FC campaign in the New Year.
As we enter the quiet of this offseason, we take positive vibes from a season that gave strong glimpses of very bright days ahead.
Time to prepare for the next chapter of this great journey!
Till we reconvene in the spring…
What a difference a year makes!
This time last year, Whitecaps FC were wrapping up what was a turbulent inaugural season in MLS, and head coach Martin Rennie was preparing for a postseason training camp to familiarize himself with his new squad.
Our MLS Cup Playoff experience was a distant one last year, with our television screens showing the unfolding drama in the cities of our league rivals. Fast forward to this week, and our engagement for the MLS postseason is at its highest level. On Thursday night, Whitecaps FC make history as the first Canadian club to take part in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The midweek trip to Southern California was an effort earned over 34 regular matches by the Blue and White and sign of significant improvement for a burgeoning MLS club.
Five victories and 15 points more were achieved than at this point last year, with only MLS Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes and playoff-bound D.C. United making larger turnarounds statistically.
Vancouver’s 43 points was also the highest total achieved in a single MLS season by a Canadian club, with expansion club Montreal Impact also joining the ‘Caps in passing the 40-point barrier in 2012.
The club’s first three wins away from home, plus 12 clean sheets also contributed to the improvement, but even Rennie knows there is plenty of room for further progress.
Much of that can be set aside for 2013. Right now, Whitecaps FC are six results away from an MLS Cup title. If anyone knows the recent postseason history of MLS, it is not as improbable for Vancouver, as it initially looks.
This past weekend offered a very good ‘dress rehearsal’ for the clash with the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center. Like LA, Real Salt Lake can be a formidable foe when they are at home.
The type of tests that Whitecaps FC endured in Saturday’s 0-0 draw were not only good for them tactically, but also mentally. Shutting down a potent RSL attack required organization, commitment, and spirit.
The ‘Caps not only showed those characteristics in hostile territory, they left the Rio Tinto Stadium pitch feeling confident and full of anticipation for Thursday night.
Relishing the opportunity that is the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs will be a big part of the game plan in Carson, California. Few, if any, expect a Whitecaps FC postseason run, but Rennie’s squad know their chance to become MLS champions is no more or less than any of the other nine contenders that will be involved.
Long-time ‘Caps supporters will be the first to reveal their excitement at this time of year, as the club’s playoff folklore has done much to shape the identity of the Blue and White.
One only needs to look back to the championship years of 1979 and 2006 when Whitecaps FC triumphed against the odds. Now its 2012 and we’re in that familiar position again.
The key is to enjoy the journey, starting Thursday. Any achievement from this point on will be greeted with delight and excitement, as few outside Whitecaps FC nation believe Vancouver is capable of achieving anything in this year’s playoffs.
I say, “Let the skeptics think that way…we’ll worry about getting a job done on Thursday...and beyond.”
The playoff train is at the station!
All aboard for LA!
WATCH THE 1979 NASL NATIONAL SOCCER CONFERENCE FINAL VS. NEW YORK COSMOS (courtesy of canadianblaster09)
PART 1: http://youtu.be/Tm2WkDW7stc
PART 2: http://youtu.be/tsMbk02WhHI
PART 3: http://youtu.be/ZPO1bfdgiiM
As we look forward to playing in our first Major League Soccer (MLS) playoff game against the mighty Los Angeles Galaxy, the task at hand appears quite daunting. The Galaxy are the reigning MLS Cup champions, and they boast three of the top players in the league in Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and of course, David Beckham.
If you are looking at this game on paper it is hard for anyone to really believe that we have any chance of going to LA and getting a result. Fortunately the game is played on the field, and not on paper. In fact, our boys can look at some playoff history that will show them they can do it.
To be the best …
It was back in 1979 when we were to face the cream of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the two-time defending Soccer Bowl champions New York Cosmos. In their team were World Cup winners Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) and Carlos Alberto (Brazil), as well as Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy) and Johan Neeskens (Netherlands) – the latter of whom led Holland to the runners-up spot in back-to-back FIFA World Cups in 1974 and 1978. Not to mention the wealth of other talented players they had on their team.
The Cosmos had finished with the best record in the NASL (24W-6L). In order to get past them, we needed not only to beat them once, but twice in a two-match home-and-home series – or in an extra mini-game should we win one match each.
We had confidence from beating them twice during the regular season, but this was the playoffs, and they had the added incentive of hosting the Soccer Bowl at their home venue – Giants Stadium.
Up against the odds
I have to say in looking at both teams’ rosters, our chances did not look too good. But we knew as a team that once both teams got out on the field that we were not going to be outworked by New York.
There was no doubt that there was more quality in their team, but mentally we felt that we had the edge. We were confident that we were more of a team and that we really trusted each other and could overcome anything that the Cosmos threw at us. But as they say, talk is cheap, and in the end you have to do your talking on the field.
Who wants it more?
We played the first game at home in front of a sell-out crowd (32,875) at Empire Stadium. The game was tense, hard fought, and very close. But we remained focused throughout the match and held strong. Eventually they were the first to blink and we came away with a 2-0 victory on goals by ‘Wee’ Willie Johnston and Trevor Whymark. The job was half done, but there was still plenty of work left to do going back to New York.
Even winning the first game did not change people’s opinions; the prevailing thought was still that the vaunted Cosmos had too much firepower for us and that would show with them playing at home.
When you go into a game as an underdog it is said that you really have nothing to lose and can play freely. There is some truth to that – there was definitely more pressure on New York than us – but we had a lot to lose. We had a chance to get to the Soccer Bowl and we were not going to let this team stand in our way.
We lost the game in a shootout, which meant that we would immediately play a 30-minute mini-game. The mini-game also ended tied, meaning the contest would go to a second shootout. After going toe-to-toe for almost four hours, we eventually came out on top.
David had conquered Goliath.
Our ’Caps face a mighty challenge against the Galaxy and will have to play their best game to advance. But I know firsthand that even the most talented of teams can be beaten.
The first step is believing that you will win.
Before the season, Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie set a goal to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. That may have seemed a lofty goal for a club coming off of a last-place finish in 2011, but after a long season the 'Caps achieved that goal. Along the way the team got their first MLS road victory, set a record for the longest shutout streak to start an MLS season, and put together an impressive home record by losing only three of 17 matches at BC Place.
We will most definitely be underdogs going into next week’s playoff clash versus LA Galaxy on the road, but one fact remains: this team is one of only 10 clubs left that can win MLS Cup this season.
A baby boy’s hair is not to be messed with unless the momma bear gives permission. Especially when that hair is curly and blonde. Imagine my shock and, let’s be honest, heartbreak, when I walked in the door to find it strangely quiet in our apartment. Quiet doesn’t happen here much, so I knew something was up. I rounded the corner to our bathroom to find Matt going to town with the razor. I thought he was being nice to let me step out of the house alone, little did I know his plans to shave our son’s head. And the quiet? The kid has a thing for brushing his teeth, it’s like Disney World to him, so Theo happily brushed (also known as drooled) while Matt happily shaved. And I silently cried.
Funny thing has happened though -- Theo is slightly faster, nimbler, and not falling as much (big accomplishment for him). His head has less bruises from staying afoot. We even thought we heard him say “good” the other day when we asked him how his day was going. Could it possibly be? Could the Power of the Mullet be the cause for his advances? We like to think so.
I’ve now embraced his Mini Mullet. Not only is it probably enhancing his physical, as well as mental, capabilities, it looks pretty darn cool for a one-year-old.
To increase the Power, we joined a few of the ‘Caps at Sugar Skull Salon on Wednesday for one last shape up before today’s game. There were no tears this time, but just as much drool as Theo sat still for about three and a half minutes thanks to a lollipop and his rockstar stylist, Gracie. A few new power stripes in there, a snip or two off the top, and he was good to go. I tried to get a snapshot of Theo with the original mullet, but Theo didn’t want to share the spotlight. Clearly the Mini Mullet isn’t helping his manners.
Regardless, today, of all days, is really the day for the spotlight to be on our ‘Caps. So in light of this afternoon’s momentous match: here’s to faster feet and greater goals -- here’s to the Power of the Mullet.
VIDEO: WHITECAPS FC VISIT SUGAR SKULL STUDIOS
Across Canada this weekend, family and friends will be digging into feasts of turkey or ham and giving thanks for the bounty that is served and the time shared with those they care about.
Wednesday night on Bell Pitch at BC Place, Whitecaps FC supporters were offered a bounty that satisfied their soccer palate, let alone their hunger for ‘The Beautiful Game’.
Facing an out-of-form Chivas USA side, the ‘Caps put together a performance that saw them turn the corner and provide plenty of optimism for the remaining couple of games in the 2012 regular season.
A first-ever 4-0 win in MLS was just the tonic that Martin Rennie’s side needed to put a difficult seven-match winless streak behind them and build on a three-game unbeaten run.
It was a midweek goal feast, and ‘Caps fans were served up different types of goals to enjoy. Like a recipe, the common theme in all four goals was good passing and movement, all of which are ingredients of good team understanding on the pitch.
It was pleasing to see the way Whitecaps FC worked to create the openings for their goals, as the build-up had as much quality as the finish on all four occasions.
This was down to some key goalscoring ingredients. Before coming off early with a hamstring strain, Kenny Miller offered vision in setting up Gershon Koffie’s match winner, as did all-around action man Camilo Sanvezzo with his two assists.
There was also speed - much of it used to devastating effect by Dane Richards. A winger by trade, the Jamaican international showed his striking abilities as a substitute on Wednesday.
The way Richards tormented Chivas USA centre back John Valencia was almost criminal to watch, but equally decisive in the thumping Vancouver gave The Goats.
There was also hunger and quickness, with Camilo offering those ingredients in the second half. Like a mountain lion, the Brazilian pounced to score the game’s third goal before intelligently running on to his own through ball to set up the fourth goal.
Wednesday’s soccer feast also served plenty of work rate and commitment on the defensive side of the ball by the Blue and White.
The way Rennie’s side closed down the Rojiblancos resulted in turnovers and loss of possession from the visitors. Barry Robson led by example with his applied pressure on Chivas USA opponents, and that defensive work was infectious amongst his teammates.
It resulted in one of the most comprehensive performances from the ‘Caps in MLS - a match that left everyone in good spirits going into the Thanksgiving Day long weekend.
With a five-point lead on sixth-place FC Dallas, the onus is now on the Texas club to match Vancouver’s midweek effort and beat Chivas USA on Thanksgiving Sunday (4 p.m. PT kickoff from The Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Live stream on MLS LIVE!)
Of course, the ‘Caps faithful will hope Robin Fraser’s side can shake off Wednesday’s defeat and do Vancouver a huge favour by earning a win or a draw versus The Hoops. Should that occur, Rennie’s side will head into their final regular season home match with Portland Timbers on Sunday, October 21, knowing a win will secure them a spot in this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs.
Then all in Whitecaps FC nation would be truly thankful!
There are some weekends in the year that prove to be sporting blockbusters, with many major events happening around the world. This weekend might have been one of them.
There was an historical Ryder Cup golf victory by Europe in the United States and the first Canadian to play in and win Australian rules football’s AFL Grand Final as a member of Sydney Swans (Victoria, BC, native Mike Pyke).
There were also events closer to home, with celebrations for one of our local senior soccer clubs, as Vancouver’s Westside FC completed a quartet of Over-35 titles by claiming their first Western Canadian Masters championship crown in Edmonton, Alberta.
Among the smorgasbord of sporting events was an equally exciting Pacific Northwest derby between Whitecaps FC and Seattle Sounders FC - much in thanks to a passionate sold-out crowd at BC Place.
Saturday’s clash was the 116 th edition of this Interstate 5 rivalry, and while there were no goals to speak of, the match had all the ingredients of a fierce derby battle.
Beyond the bragging rights and Cascadia Cup points that were on offer, Saturday’s match had a major bearing on the playoff hopes of both clubs. The result locked in Seattle’s place for the postseason, while the point was another step towards Whitecaps FC’s aspirations of reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time.
With some help from MLS Supporters’ Shield candidates San Jose Earthquakes (thank you, Steven Lenhart!), the ‘Caps came out of the weekend with the same two-point margin between themselves and sixth-place FC Dallas for the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference.
Of course, the gap could have been more, and Martin Rennie’s squad are fully aware of that. As evenly-fought as the game was on Saturday, a single goal would have likely been enough to take all three points for either side.
But at the very least, it was encouraging to see Whitecaps FC put a highly-rated Sounders FC under real amount of pressure in the second half, and that tends to be a rare experience for the Rave Green. It showed again that Whitecaps FC can battle with the league’s best and that would have restored some much-needed confidence in the squad.
Another positive was Vancouver earning their 10th clean sheet of the season (the first ‘Caps shutout for goalkeeper Brad Knighton) with a defensive display reminiscent of games earlier this season.
With three games to go in the regular season, the draw with Seattle was a further indication that Whitecaps FC may be set to put their lean run of results behind them.
It will require confidence and belief from Rennie’s squad, and an understanding that all will need to step up for the cause. After John Thorrington and Darren Mattocks went down with unfortunate hamstring injuries, Matt Watson and Camilo Sanvezzo answered the call and gave Seattle all they could handle.
Watson, in particular, performed admirably in midfield. He linked up well with his teammates, while arguably looking at his best in possession of the ball than at any point this season.
Those performances will inspire Camilo and Watson’s teammates to be of similar service themselves. After all, it is that time of the year when character is a big requirement for Whitecaps FC and their quest to reach the playoffs.
The short turnaround to hosting Chivas USA will also provide the ‘Caps immediate motivation that the next step to fully restoring their form can be achieved this week.
As always, our supporters will have their role to play on Wednesday night. Let’s all get out to BC Place and send our Blue and White into the Thanksgiving weekend and international break in the best of spirits!
Until Wednesday everyone!