2013 Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps FC
2012 record: 11W-13L-10D (43 points); 35 GF / 41 GA (-6 GD)
Over two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Vancouver's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Vancouver Whitecaps FC entered the 2012 season with renewed optimism after a dire 2011 debut season in Major League Soccer. This was largely due to the appointment of Martin Rennie, a young Scottish coach with nothing but success on his résumé – albeit at the lower tiers.
Rennie was as good as advertised, helping the ‘Caps become the first Canadian club to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs despite a nosedive which followed a nearly catastrophic midseason shuffle. Aftering starting the season as one of the league's best teams, the summer overhaul left Vancouver without an identity or much in the way of creative impetus.
They ended up making the playoffs due to their defense, which is what they'll build from in 2013. Not much has been done to supplement what was a poor offense, apart from the signing of Daigo Kobayashi, a Japanese attacking midfielder, who should answer some of the creative need.
Where the goals will come from is still a question – Kenny Miller finally playing like a Designated Player would be the simple answer, but that's no guarantee. And neither is a return to 2011 from from Brazilian attacker Camilo Sanvezzo, or continued progress from youngster Darren Mattocks.
In and Out
IN: F Paulo Jr. (12/14/12 - Re-Entry Draft Stage 2), D Brad Rusin (1/11/13 - transfer from HB Køge), F Kekuta Manneh (1/17/13 - SuperDraft), F/M Erik Hurtado (1/17/13 - SuperDraft), F Corey Hertzog (1/23/13 - free), F Tommy Heinemann (1/23/13 - free), M Daigo Kobayashi (1/28/13 - free), D Johnny Leveron (2/19/13 - free), M/D Nigel Reo-Coker (2/21/13 - free)
OUT: GK Brian Sylvestre (11/8/12 - option declined), M Tiago Ulisses (11/8/12 - option declined), F Etienne Barbara (11/8/12 - option declined), M John Thorrington (12/3/12 - option declined), M/F Atiba Harris (12/3/12 - traded to Colorado), M Barry Robson (1/21/13 - contract terminated), D Martín Bonjour (1/25/13 - waived), M Michael Nanchoff (2/13/12 - trade to Portland)
Star Attraction: Darren Mattocks
GOAL: Mattocks rises above Kocic
OK, continued progress is no guarantee, but he sure looks good this preseason.
The Jamaican speedster has the swagger and the natural talent to finish 2013 among the league’s top scorers. Mattocks scored seven goals in his rookie year despite starting just 15 matches in a campaign disjointed by a severe burn injury and disciplinary problems, and if he finds chances at the same rate in 2013, a monster year could be in the offing.
"If" is a big word, of course, but the 22-year-old should get more creative support from midfield, and the starting spot is his to lose. There's no reason to think he won't become one of the best in MLS.
He feels he can score 20 goals – and while that’s ambitious, it would take a brave soul to bet against him.
Unsung Hero: Alain Rochat
Rochat is naturally a left fullback, but as one of the team’s better distributors of the ball, Rennie elected to try the Swiss-Canadian in central midfield at the expense of Jun Marques Davidson in 2012. The 30-year-old shields the back four at a similar standard to Davidson, but offers a wider range of distribution, so expect him to play there again this season.
With veterans John Thorrington and Barry Robson moving on, Rochat’s experience centrally will be key. The even-keeled veteran is a nice counterpoint to an attack that is stocked with young, speedy types. It'll be his job to keep them calm – and to find them early, in the open field.
He’s also a threat from dead ball situations with his consistently dangerous left peg.
Ready for Primetime: Brad Knighton
After stealing the starting job from Joe Cannon late in 2012, Brad Knighton showed he was just as capable as one of Major League Soccer’s best-ever goalkeepers. If the Richmond, Va., native keeps his starting place as expected, this will be his first full MLS season as the No. 1.
Knighton has gone from an uncertain youngster to a confident presence who commands his box well and marshals his backline. He's also shown good distribution, a key factor for a team that wants to keep the ball and build from the back. With an experienced defense in front of him, it not unreasonable to expect Knighton to finish near the top of the charts in goals against and save percentage.
Storylines to Watch
1. Where are the goals going to come from? Mattocks is capable of leading this attack, but his supporting cast offensively comprises largely unknown (in MLS) quantities like Kobayashi, and unproven youngsters. Someone will have to step up.
2. Will Miller prove his quality? The Scotsman was one of the top scorers in Europe at the peak of his career, but found goal just twice in 13 matches for the Whitecaps after signing as a Designated Player in midseason. He'll need to learn to fit in with Mattocks, who's the future of the team, and not the other way around.
3. How will the central midfield shake out? It seems certain that Kobayashi will have the playmaker's role. Rochat seems a safe bet to be one of the deep-lying midfielders. Where does that leave the likes of Gershon Koffie, Davidson and newcomer Nigel Reo-Coker?
What He Said
“Expectations are something that other people put on us and they kind of talk about. For us, we’re just focused on getting better and improving. I think where we are at this point this season is a little bit ahead of where we were at this point last season. We’ve also got a number of good games and good results and performances behind us from last season, so we’re in a better place and I think we can go from here.”
– Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie
If Everything Goes Right
Should everything go to plan, the Whitecaps will start like they did in 2012, but achieve more consistency in the second half of the season. Still, with such a young attacking group, there will inevitably be peaks and valleys. At the back, they have plenty of experienced heads with Jay DeMerit, Andy O’Brien and Lee Young-Pyo, as well as newcomer Johnny Leverón, who captained Honduras to the Olympic quarterfinals last summer. How they manage to blend – and, for the veterans, hold up against Father Time – could make or break the club's season.
Expect the 'Caps to once again compete for the playoffs, likely just sneaking in or missing out in a fifth- or sixth-place Western Conference finish.