Eric Hassli San Jose Earthquakes BC Place
Bob Frid

Reviewing an exciting first half of 2012 for Whitecaps FC in MLS

What a difference a year makes!

After a difficult first season in Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s 2012 MLS campaign could not look more different at the midway point.

The anticipation for an improved season in North America’s top flight was cultivated with exciting off-season acquisitions and an impressive preseason campaign that culminated in success at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Florida.

The aims at the start of the season may have been modest, but the desire to compete and win honours was as high as ever around the Blue and White. Martin Rennie’s job as Whitecaps FC head coach was to chart that course for new heights.

Through 16 league matches, building blocks have been put in place for the ‘Caps to make an impact this season and beyond. From important milestones to inspirational performances, there is a lot to be excited about.

Those achieved milestones started early in the season, as Vancouver got over the hurdle of not winning on the road in MLS in 2011 by defeating Chivas USA through a first-ever ‘Caps goal by captain Jay DeMerit in Carson, California, in Week Two.

Another mark to be reached was one that few expected. After much preseason hype about Whitecaps FC’s attacking depth, one big story to emerge this season has been the sturdiness and dependability of Vancouver’s backline.

This became immediately evident when Whitecaps FC set a new MLS record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal to start a season (427 minutes). That defensive resiliency has grown to seven clean sheets, which is nearly half of Vancouver’s MLS games played resulting in a shutout.

Not bad for a defensive line-up (Young-Pyo Lee, Martin Bonjour, DeMerit, and Alain Rochat) that some expected to break down through injury and age this season. And what about the play of goalkeeper Joe Cannon! His shot-stopping reflexes remain as sharp as ever in his 15th MLS season.

Having surpassed last season’s MLS win total of six, a new mark will be established by the ‘Caps in 2012, with Rennie’s side also two points short of last season’s points total in the league.

The ingredients for those unfolding achievements have proven to excite, if not inspire, the club’s faithful. In particular, two victories at BC Place underlined the character and resilience that Rennie has instilled in his squad.

The Scottish tactician has spoken of his side’s desire to fight to the final whistle. That was seen on May 5 when the ‘Caps stunned Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes by overturning a one-goal deficit to win 2-1 on a last-minute strike by Eric Hassli (pictured).

Where that performance showed spirit, the effort to win a league match a man short was epic and inspirational. Playing with ten men for the last half-hour, Davide Chiumiento and Sebastien Le Toux combined for one of the best Whitecaps FC goals of the season at BC Place on June 16. Not a bad way to christen the club’s new third kit.

Former English Premier League manager Iain Dowie coined the word ‘bouncebackability’ to describe his team rebounding from a setback. It can be said that Whitecaps FC have shown ‘bouncebackability’ on three occasions.

The latest example came on May 26, as the ‘Caps put the disappointment that was this year’s Amway Canadian Championship (ACC) behind them with a hard-fought draw at Cascadia Cup rivals Portland Timbers.

Darren Mattocks scored a fine equalizer in The City of Roses that night, and it is hard to leave Jamaican youngster’s name out of this mid-season review. Not even an unfortunate off-the-pitch injury could slow the speedy marksman down, with four goals already to his name, and more on the horizon…

And when you think of Whitecaps FC goals…who can forget Hassli! The big Frenchman is a popular figure, and his world-class volley versus Toronto FC at BC Place in the ACC final, first leg, just added to his folklore with the Blue and White.

It has been a fun few months at Whitecaps FC. Let’s all hope the next few months bring more joy and excitement!