Bring on 2017.
The calendar has turned and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are now less than a month away from kicking off the preseason and less than two months away from opening their 2017 campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Crazy, I know.
Before we know it, the ‘Caps will be on the pitch again and I – for one – can’t wait.
Here are five things I’m look forward to this year:
The ‘Caps, of course, have qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, which is exciting on many levels. This is the first time the club has reached the knockout stage of the competition, designed to crown the top team in the region encompassing North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and they’ve done so as the number one seed.
It’s a massive opportunity.
And, as an added bonus, it gives Whitecaps FC a pair of meaningful matches to look forward to before the start of the 2017 MLS regular season. In fact, these are shaping up two be two of the most important matches in the club’s MLS history.
The ‘Caps visit fellow MLS side New York Red Bulls on February 22 in the first leg of quarterfinals, before hosting the decisive second leg on March 2 at BC Place, with the winner moving on to face a Mexican opponent (either Pumas or Tigres) in the semifinal.
It’s time to #RiseUpRainCity.
At this time last year, nobody had even heard of Alphonso Davies.
Now, he's widely recognized as one of the club's brightest young prospects after a year in which he signed his first professional contract, debuted in Major League Soccer at the age of 15, and earned recognition as the 2016 Canadian U-17 Player of the Year.
The kid is fun to watch. Period.
That said, we need to be very careful of not expecting too much of Davies in 2017. He is only 16, after all. And now, he's no longer an unknown commodity.
How will he respond to the added attention?
There’s no doubt about that.
In fact, the 'Caps have already acquired experienced MLS right back Sheanon Williams and Robinson has made it no secret of his intention to find key “difference-makers” after the departures of Octavio Rivero and Pedro Morales, whose option was declined.
This team is going to have a different look. How so?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Two new enemies have entered the battlefield.
Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC are gearing up for their inaugural MLS seasons, with Minnesota joining Whitecaps FC in the Western Conference. Minnesota, in fact, could be a new popular ‘Caps On Tour location, especially for fans in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Atlanta, meanwhile, have been turning heads around MLS with over 22,000 season ticket sales and the acquisition of Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron, who reportedly drew interest from English Premier League side Arsenal FC before settling on Atlanta.
Bring ‘em on!
The ‘Caps are expected to move into their new training home this spring, which is a major milestone for the club. And one that’s been in the works for years.
The National Soccer Development Centre will feature a state-of-the-art 35,000-square foot fieldhouse located in Thunderbird Park on the campus of the University of British Columbia, as well as three grass fields and two artificial turf fields neighbouring the facility.
Not only will this be the home for Vancouver’s first team, it will also house Whitecaps FC 2 and the club’s Residency teams, which will allow the club to integrate the entire technical side of the business under one roof. Certainly, it’s a positive step as the club continues to move forward.