Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2011
2011 Club by Club
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New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Sporting Kansas City
Vancouver's inaugural MLS season was eventful to say the least. Highlighted with two successful stadium openings, two postponed matches due to inclement weather, and two head coaches, it has certainly been a interesting first year in British Columbia.
Things started promisingly with a 4-2 victory against Canadian rivals Toronto FC on First Kick weekend, but as key experienced players Jay DeMerit, Atiba Harris, and John Thorrington found themselves in the treatment room more often than on the pitch, an inexperienced MLS 'Caps squad learned some tough lessons about top-flight soccer in North America.
Their record of 6-18-10 was not the most flattering, however with the sparkling new BC Place finally open the ‘Caps will hope to turn it into a fortress moving onto next season. They certainly scored several fantastic goals throughout the season as stars such as Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento shone to give the Whitecaps faithful moments to cheer about. Although they lost more than half their games, Vancouver’s defense, anchored by US national team veteran Jay DeMerit, performed favorably at times. But the back-line conceded 55 times, the third most in the league. They also scored a league worst 35 times, as the offense struggled to produce on a regular basis.
Still, there’s been much to celebrate after the 2011 season. Top-level soccer is back in Vancouver for the first time since the original NASL, and the club’s off-field story this past season was nothing short of magical, as an average of 20,406 fans showed up at Empire Field and BC Place to cheer on the team, good for the third-highest average attendance in MLS.
One of the biggest highlights came at the very beginning of the side’s MLS tenure. Fifteen minutes into the club’s first MLS match against Toronto FC on March 19, Eric Hassli announced his arrival in North America with a tremendous left-footed half volley to put the Whitecaps up 1-0. The goal got an already excited Empire Field rocking and set the tone for the sort of atmosphere fans created all season long in Vancouver.
The frustrating thing for Vancouver throughout 2011 was untimely injuries to key players. One such injury occurred to leader and central defender DeMerit at a pivotal point of the campaign. Forty-one minutes into the second leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final on July 2, captain DeMerit made a desperate slide to save a sure goal from Toronto’s Javier Martina with the ‘Caps leading 1-0.
While his play saved the goal, albeit in controversial fashion as the ball looked as if it crossed the line, the influential American re-aggravated a groin injury, which ultimately kept him out for more than a month.
The timing was bad news for DeMerit, who had missed the better part of two months early in the season, and meant the Whitecaps had to attempt a run for a playoff position without their leader for the rest of July and early August.
Frenchman Hassli provided one hugely memorable moment with a sublime effort which resonated across the globe. More than five million hits on YouTube and a Top 5 nomination at the ESPY awards says it all. Hassli’s June 11 wonder-strike against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field is arguably one of the best goals in MLS history, and fell just short of Goal of the Year. While the tremendous flick-up and volley over Kasey Keller from outside the area was spectacular, the fact the goal was against a Cascadia rival made it even sweeter for Vancouver’s fans.
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon produced a string off fine saves throughout the year, as he led the side to a stout defensive record. In Vancouver’s 1-0 victory against the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 27, Cannon made a number of tremendous saves. His 72nd-minute stop on Brian Ching was nominated for MLS Save of the Week, but he made an even better stop in the 24th minute, as he had to readjust his body after a shot from Brad Davis deflected off Carlo Costly from close range. The 36-year-old has been in the league with numerous teams since ’98 and his experience was invaluable, starting 20 games and making 66 saves on the year.
There was also a clear winner of MVP for the ‘Caps, as fans and officials alike agreed Brazilian playmaker Camilo was hands down the most influential man in 2011. The Brazilian led the team in minutes played with 2,484 and was the club’s leading scorer with 12 goals. Five of those were on the road, which demonstrates the consistent performance the 23-year-old brought every match. Add in the quality of some of those strikes, the fact that 2011 was Camilo’s first season playing in North America and also being played out of position on the wing, only adds to his exceptional debut season.