2011 Vancouver Preview: New era for storied club

The Whitecaps officially presented new striker Eric Hassli on Thursday.

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Whitecaps FC are a proud franchise looking to make a big impact in their first MLS season. Will they be able to live up to hype?

Setting the Scene:

Originally founded in 1973, Vancouver Whitecaps FC have a rich history and they’ve made it very clear they intend to return to prominence. That goal starts with a highly engaged ownership group determined to see the team thrive. The organization is well on its way to achieving elite status off the field, but now it’s time to prove themselves where it matters most.

[inline_node:324964]The Whitecaps come to the league under similar circumstances to what Seattle did two years ago: new to MLS, but certainly not starting from scratch. Icelandic coach Teitur Thordarson has been the headman of Vancouver’s second-division squad for the past three seasons as the team slowly added players that could compete on a top level. Now he leads a balanced group of youth and experience that includes MLS veterans, established European players and up-and-coming youngsters from around the world.

WATCH: Whitecaps try to forge identity for 2011

US national-team veteran Jay DeMerit was brought in to provide leadership to the roster, while MLS mainstays such as Joe Cannon and John Thorrington were acquired to help offset the typical growing pains of an expansion team. Lengthy offseason and preseason training camps have helped the group develop early chemistry, but the true test of cohesion will come on March 19.

Key Changes:

- Players In: Michael Boxall (UC Santa Barbara), Jeb Brovsky (University of Notre Dame), Joe Cannon (San Jose), Davide Chiumiento (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Philippe Davies (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Jay DeMerit (Watford, England), Bilal Duckett (University of Notre Dame), Terry Dunfield (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Eric Hassli (FC Zürich, Switzerland), Atiba Harris (FC Dallas), Greg Janicki (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Nizar Khlafan (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Wes Knight (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Gershon Koffie (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Jonathan Leathers (Sporting Kansas City), Michael Nanchoff (University of Akron), Jay Nolly (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Alain Rochat (FC Zürich, Switzerland), Omar Salgado (Generation Adidas), Shea Salinas (Philadelphia), Bryan Sylvestre (Whitecaps FC Residency), John Thorrington (Chicago), Russell Teibert (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Alexandre Morfaw (D-2 Whitecaps FC), Camilo (Gyeongnam, South Korea)

- Players Out: Sanna Nyassi (Colorado), Nathan Sturgis (Toronto FC), Alejandro Moreno (Chivas USA), Alan Gordon (Chivas USA), O’Brian White (Seattle Sounders FC)

[inline_node:329790]Star Attraction: Jay DeMerit

DeMerit is the face of this franchise. The 6-foot-1 center back was a starter in all four games for the US at last summer’s FIFA World Cup and will wear the captain’s armband for the Whitecaps in their inaugural MLS season.

A former coach at English club Watford FC once called DeMerit the Rocky Balboa of soccer for his now notorious tale of battling his way through the lower leagues in England before landing a spot with Watford and riding it all the way to the Premier League. That’s the kind of battling mentality Vancouver desire in Season One. He brings a wealth of experience and his leadership will be invaluable to Vancouver’s success.

WATCH: Thordarson build's team from the back

Unsung Hero: Terry Dunfield

After more than a decade in England, Dunfield has finally returned to play for his hometown club. The former Manchester City prodigy is a gritty central midfielder with strong technical ability. The 29-year-old, an alternate captain on the squad, joined the Whitecaps midway through their final D2 season, so he’s already quite comfortable with Thordarson’s playing style.

Expect the 5-foot-10 Canadian to be at the heart of Vancouver’s first-year fortunes, and don’t be surprised if he makes his mark in the league sooner rather than later.

Ready for Primetime: Davide Chiumiento

There’s no doubting Chiumiento’s pedigree – having been trained in the youth system of Italian powerhouse Juventus – but some people were concerned with his minimal contributions for the Whitecaps in the second division last season.

However – with the MLS season quickly approaching – the diminutive maestro is starting to round into form. Thordarson is counting on the skilled 5-foot-8 playmaker to play a key role in igniting the ‘Caps attack.

Storylines to Watch:

Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tom Soehn has worked hard scouting for the past year, but has he built a winning roster? All in all, the team appears strong down the middle with DeMerit leading the back line, Dunfield and Thorrington potentially pairing to form a veteran partnership in midfield, and Hassli bringing a physical presence up front.

Just how good is the Swiss Super League? The Whitecaps will be counting heavily on three veterans from Switzerland’s top flight. Alain Rochat has looked strong at left back, but it’s Chiumiento and Hassli who fans hope to see cut through opposing teams like Swiss cheese.

Though many doubt them, Vancouver are very much focused on making the MLS Cup Playoffs. The fact that their cross-border rivals have accomplished so much so quickly – at least off the field – only adds fuel to the fire. Winning the Nutrilite Canadian Championship is of equal importance with the club keen to participate in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League. Are these benchmarks realistic? Only time will tell.

What He Said:

“We are by no means a well-oiled machine yet … [but] you’re going to see a hard-working team. Our fitness is going to be right up there with the best in the league [and] guys are going to be well organized down the spine of the team.”

– Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit

If Everything Goes Right:

History shows that expansion teams tend to struggle on the field in their first year, but the Whitecaps won’t settle for anything but success. If the ‘Caps learned anything from Seattle, it’s that success starts with the first match, and the club has put a great deal of emphasis on its league debut on March 19.

Thordarson always seems to bring out the best in his teams, whether it’s been the Estonian national team or the D2 ‘Caps. They may not take the league by storm, but Thordarson will ensure they’re no pushovers. Management is not done bringing in players either, so it may come down to a big summer signing to ultimately give this team a chance to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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