2012 in Review: Vancouver Whitecaps
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 11-13-10 (43 points); 35 GF / 41 GA (-6 GD)
After a sobering first season in Major League Soccer, in which the Vancouver Whitecaps finished dead last, the club made steady progress in Year 2, qualifying for a first-ever MLS Cup playoff experience through a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
Under new head coach Martin Rennie, himself debuting in MLS, the ‘Caps found a structure and a defensive strength which they lacked in 2012, and had an impressive first half of the season in which they jockeyed with the conference’s best atop the standings.
But somewhere along the line, things began to fall apart. Three key players departed midseason, with stars Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Sébastien Le Toux moving on. In their place came the Scottish Designated Player pairing of Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, as well as Jamaican winger Dane Richards. Former Irish international Andy O’Brien arrived shortly after to bolster the backline.
That turnover involving key personnel appeared to backfire, with the club finishing the season with only one win in its last 10 matches. Despite the hapless finish though, the club squeaked into the postseason.
Best Moment of the Year
After many had written off Vancouver’s chances in their first round MLS Cup knockout match with the LA Galaxy, Darren Mattocks made fans across the continent fear for the defending champions, as he coolly finished a set-up from Matt Watson in the fourth minute.
While the ‘Caps went on to lose the game, that early goal symbolized the progression of the team from a laughing stock in 2011 to a gritty, hard-to-beat outfit a year later.
Worst Moment of the Year
If Mattocks’ goal proved how far the Whitecaps have come, the team’s 1-0 defeat to the Portland Timbers on October 21 showed how far they still need to go to become a serious contender for a championship.
A win that evening would have qualified the team for the playoffs automatically – but instead the ‘Caps fell to their Cascadia rivals with perhaps the meekest performance of the year, and in the process the Vancouver faithful were forced to endure taunts from the Timbers Army as the Cascadia Cup was paraded around BC Place by the visitors.
Everybody knew that Darren Mattocks had a spring in his step. But on July 11, he scored an absurd goal by leaping over Toronto FC’s Logan Emery and beating goalkeeper Milos Kocic to the ball to knock home.
The goal, which made it to the Round of 16 in the 2012 AT&T Goal of the Year competition, will likely go down as one of the most memorable displays of raw athleticism in the 2012 MLS season.
In the team’s third game of the season, a scoreless draw with D.C. United on March 24, Joe Cannon showed everybody he’s still got cat-like reflexes at age 37, making a one-handed save off the line from a Hamdi Salihi header.
That remarkable reaction save to prevent a certain goal from a corner brought Cannon within a hair of winning the league’s save of the year award outright, eventually losing out to Nick Rimando in the final round.
Despite being the club’s oldest outfield player at age 35, Lee Young-Pyo logged more minutes than any of his teammates – playing in all but one match all season for a total of 2,970 minutes on the pitch.
Adding consistency and a quiet leadership style at the back with an ability to get up and down the touchline to aid in the attack, he was a big reason for the team’s much-improved defensive record in 2012.
As toothless as Vancouver looked like for much of the season offensively, sneaking into the postseason with the lowest goal tally of any of the qualifying teams with just 35 goals scored, it’s difficult to imagine the team getting to the playoffs at all without Darren Mattocks.
In a team often lacking in imagination and regularly starved of possession, the second overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft’s speed and athleticism often provided the most likely source of a goal – scoring seven from 21 matches in his debut season.
1. Find a way to score goals: Whether that means bringing in more creativity in midfield to create more chances for the forwards, or bringing in forwards capable of creating more opportunities on their own, something needs to change, as 35 goals scored isn’t good enough for a team with playoff ambitions.
2. Right side reinforcements: With the departure of Dane Richards for English second-tier side Burnley, the club no longer has a natural right-sided winger on the books. Sticking with the right side, Lee Young-Pyo was asked to play a lot of minutes in 2012 – partly as a result of a lack of depth at right fullback. If a more capable understudy was brought in at the position, perhaps the South Korean star would have been fresher for the end-of-season run-in.
3. Goalkeeping clarity: Brad Knighton (right) was impressive after replacing Joe Cannon late in the 2012 campaign, but he’s never had a full season as an MLS starter under his belt. If Knighton is going to start the season as the No. 1, Cannon has suggested he would like to move on. If that’s the case, the sooner the club brings in a competitor or capable backup for Knighton, the better.