Armchair Analyst: 'Caps did things right – until they didn't
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)
Let’s say you’re building an MLS team. One that’s coming off a pretty miserable year, during which the defense stunk, the midfield stunk and the offense was only marginally better.
You have a few things you have to get right. Have to, or you’re going to end up in a state of perpetual rebuilding.
First, you have to nail your highest draft pick. You can’t take a guy who’s not going to contribute – you need a guy who’s going to make a difference, win you a few games here and there.
Second, you have to find at least one defender who can help change the shape of your backline. Know why your defense stunk? Because you were predictable, and presented no threat moving forward from the backline. It’s pretty much a constant for bad MLS teams.
Third – and this is the one that most teams get wrong – third, you have to not blow up the roster. It’s counter-intuitive, because your team was bad and you should feel bad, but chances are, it wasn’t mostly because of talent. It was mostly because, in a league with as much parity as MLS, chemistry and balance are weighted more heavily than elsewhere, and your team had none. Keeping the roster together for one season (we’ll call them rollover minutes) is worth anywhere from 10-22 points, depending upon which articles you believe.
Anyway, that’s the story of the 2011 Vancouver Whitecaps. They’re right on that spectrum.
WATCH: Chiumiento sets up Le Toux
And they had an offseason to die for, really. They crushed the second overall pick with Darren Mattocks. They got Sebastien Le Toux for peanuts. They brought back Camilo, Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Gershon Koffie to generate chances and keep their midfield shape. Jay DeMerit got healthy. Y.P. Lee came in to play fullback.
Everything was in place for them to go from the very worst team in the league to one that was a legit contender. Our man Simon Borg even picked them to win the MLS Cup on ExtraTime Radio, and he was only half-crazy in doing it.
The ‘Caps went 8-4-5 during the first half of the season. They had one of the league’s best defenses, and an offense that looked like it would be quite promising once all the attackers were fully integrated.
Did we expect them to keep it up in the second half? No, not really. But clearly – clearly! – this was a team reaping the benefits of rollover minutes, and that needed but one more year of stability and cohesion before they would end up in a dogfight with the likes of LA, RSL and Seattle for Western supremacy.
Chiumiento, Le Toux and Hassli are all gone now. DeMerit and Lee are a year older. Mattocks alternated time with DP striker Kenny Miller, who didn’t produce. Barry Robson was the other DP, and he didn’t produce either.
Basically, Vancouver did everything right for about six months. They followed the blueprint almost exactly for building a winner out of a scrub. Then, for no reason that anyone can really put words to, they blew it up midseason and sunk like a stone.
They went 3-9-5 in the second half, and now basically have to repeat the rebuilding process this year. They don’t have the same midfield creativity, though – losing Chiumiento really, really hurt – and don’t have the set-piece dominance or target forward necessary to be strictly a long ball, Route 1 team. It’s basically impossible to say what formation they’ll play in 2013, because nothing Martin Rennie tried in the second half of 2012 worked. Sure, they snuck into the playoffs. But would you bet on them getting back next year?
Neither would I.
The good news? Somehow they learned both what to do, and what not to do, in the same season. That might be an MLS first.