Opta Spotlight: Healthy DeMerit ushers in defensive shift
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)
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps Average Position
First things first, the Whitecaps' shape from defensive midfield to goalkeeper is exquisite. Good spacing, central defenders in the channels and a midfielder in the middle to link back to front.
Apart from that, though, things appear to be a mess. Much of that has to do with all the personnel moves, but it still speaks to the inconsistency in the Vancouver XI, which won't entirely change as Dane Richards must be replaced this offseason.
As the Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle pointed out, all that shuffling must stop at some point if Martin Rennie wants to build attacking chemistry.
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
Once again, lineup changes make conclusions hard to come by when examining Vancouver's passing matrix.
Here is what we do know: Lee Young-Pyo was the most indispensable passer in the side. Not only did he lead the 'Caps in attempted and successful passes (1,149), but he was first in chances created (33), second in successful crosses and was the clear link between the backline and midfield.
A bit of good news? Barry Robson and Kenny Miller found common ground in possession, with the midfielder feeding the his fellow Scotsman the most of any player in the side.
1) Direct, counterattacking play was the name of the game
There's a reason Vancouver's attacking players struggled to rack up passing and possession numbers. The 'Caps just didn't have the ball that much.
They finished third to last in MLS in successful passes (10,231) and were in the bottom six in passing accuracy (74.6 percent completion rate). But, hey, those were both improvements from 2011. Baby steps, baby steps.
Among true attacking players, Davide Chiumiento finished first in completed passes (513) and fifth in chances created, and he returned to Switzerland in early July. Is there any surprise why the attack suffered so much without him?
2) Where will the chances come from?
You probably raised an eyebrow when you read an outside back led the side in chances created. That was the right reaction.
The Whitecaps had the third-worst goalscoring record in MLS (35 goals scored), and that's not particularly surprising when you look at basic attacking stats. They were second to last in the league in shots on goal (116) and total shots (287), both prerequisites for successful attacks.
The reason for that? A combination of the direct style employed by Rennie and the lack of creative options in the midfield and forward pool. One last note: Vancouver were also third to last in big chances with 35.
3) Offense wasn't a strength, but Rennie reinvented the defense
How did Vancouver make the playoffs with such dire attacking numbers, you might ask? Well, they turned into a shutdown defensive unit, a necessary shift after a dreadful expansion season.
In just about every defensive metric – clearances, blocks and interceptions, most notably – the 'Caps logged huge improvements. Now, their total tackles dropped, but I'd attribute that more to the fact that last-ditch defending was no longer frequently required.
If you're searching for a player to pin that improvement on, look no further than Jay DeMerit. He led the club in CBI (363) by 123, finishing fourth in that category in MLS behind Carlos Valdés, Austin Berry and Drew Moor.
Random nugget: Vancouver recorded 10 last-man tackles in 2011. In 2012? Just one.