2014 Vancouver Whitecaps Preview: Still a team in search of a signature moment | Armchair Analyst
Golden parachute: Camilo Sanvezzo had one of the greatest breakout years of any forward in league history. Then he had – easily – the most controversial goodbye. And now the Whitecaps have to figure out a way to replace 22 goals and six assists that all came within the flow of what offense they did manage to generate last year. Every other question pales in comparison to this.
Midfield mix: Right now, it looks like Carl Robinson is leaning toward a 4-2-3-1, and best guess is that the deep "2" line will be Nigel Reo-Coker and Matías Laba (who was acquired officially on Wednesday night). That's a good, intuitive pairing that combines both skill and bite. But they've got to learn how to play with each other in less than two weeks, which is no easy task. Vancouver came up short last year because they never got the midfield just right, so it's got to pain the Southsiders (and others) to see it still up in the air at this late date.
Break me out: There was not a more exciting player over the last month of the 2013 season than Kekuta Manneh, who is/should be the consensus "breakout player" for 2014 – not just for the 'Caps, but for the entire league. He missed most of preseason with an injury, but when he finally got on the field last weekend it took him less than 60 seconds to pick up his first assist. There will be many, many more to come.
Star Attraction: Russell Teibert
He has a gifted left foot and is very, very good in tight spaces – basically a Canadian Brad Davis. Over the years, various coaches have experimented using Davis centrally, and it looks like Teibert's going to get the same treatment under Robinson.
Will it work? Well, Teibert's not a pure chance creator like some of the other notable youngsters in the league (think Darlington Nagbe or Kelyn Rowe), but he's very, very secure on the ball and puts himself into good "outlet" positions off of it. Getting him into central midfield, either as part of the deep "2 line" or even in the middle of the more advanced "3", makes sense. Especially if you consider that when Teibert was going good last year, the 'Caps were as well. And when he fell off, so did the team.
The talent is there with the Canadian international, and he's been in the league long enough to make the jump. If he does, Vancouver have a fighting chance in a murderous West. If he doesn't, they could flounder along as a team in search of an answer.
Probable Formation: 4-2-3-1
GK: David Ousted
RB: Steven Beitashour
CD: Jay DeMerit, Andy O'Brien
LB: Jordan Harvey
DM: Matías Laba
CM: Nigel Reo-Coker
RM: Sebastian Fernandez
AM: Russell Teibert
LM: Kekuta Manneh
FWD: Darren Mattocks
Major Acquisition: Steven Beitashour
The one place Vancouver could always turn to for some attacking intent over the past couple of seasons was right back, which says two things: The midfield was unforgiveably defensive, and the since-retired Y.P. Lee was invaluable. Any true fan of the game will miss him.
It goes without saying, then, that right back was a big hole to fill this offseason. And in Steven Beitashour, the 'Caps did about as well as their fans could've hoped in filling it.
Beitashour is an A+ overlapping threat, capable of crossing with either foot – but doing so especially well with his right foot, and especially well on the run. His 16 assists over the last three seasons is more than any other defender in the league.
And now that he's healthy after 12 months battling various leg injuries, he is a defensive plus as well. It's not a coincidence that once he got fit in the second half of 2013, the Quakes stopped giving up soft goals that started up the flanks.
SEE MORE: Transaction page
What He Said
“The way I'm going to play, my fullbacks are going to attack. They're going to get forward and get balls into the box."
FANTASY PICK: Jordan Harvey ($7.5m / selected by 0.8 percent of teams) – Scored two goals in the Whitecaps' 5-1 win over Portmore United last weekend and could lead all defenders in goals scored by the end of the season. His price is a little steep for a team that's expected to give up a bunch of goals, but he could be worth the risk. Especially with a very favorable schedule during the World Cup.
Players to watch: Erik Hurtado, Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks
I had to rewrite this after the Laba loan option began to materialize, especially since Teibert had been playing so well next to Reo-Coker on the "2" line, according to preseason reports. Pushing Teibert up higher and bringing Laba into the mix should actually make the 4-2-3-1 look a little more like a 4-3-3, which is a change I like a lot (bear in mind that this could continue to change, as reports have Robinson hot on the trail of a "Latin No. 10").
Anything that puts Manneh and Mattocks – and yes, it's going to be Dazza who has to fill most of that Camilo-sized void – closer to the same attacking axis excites me in a "Millennium Falcon jumping into hyper-drive" kind of way. It should be blinding.
But there are too many "should-bes" and "maybes" about the midfield and attack, and that will put a lot of pressure on a central defense that's, frankly, very old. Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien are seasoned pros but they're not built to face wave after wave after wave of pressure. Not when there isn't a clear system in place for getting the ball up and defending through possession.
As Reo-Coker said last year after RSL schooled the 'Caps in a late-season contest, the best teams in MLS have a style that's embedded into every guy on the roster. It becomes instinct, and because of it they may face five minutes of sustained pressure, but rarely 15.
Vancouver are going to be defending in big, 15-minute chunks. That's hard. And in a murderous Western Conference this year, it makes them less than even money to make the playoffs.