VANCOUVER, B.C. – Most pundits have picked Vancouver Whitecaps FC to finish at or near the bottom of the MLS standings this season, but those closest to the team are confident that the critics will be surprised.
One reason for these contrasting expectations is the fact that so few players on the Whitecaps roster have played in MLS. A cause for confidence, however, comes from the man leading the charge, as head coach Teitur Thordarson has implemented a winning culture the past three seasons.
Thordarson has said that the team’s goal is to make the playoffs and that nothing else will do. But even he admits that success will be contingent on one key factor.
“Clearly, it’s important that our best players are healthy,” said the Icelandic coach, following the team’s 1-0 preseason loss to Colorado on Saturday. “We know that we don’t have 25 players of MLS quality.”
The team was missing several key cogs against the Rapids. Absentees included captain Jay DeMerit, playmaker Davide Chiumiento and midfielders John Thorrington and Shea Salinas. That’s not to say that the roster isn’t filled with other talented players, they just lack the experience of competing in a premier professional league.
“We have lots of good young players, but they haven’t been on this level before” said Thordarson. “But we are not worried about that because these guys will quickly adjust during the season and they will grow into the level.”
Thordarson’s optimism was verified by the performance of two of his youngsters on Saturday. Eighteen-year-old Russell Teibert impressed on the left side and created the ‘Caps best scoring chance of the match, while 22-year-old Michael Boxall filled in admirably for DeMerit at center back.
“[Russell] has been doing extremely well, and if he continues to do that it’s not unlikely that he will be our starting left midfielder,” stated Thordarson. “Michael Boxall has been extremely impressive throughout the preseason. His physical presence is clearly seen, and he hardly makes a mistake.”
If Thordarson’s squad are to meet their goals this year, they’ll need more of the same from their young nucleus.