As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.
1 – The lone champion left standing on Dec. 1, 2012
We're 24 hours away from First Kick. But why play the 2012 season to begin with?
Everyone has crowned the LA Galaxy before we’ve even kicked off the campaign. It’s the fashionable pick, the obvious selection, the easy choice. Too easy.
No one talks about the pressure that the CONCACAF Champions League will exert on the defending champs beginning this weekend when Bruce Arena has to shuffle his lineup to deal with Real Salt Lake and a CCL quarterfinal second leg in midweek.
WATCH: Fresh start for Vancouver, Le Toux
No one mentions the international absences that are going to cripple the Galaxy this summer and prevent them from hitting stride this year.
Everyone has seemingly forgotten that the team no longer has star goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts or Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, who is expected to miss most of the season recovering from a knee ligament tear.
If it's not the Galaxy, then the next popular choice is New York Red Bulls. Many want to believe that Real Salt Lake are still the same squad they once were. Others feel that a title is the obvious next step for the Seattle Sounders. And there's also a belief that Peter Nowak’s top secret offseason project in Philadelphia could bring in some silverware.
But if you look past the big markets and the fashionable picks, there's a team that can be considered the deepest in MLS. A club that will not have international call-ups to worry about. A team that has more proven game-changers than most. A team that will only have four Canadian Championship matches to worry about. No US Open Cup. No Champions League.
This 2012 season will be the year of the Vancouver Whitecaps. The year Martin Rennie goes from an up-and-coming coaching prospect to Zen master.
While other clubs are scrambling to add DPs this summer, looking to fill holes because of Olympic call-ups or juggling a CONCACAF Champions League schedule that takes its toll on the best of them, Rennie will have 11 months to continue to mold and fine-tune a team that believes in him already.
It’s the perfect storm in Vancouver: an ambitious club meets even more ambitious coach, who meets a group of talented players that have been desperate for leadership.
It's the perfect storm that will leave the Whitecaps hoisting MLS Cup by the time the dust clears in December.
GET TICKETS to Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 6 pm ET at BC Place. Watch on TSN/RDS in Canada or MLS LIVE in the United States.
WATCH: 'Caps excited for Rennie era