After season of strides, Vancouver Whitecaps aim for 2016 MLS Cup victory: "That's got to be the goal"

VANCOUVER, B.C.—The Vancouver Whitecaps made major strides in 2015, finishing second in the Western Conference and hosting their first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs home match. And though they fell 2-0 on aggregate to the Portland Timbers in the Conference Semifinals, they're setting their sights higher for next season.

"It's one of those things of having done it before and having that experience," said right back Steven Beitashour. "Last year we get to the quarters, now we get to the semis, now it's time to get to the finals and win it. So it's having that experience and those veterans that have been there before.

"I think what to expect next year is a MLS Cup. That's got to be the goal and now, realistically, that is the goal. We're going to come back stronger, hungrier and hopefully we can hold that trophy at the end of the year."

Vancouver are looking to build on their best-ever season in Major League Soccer, but changes to Carl Robinson's squad are inevitable. The 'Caps coach has already said to expect new faces when preseason training kicks off in January, which will likely mean some longtime Whitecaps and some older players will need to move on.

The Whitecaps have one of the youngest squads in the league, with 20 players 24-years-old or younger, including four still in their teens. Only six players are 30-plus.

With younger players comes inconsistency and inexperience, which is why Robinson knows he needs some veterans in his team to calm the youthful exuberance and the mistakes that come with that.

After season of strides, Vancouver Whitecaps aim for 2016 MLS Cup victory: "That's got to be the goal" - Carl Robinson and the Vancouver Whitecaps

But as he decides who will be in Vancouver next season, he also knows that veteran experience doesn't come cheap, and that is where his roster balancing act gets tricky. 

"We’re looking at trying to cap-juggle," Robinson said. "When you re-sign your young players, you’ve got to make sacrifices somewhere, that’s the way the league is structured, without moving pieces that are very important to you. 

"[My veterans] are very important. Can we come to agreements? Hopefully we’ll see over the next few days or few weeks. If it's in the benefit of the club in the short term and medium term, for the long-term benefit as well moving forward, then we'll look at keeping them." 

The importance, both on and off the pitch, of a veteran presence in the locker room can never be underestimated, and it's a factor playing on Robinson's mind as he plans his roster for next year.

"I judge it on trying to take the team forward and trying to take the club forward," Robinson said. "If I feel I can strengthen the team by moving an individual out and bringing someone in that's going to make us stronger, then I will do that. There's no sentiment involved at all. Sometimes change is good."

Robinson is keen to point out that experience doesn't just come through age. That's a sentiment shared by Beitashour, one of the older heads in the Whitecaps locker room.

A six-year veteran of MLS, the 28-year-old right back says he "loves it" at the Whitecaps and wants to stay around. He believes the experience gained this season taught his young teammates some valuable lessons to be applied if they want to win the league's biggest prize.

Veteran defenders Pa Modou Kah and Jordan Harvey seem good bets to return, but midfielder Mauro Rosales is one of Robinson's toughest decisions this offseason.

The Argentine will turn 35 before the next MLS season begins. What he's brought to the Whitecaps locker room has been invaluable to Robinson, but having already taken a pay cut to stay in Vancouver, it's unclear how much financial maneuverability remains.

For his part, Rosales wants to stay and continue to be a part of the Robinson revolution.

"If they want me to be a part, obviously I will stay because I am really, really happy here," Rosales told "This club is going in the right direction. We want to do the best for this team and we want to work really, really hard for next year.

"If I'm staying, I'll be trying to help the best I can. But I have no doubt, if I'm here or not, the club will perform in the best way. They had so much experience this year to move forward and to make a step forward to the goals of this club."