For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing the Vancouver Whitecaps' 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
2011 was a rough start to life in Major League Soccer for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Entering the league along with the Portland Timbers meant a diluted Expansion Draft to sift through, and that lack of depth was evident as the season progressed.
After struggling at both ends of the pitch in year one, the ‘Caps have been busy this offseason, most notably acquiring Sébastien Le Toux to aid the offense, while bringing in Lee Young-Pyo to provide stability on the backline. Midfield was also an issue, and while new Designated Player Barry Robson won’t arrive until July, his proven pedigree should add the offensive threat from midfield that the club lacked throughout its debut season.
With new coach Martin Rennie instituting a new system and getting a revamped squad working together, the biggest challenge will be getting everyone on the same page by opening day.
In and Out
IN: M Bryce Alderson (Residency/Home Grown signing); D Martin Bonjour (Rampla Juniors, Uruguay); M Jun Marques Davidson (Tokushima Vortis, Japan); GK Brad Knighton (Carolina RailHawks, NASL); F Sébastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union, acquired in exchange for allocation money); D Lee Young-Pyo (Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia); F Darren Mattocks (Akron University); M Lee Nguyen (Binh Duong, Vietnam, acquired through weighted MLS lottery); M Barry Robson (Middlesbrough, England – arrives in July); M Matt Watson (Carolina RailHawks, NASL)
OUT: D Jeb Brovsky (acquired by Montreal Impact in expansion draft); M Philippe Davies (contract not renewed); D Greg Janicki (contract not renewed); F Mustapha Jarju (contract bought out); M Nizar Khalfan (acquired by Philadelphia Union in waiver draft); D/M Wes Knight (contract not renewed); D Jonathan Leathers (contract not renewed); M Alexandre Morfaw (contract not renewed); GK Jay Nolly (traded to Chicago Fire); M Shea Salinas (traded to San Jose Earthquakes); M Peter Vagenas (contract not renewed)
COACHING INS: head coach Martin Rennie
COACHING OUTS: coach Tom Soehn, moved back into full-time role as director of soccer operations
Star Attraction: Eric Hassli
While the new additions have everybody talking and Brazilian winger Camilo was the club's 2011 Player of the Year with 12 goals and three assists, Eric Hassli is still Vancouver’s most deadly player when on form. The big Frenchman was unstoppable when he got going, but faded badly as the season wore on, failing to score in the final third of the season.
With a year of MLS experience under his belt and a more manageable unbalanced schedule, which will reduce the team’s travel significantly, there is plenty of reason to believe Hassli will bring brilliance more consistently in 2012.
Unsung Hero: Alain Rochat
Rochat (pictured right) won the club’s Jack MacDonald Unsung Hero Award in 2011, and rightfully so. Rochat was the ‘Caps strongest defender by far last season on a backline that was consistently porous – as bad as Vancouver’s defense was, the Swiss international was the one link the team could rely on.
With help brought in at central defense through the arrival of Carlyle Mitchell late last season and Martín Bonjour this offseason, it’s understood Rochat will play more regularly at his favored left back position, where he’s most effective and can also contribute offensively.
Ready for Primetime: Russell Teibert
After looking set to take MLS by storm following an impressive performance in Vancouver’s opening day 4-2 victory over Toronto FC, Teibert’s rookie season was derailed by a series of injuries that restricted him to five starts in 11 appearances.
If he can stay fit, there’s no reason why he can’t force his way into the starting lineup. The 19 year old’s intelligence, crossing ability and the fact he’s the club’s only natural left-sided winger should mean he’ll be in Martin Rennie’s plans – especially on those occasions when the 4-4-2 formation is favored.
Storylines to Watch
1. How will Martin Rennie's first season in MLS play out? Rennie has been successful wherever he’s been, but this is the first time the Scot has coached against elite opposition on a consistent basis. His tactics, player transactions and man management will be big talking points as the season progresses.
2. Can Vancouver stay healthy enough to reach their potential? Equally important will be the health of captain Jay DeMerit and midfielder John Thorrington. The pair spent most of 2011 playing through pain or watching from the sidelines with injuries, but when they did play, the team benefitted accordingly. The club responded by hiring physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, and if he can have the two consistently fit, it will be a massive boost.
3. Can the Whitecaps remedy their dreadful 2011 away form? As a team, the biggest storyline will be the club’s away form. In 2011, the club was absolutely hapless on the road, failing to pick up even one victory. The reduced travel in 2012 means there’ll be no excuses if the 'Caps' road woes continue this year.
What He Said
“I’ve been impressed with the additions. New guys usually take time to settle in, but if we can skip a couple of steps and all be ready to be on the same page by March 10, then hopefully things will be much better for us this season.”
– Vancouver defender Jay DeMerit
If Everything Goes Right:
The Western Conference was the stronger half of MLS in 2011, and if that trend continues in 2012, it will make it very tough on the Whitecaps to claim a top-three conference position.
Still, as the only club with three players on the books with double-digit goal tallies in 2011, including offseason addition Le Toux, there are plenty of goal threats in the side.
Lee and Bonjour should solidify the backline, and if the club can remain in the playoff hunt until July, Robson’s arrival could very well propel the club to its first MLS Cup Playoffs berth, perhaps somewhere in the seventh-to-ninth position.
WATCH: 'Caps preview 2012 season