ORLANDO, Fla. — The Disney Pro Soccer Classic gave us an extensive, in-depth look at six MLS clubs as they fine-tuned preparations for the 2012 campaign. With one week remaining until First Kick, we dish out the grades based on what we witnessed at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (4-0-0, 8 GF / 0 GA): Get ready to be surprised by the 2012 Whitecaps. There is a distinct atmosphere of confidence and belief emanating from Martin Rennie’s group, and the head coach is the main reason why. He projects an aura of calm assuredness and it is rubbing off on the field with committed defending and a flowing creativity in the final third.
Davide Chiumiento is a different player under Rennie, Long Tan’s stock rocketed at Disney and Sébastien Le Toux showed he has to be a starter. And while No. 2 overall pick Darren Mattocks is still a project, Young-Pyo Lee projects to be an All-Star right back.
The stockpile of attacking talent may get all the pub, but Vancouver’s back line quietly registered four shutouts and always looked in control, whoever Rennie fielded. That’s also a testament to the depth on the Vancouver roster, arguably the best in the entire league.
FC DALLAS (2-1-1, 6 GF / 4 GA): David Ferreira continues to be the story this preseason. After 90 surprising minutes against BK Häcken, there was the setback of missing the final two matches of the tournament due to a sore Achilles.
They became the FC Dallas of old with Ferreira in the lineup, but the new guys ain’t too shabby. Hernán Pertúz is a rock in the back, Blas Pérez is FCD’s best forward of the Schellas Hyndman era and Carlos Rodríguez adds quality on the left.
But the most intriguing aspect of the tournament for FCD is Brek Shea’s move to forward against Houston. It should have longer legs than the left back experiment of last year.
TORONTO FC (2-1-1, 8 GF / 4 GA): Although the play is far from spectacular at times, TFC have players who can decide matches in Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata and rookie Luis “Quick” Silva, who was the revelation of the tournament and should emerge as the starting No. 10.
In a tournament that became about the academy youngsters that gave the Whitecaps a run for their money in the final, it was the TFC Academy's most accomplished grad, Ashtone Morgan, who showed that can be an All-Star left back.
As far as the new faces, center back Miguel Aceval is coming into his own, newcomer Reggie Lambe is only effective when he has space to run and defender Geovanny Caicedo is MIA due to injury after a horrific debut.
The cheif questions for Toronto revolve around Aron Winter’s tactical variations. He insists there’s little difference between the 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 with Torsten Frings at sweeper. But the differences were stunningly evident to us.
MONTREAL IMPACT (0-1-2, 2 GF / 5 GA): Jesse Marsch’s squad came a long way after their opening 3-0 loss to Vancouver, when the Impact truly looked like an expansion side. They recovered by playing an asphyxiating, high-pressure style, using lots of movement off the ball to make up for a dearth of creativity and improvisation in attack.
The Impact may not blow anyone away in 2012 but they will be resilient and steady, in the spitting image of their best player in the tournament: Davy Arnaud.
Andrew Wenger showed flashes of No. 1 pick material, Felipe Martins will be a midfield revelation in MLS this year, Matteo Ferrari is a slick defender and Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito will need more time to understand Marsch’s expectations.
Montreal have a good base to build on, but there is plenty of building left to do.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY (0-1-2, 1 GF, 4 GA): When Peter Vermes can field his best XI, Sporting KC are arguably the best team in the league. But what happens when the likes of Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and C.J. Sapong aren’t around? The Disney tournament showed that the team quite frankly isn’t the same.
Paulo Nagamura and Bobby Convey still need plenty more time to become effective in Sporting’s system and Convey is no automatic as a replacement for Zusi at attacking mid. Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer also have a very different game than Sapong’s at center forward, which changes the team’s complexion.
The challenge for Vermes in 2012 will be to build that second squad of players that is just as effective in the 4-3-3 when called upon.
HOUSTON DYNAMO (0-2-2, 1 GF, 3 GA): There were patches of good play here and there from the Dynamo, and they saved their best for last during the second half against FC Dallas in Saturday’s consolation match.
There is no question that the Dynamo will be difficult to break down in the back with a stable of solid, quality defenders, several of which will be in demand by their national teams throughout 2012. Also, rookie Warren Creavalle should be an exciting playmaker at right back and Nathan Sturgis is an interesting proposition as a fill-in center back.
The concerns arise in attack — specifically in the area of creativity and goals. While set pieces will continue to be a strength of the Dynamo, chances created through the run of play were harder to come by, stunted by a right midfield position still in flux. However, a healthy Luiz Camargo, still working his way to full fitness, will be the most critical element in that discussion.