There is optimism on the West Coast. After a successful 2012 campaign that saw them being the first Canadian club to make the MLS playoffs, the Vancouver Whitecaps are expecting loftier moments in 2013.
The Whitecaps finished fifth in the Western Conference standings with a 11-13-10 record. In their playoff appearance, the Whitecaps gave a brave effort, but fell 2-1 to the eventual MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
However, if the Whitecaps are to move up the MLS table, they must find more ways into putting the ball to the back of the net. Only the Portland Timbers and Chivas USA scored fewer goals than the Whitecaps, who managed to score a mere 35 goals all season. Manager Martin Rennie is concerned about the lack of production up front, and is making the proper changes.
Gone are forwards Kyle Porter, Atiba Harris, midfielder Barry Robson and defender Martin Bonjour. The new man up front is Brazilian Paulo Jr. who brings flair and electricity to the striker position. Paulo spent the 2012 season with Real Salt Lake, where he scored 2 goals in 22 appearances. It is Rennie’s hope that Paulo will use his newfound opportunity in Vancouver, to raise his playing level.
Paulo is expected to form a partnership with Darren Mattocks. The Jamaican International led the Whitecaps with 7 goals. Kenny Miller is also hoping to rebound after a disappointing season. The former Celtic striker recorded 2 goals in 13 appearances as he tried to adjust to MLS play. Brazilian Camilo is a flashy striker with slick moves, but his finishing is too agricultural for the most part. While Camilo should be thrilled that his countryman has joined the club, expectations are now raised for Camilo to put away his farmer status, and become the star goal-scorer, the Whitecaps expect him to be.
A pair of Japanese players lead the midfield. Jun Marques Davidson will be joined this season by Daigo Kobayshi in what Rennie hopes is a strong midfield tandem. Davidson did make 25 appearances for the Whitecaps in 2012, while Kobayashi comes over from Shimzu S-Pulse of J League Division 1. The Whitecaps also added Nigel Reo-Coker in the offseason. The former Ipswich Town midfielder brings pace and experience to the club. Matt Watson missed most of the 2012 season with a leg injury. The English-born midfielder is hoping that the leg has fully recovered, and he can resume his spot in the starting eleven for the Whitecaps.
The strength of the Whitecaps is in the back. Right back Lee Young-Pyo is considered one of the best defenders in the MSL. The South Korean International, who has worn the kits of PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspurs and Borussia Dortmund throughout his career, is an intelligent player who brings speed and technique to the position. Jay DeMerit anchors the central defence. The captain of the Whitecaps, is a stern, physical defender who won’t back down from the top strikers in the MLS. Brad Rusin comes over from Danish side HB Koge, to partner with DeMerit in the middle. Swiss International Alain Rochat and Jordan Harvey can both play left back. Rochat can also move the central defence if need be.
Keeper Joe Cannon is quietly establishing himself as a top keeper in MLS as he recorded 11 clean sheets for the Whitecaps in 2012. Cannon, who has spent time with the Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes, is a veteran goalie who won’t get fazed when the pressure mounts.
This should be a better side than last season, but will they move up in the standings? The Galaxy may slip as David Beckham is now with Paris Saint-Germain, while Robbie Keane is a year closer to retirement. San Jose and Seattle are still formidable opposition while Dallas and Portland also have raised expectations. The Whitecaps will be in tough, but a second straight playoff appearance is certainly attainable.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973