Vancouver Whitecaps FC: 2017 Season Preview

Oct 23, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps FC players celebrate after winning the Cascadia cup with a 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps FC players celebrate after winning the Cascadia cup with a 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

With rivals Portland and Seattle winning the last two MLS Cups, the pressure is on the Vancouver Whitecaps to make it a Cascadian hat-trick. We preview what the upcoming 2017 MLS season is likely to hold in store for the league’s northernmost team.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are an enigma. Two years ago, they finished second in the Western Conference and won the Canadian Championship, with the best defense in the league. Last year, with a reinforced squad, they missed the playoffs completely, while leaking goals.

Coach Carl Robinson has addressed some of the key issues from last year. In Sheanon Williams, Robinson has finally replaced Steven Beitashour, even if it’s a year late. And in Fredy Montero, the ‘Caps have the goalscorer they’ve been missing since the days of Camilo Sanvezzo.

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But other question marks hang over this Whitecaps squad. The likes of Kendall Waston, Matías Laba, and Cristian Techera desperately need to rediscover their form of two years ago. There are holes in midfield, including central midfield and at the #10 position.

The same lack of cutting edge that kept the team off the score sheet in so many matches last season, was on display throughout the preseason. Newcomer Yordy Reyna, one of the brightest spots of the Whitecaps’ preseason, has already been lost to injury, and may be out for months.

So which version of the Whitecaps will show up in 2017? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

A Recap of 2016

Record: 10W-9D-15L (39 pts)

Finishing Position: 16th in MLS, 8th in Western Conference

Post-Season: N/A

The 2016 season was one the Whitecaps will want to forget. The goal was to build on the successes of the 2015, when Vancouver won the Canadian Championship, finished second in the West, and played their first ever MLS home playoff match.

Instead, it was one step forward and two steps back, as Vancouver missed the playoffs for the first time in three years. The defense imploded, conceding 52 goals. Discipline was forgotten, as the Whitecaps received a league-leading eight red cards and nine retroactive ‘DisCo’ suspensions. After Octavio Rivero departed for Colo-Colo, Masato Kudo broke his jaw, and Kekuta Manneh received a season-ending injury, the goals dried up. By the end of the year, Pedro Morales and David Ousted were fighting each other in training.

In the Canadian Championship, the Whitecaps were seconds away from retaining the trophy when they gifted a goal to Toronto FC after Ousted and Waston collided trying to deal with a long ball into the area.

There were some bright spots. The Whitecaps won every game in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage. They ended the group stage as top seed to set up a quarterfinal clash with New York Red Bulls. And they won the Cascadia Cup after defeating Portland Timbers 4-1 on Decision Day. But overall, 2016 will go down as a year of disappointment.

Transfers OUT:

  • Marco Carducci, GK
  • Fraser Aird, RB – Rangers (Scotland)
  • Jordan Smith, RB – Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica)
  • Pedro Morales, CM – Colo-Colo (Chile)
  • Kianz Froese, CM – Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
  • Masato Kudo, CF – Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Japan)
  • Blas Pérez, CF – Arabe Unido (Panama)

Transfers IN:

  • Spencer Richey, GK – Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (USL)
  • Sheanon Williams, RB – Houston Dynamo
  • Jake Nerwinski, RB – UConn Huskies (SuperDraft Pick)
  • Yordy Reyna, AM/CF – Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)
  • Kyle Greig, CF – Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
  • Fredy Montero, CF – Tianjin Teda (China) – loan

Evaluating the State of the Squad


Robinson swapped one young goalkeeper for another. Spencer Richey will challenge Paolo Tornaghi for the chance to be David Ousted’s backup. But unless Ousted suffers an injury, or a catastrophic loss of form, don’t expect to see much of either Richey or Tornaghi in MLS matches. Even though he was far from his best last year, the Dane still regularly delivered miracles between the posts. This is one position Whitecaps fans can be confident in.


Right back was a huge problem area for the ‘Caps last year, and one that Robinson has tried to address. Sheanon Williams is an upgrade over both Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith, while Jake Nerwinski showed in preseason that he’s ready to compete with Williams.

In central defense, the Whitecaps lost David Edgar to a long-term injury, just as Christian Dean returned from missing the entire 2016 season. Edgar’s experience will be missed, and much will depend on whether the 2015 or 2016 versions of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker show up. There’s not much depth here, so expect to see Andrew Jacobson pressed into action as a defender at some point.

Central Midfield

Matias Laba could walk into any starting 11 in the league. The rest of the Whitecaps central midfield, however, is another matter. Jacobson is solid and one of Vancouver’s best players last year. Russell Teibert has plenty of potential, but his career has been hampered by injury.

The offseason saw two departures in central midfield, including captain and Designated Player Pedro Morales, and no arrivals. That leaves Laba, Jacobson, and Teibert, as well as Ben McKendry.

The Whitecaps midfield struggled to impose itself on games last season or protect the backline, and at the moment that seems unlikely to change. Unless, of course, rumors of a move for Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson turn out to be true.


Central attacking midfielders, wingers, and forwards are evaluated together because of Robinson’s tendency to shuffle them around.

This area of the field has seen the most movement during the offseason. Out went Masato Kudo and Blas Perez. In came Yordy Reyna, Kyle Greig (promoted from the USL), and Fredy Montero.

Montero’s signing carries the most excitement. The Whitecaps have been seeking a goalscorer for a long time. His history as a Sounder will add spice to the rivalry with Seattle.

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But Montero can’t do it all alone. At 5 ft 9 in, he will want to be fed the ball at his feet. And that is where the supporting cast of Kekuta Manneh, Giles Barnes, Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolaños, Alphonso Davies, Nicolás Mezquida, Erik Hurtado, and Cristian Techera come in. They all like to keep the ball on the ground and run at defenders. If Robinson can get the right blend of speed and movement across his front four, the Whitecaps attack could finally be lethal.

Robinson will also have to depend on better luck with injuries than he’s had so far, however. Reyna, Bolaños, and Mezquida are all currently injured. Their recovery will be critical to Vancouver’s season.

Apr 23, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Kekuta Manneh (23) celebrates a goal against the FC Dallas during the second half at BC Place. The Vancouver Whitecaps won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Kekuta Manneh (23) celebrates a goal against the FC Dallas during the second half at BC Place. The Vancouver Whitecaps won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Predicted Starting XI for Opening Weekend

There will be some notable absences from the Whitecaps lineup when they face Philadelphia Union on March 5th. Newcomer Reyna will miss out after sustaining a foot injury in the final preseason match against Portland. Meanwhile, in defense, Kendall Waston will be unavailable as he serves his first suspension of the season, carried over from the final match of 2016. Christian Dean will almost certainly fill in for Waston at center back.

The front four are the biggest question mark, both in terms of personnel and formation. While Robinson typically favors a 4-2-3-1 formation, he’s short on personnel for the #10 position behind the striker. In preseason, he tried several of his wide players in that position, as more of a secondary striker in a 4-4-2, than a traditional #10. Barnes, Manneh, and Reyna all saw minutes there.

Reyna, Bolaños, and Mezquida are the most suited to the position, but with all three injured and unlikely to be ready for the opening weekend, Manneh will likely be favored. He would line up behind Montero.

If Manneh plays in the middle, that leaves Barnes on the left. Marcel de Jong can also play left midfield, but Robinson is unlikely to go with the more defensively-minded de Jong in the home opener.

Alphonso Davies and Cristian Techera are the most likely candidates for the right wing. Erik Hurtado is another option, although he played more centrally most of last season. This decision may depend on who plays against NYRB in the CONCACAF Champions League three days before the MLS season opener. However, Robinson has shown a lot of confidence in Davies. The 16-year-old is a huge fan favorite, and lining him up in the first game of the season would give the crowd at BC Place something extra to cheer about.

2017 Predictions

Predicting an MLS season can be a fool’s game. Just look at how Colorado went from last place in the Western Conference in 2015 to conference finalists in 2016. With Atlanta United looking like the strongest expansion side yet, and seemingly every team in the league improving, this season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever.

For the Whitecaps, much will depend on the following five players:

  1. David Ousted continuing to be a solid wall between the posts and pulling off the occasional miraculous save.
  2. Kendall Waston regaining his 2015 form, showing leadership, and cutting the red cards out his game.
  3. Christian Bolaños getting and staying fit, and playing at the top of his game.
  4. Kekuta Manneh staying fit, avoiding injuries, and not getting hurt.
  5. Fredy Montero providing a consistent and reliable source of goals.

On their day, the Vancouver Whitecaps can beat any team in the league. But they are too prone to self-destruction to be able to mount a realistic challenge for the title. The playoffs, however, should be within reach.

Predicted Finishing Position: 6th in the Western Conference

How do you think the Whitecaps will do this year? Let us know your predictions in the comment box below.

2017 MLS Team Previews