In an expanded and improved Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps will look to build on last year’s playoff run with a heavily rebuilt forward line.
(Note: To help recap the Vancouver Whitecaps offseason, as well as preview 2018, we recruited former MLSM writer and Caps expert Gareth Wolff to lend his expertise.)
There’s been a changing of the guard in Vancouver since the end of last season. Seemingly, not a week has gone by without a departure or arrival being announced. David Ousted, Matías Laba, and Jordan Harvey, three long-term servants of the club and fan favourites, are gone. So are last season’s top scorer (Fredy Montero) and one of the assist leaders over the last two years (Christian Bolaños).
A new-look Vancouver Whitecaps has some distinctly old-look problems, however. Will the additions of Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell add some attacking firepower to Vancouver’s usually solid defense? Or will midfield remain the team’s Achilles heel?
A Recap of 2017
Record: 15W-7D-12L (52 pts)
Finishing Position: 3rd in Western Conference, 8th in MLS
Post-Season: Conference Semifinals (lost 2-0 on aggregate to Seattle Sounders)
In retrospect, the 2017 season has to be considered a success for the Vancouver Whitecaps. After missing the playoffs entirely in 2016, the Whitecaps finished third in the West, only a point off first. In the knockout round, Vancouver recorded their first-ever playoff win in some style, taking down the San Jose Earthquakes 5-0 at BC Place.
However, despite what looks like a decent year on paper, the way the season ended left a sour taste in the mouths of most Whitecaps fans. The ‘Caps lost the conference semifinal to Cascadia rivals Seattle, recording one shot on goal over 180 minutes in the process.
Last season will also be memorable for Vancouver’s historic run to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The run ended at the hands of powerhouse Mexican side Tigres UANL, but not before the Whitecaps knocked off New York Red Bulls.
The Champions League proved an early season distraction that contributed to a slow start to the MLS season (one win from the first five league games). But after that, the Whitecaps were able to string together some good results through the late summer that carried them into the playoffs.
- Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
- Doneil Henry (West Ham United)
- Efraín Juárez (CF Monterrey)
- David Norman Jr (Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2)
- Anthony Blondell (Monagas SC)
- Kei Kamara (New England Revolution)
- Myer Bevan (Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2)
- Sean Franklin (Free Agent)
- José Aja (Orlando City SC)
Lucas Stauffer and Justin Fiddes were selected in the SuperDraft and have been with the club in preseason, but have not signed MLS deals.
- Jordan Harvey (Free Agent)
- Andrew Jacobson (Retired)
- David Ousted (Option Declined)
- Matías Laba (Option Declined)
- Sheanon Williams (Option Declined)
- Christian Bolaños (Option Declined)
- Fredy Montero (Loan Ended)
- Cole Seiler (Option Declined)
- Sam Adekugbe (Valerenga)
- Ben McKendry (Option Declined)
- Deklan Wynne (Colorado Rapids)
- Nosa Igiebor (Option Declined)
- Mauro Rosales (Option Declined)
- Kyle Greig (Option Declined)
- Spencer Richey (FC Cincinnati-Loan)
- Marco Bustos (Atlético Zacatepec-Loan)
David Edgar’s option was also declined, but he has been with the club during the preseason as he finishes rehabilitation from a year-long injury and seems likely to re-sign.
Predicted Starting XI for Opening Weekend
Ahead of preseason, Carl Robinson suggested he was looking to switch to a three center-back formation. But after barely experimenting with three at the back throughout preseason, the old 4-2-3-1 standby is the most likely formation we’ll see against Montreal for the season opener.
With Tim Parker’s future up in the air, he’s unlikely to feature on Sunday, which leaves Aaron Maund likely to start alongside captain Kendall Waston. Maund could be replaced by David Edgar if he signs a new contract this week. Doneil Henry is also an option if he recovers from injury, or newcomer José Aja.
If Aly Ghazal is still injured, then expect Russell Teibert to feature beside Efraín Juárez. Up front, Robinson is likely to favour Kamara over Blondell as he looks to ease the Venezuelan into the league.
While the rest of the league has been busy improving, the Whitecaps have overhauled their squad while mostly standing in one place. The changes have been plentiful, but the obvious upgrades have not. More casual fans who have not been paying attention during the offseason may be in for a shock when they realize how many unfamiliar names are on the team sheet.
The good news is, the Whitecaps have finally signed a physical striker who fits their system. Two of them, actually. After Fredy Montero spent most of last year stuck on an island, Kamara and Blondell should be a welcome change up front, able to battle with defenders and provide a threat from set pieces.
Cristian Techera has been on fire throughout preseason, and Kamara will provide a target for his crossing. On the opposite wing, Alphonso Davies has also had a solid preseason and should see plenty of game time.
The biggest question mark, however, is in the middle of the park. Midfield was a problem last year, with goals generally coming from set plays, long balls, or on the break, and it’s an area that’s been barely addressed. Nosa Igiebor looked like he could be the solution in the #8 position, but his brief stay in Vancouver is over after contract negotiations broke down.
With Andrew Jacobson’s retirement and Laba’s departure, there’s a lot of pressure on three players. Ghazal is a strong tackler with a tendency to make at least one terrible pass per game. Teibert never stops running but is painfully one-footed. And newcomer Juárez hasn’t played regularly in midfield in years.
That being said, the Whitecaps now have two open DP spots and are apparently still looking to add personnel. But right now, teams that shut down Yordy Reyna and avoid giving up too many set-piece opportunities should have little difficulty keeping Vancouver off the board. That was the blueprint Seattle set during the playoffs, and other sides were surely paying attention.
The Vancouver Whitecaps should have just enough to be in the mix for the playoffs, but don’t be surprised if they miss out completely.
Predicted Finish: 6th in Western Conference