By virtue of finishing second behind FC Dallas in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps turned the top of the table into something of a fast-and-furious affair. Both clubs love to run, leaning on a collection of supremely quick, supremely athletic attackers to put pressure on opposing defenses. There’s no waiting around with the Whitecaps; blink, and you’re likely to miss their transition from defense to offense. Blink again, and you might miss a goal.
Like FC Dallas, the Whitecaps outdid expectations in 2015. But now that they’ve arrived, they should be primed to make another run at the playoffs in 2016. Last season ended in a painful conference semifinal defeat at the hands of the eventual champion Timbers, a naive display that revealed the need for further growth. Headed into the new year, Carl Robinson’s team has all of their key pieces back, plus a few new names to bolster the squad.
The Big Question
Are the ‘Caps built to last? Vancouver’s collection of young talent – Kekuta Manneh, Russell Teibert, Matias Laba, just to name a few – delivered strong performances in 2015. But the team remains rough around the edges, and the youngsters need a guiding presence from competent veterans if they’re going to realize their full potential as a team. The playoff loss to the Timbers put that reality on display; when Kekuta Manneh was injured in the first half of the second leg with the aggregate score still 0-0, Vancouver quickly fell apart. The lack of a scoring punch up top, and a propensity to waste chances, means the margins were too fine when the stakes were at their highest.
The Whitecaps have added Japanese forward Masato Kudo to help with the goal scoring, but they’ll also need big output from returning starter Octavio Rivero to improve upon last year’s finish. A year’s experience should help, and the defense is good, but it’s not clear if Vancouver has what it takes to go all the way. Especially if they’re hit by injuries.
Chilean maestro Pedro Morales was a revelation in his first year with Vancouver back in 2014. Named Newcomer of the Year for his efforts, Morales tallied 10 goals and 12 assists as the heart of the Whitecaps attacks.
But 2015 was a much different story. Limited by a series of leg injuries, Morales started just two games in the second half of the season and was a non-factor in the playoff series against Portland. While the Whitecaps managed to win games without him, the loss of Morales ultimately proved fatal to the club’s MLS Cup chances. A healthy Morales in 2016 will go a long way towards turning Vancouver from dangerous-but-incomplete to verified MLS Cup contender.
Of course, there are no guarantees here. Morales has crested 30, and there’s at least some reason to believe he has hit a point in his career where mileage and age are going to cause recurring injury problems. The player and the club are putting forward a positive face as the season opener creeps ever closer, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Whitecaps to be ready for life without Morales.
From The Dugout
Carl Robinson upgraded his roster this offseason, and he can’t help but be a little excited... and maybe even brag a little bit. “It’s almost scary because we have so many different qualities,” Robinson told the Vancouver Sun. “This is probably the biggest squad we’ve had since we’ve come into MLS. There’s so many different possibilities for each match. It’s dangerous and scary. It just comes down to finding the right path in the right game.”
Robinson reflects simply on where his side fell short last season: “We need goals because goals win games. It affected us last year down the stretch. We played some great stuff, but we missed out on a few goals in the last couple of games.”
Prized new signing Masato Kudo should help with that. “In my eyes, he was the top forward in [the J-League]: out of contract, perfect age, great background,” Robinson told mlssoccer.com. “We know the attributes that he has, his goalscoring record. He likes to be in the box, which is something I think we missed last year. It's about scoring goals. The game is pretty simple. He's someone who can score goals, he's someone who can play up front, he's someone who can play wide. Add in to the players that we've already got; he's different.”
From The Locker Room
Kekutah Manneh helped Vancouver Whitecaps make the playoffs in 2015, and the Gambian striker’s enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by defeat to the Portland Timbers. “It’s growing day by day,” Manneh explained about MLS. “It’s a great start for my career.”
Manneh has already helped his club make history, winning the Canadian championship in 2015. “The game I’m most proud of last year was the Canadian Cup game,” Manneh said. “It was a really an exciting moment for the club, making history by winning it for the first time.”
Yet Manneh is also capable of learning from defeat as well as victory, such as a stoppage-time loss to Sporting Kansas City last season. “Even though we lost, it was a really exciting game. I scored two goals and I assisted one. It didn’t turn out in our favor, but that’s how games go.”
In the upcoming season, Manneh is looking to continue to grow and learn, perhaps while taking on some of his idols.
“I have a lot of soccer heroes; a few of them are in MLS right now,” noted Manneh. “I love (Andrea) Pirlo. (Frank) Lampard is one of my heroes, Steven Gerrard, (Sebastian) Giovinco.”
This Is Home
- BC PLACE
- CAPACITY: 21,000
- OPENED: June 19, 1983
- LOCATION: Vancouver, British Columbia
Fan’s Insider Tip
Michael McColl (@aftncanada): The stadium’s downtown location puts fans right in the middle of many bars and restaurants. For the liveliest atmosphere, the Whitecaps’ three main supporters’ groups have their own home pubs. The Southsiders inhabit Doolin’s Irish Pub, the Curva Collective gather in Devil's Elbow and the Rain City Brigade meet in Library Square. A ‘March to the Match’ takes place every home game, leaving from Doolin’s. It’s the perfect experience for first-time visitors.
BC Place is the only stadium in MLS with a retractable roof, so Vancouver’s infamous wet weather doesn’t come in to play. The BC Sports Hall of Fame is located within the stadium (there’s an additional admission fee).
The Supporters’ Group sections are situated in the west side of the stadium. It’s the best atmosphere, but expect singing and standing throughout. Wherever you sit, if you want to feel like an annoying local, arrive in your seat five to 10 minutes after kick-off.
BC Place has a good mix of beers, including local craft brews. The upscale stadium food offers everything from your typical North American fare to must-tries like the short-rib poutine and curries from renowned local chef Vikram Vij.