It's been a very productive off-season for the Whitecaps. The deadwood is gone, some quality new acquisitions have signed, and the team appears to be in high spirit going into the last three weeks of pre-season.
But if you believe what many supporters are saying, Martin Rennie is a tactical genius, is the world's first omniscient judge of talent and farts Skittles for giggles. Much time has been spent making bold predictions of season success, while pointing and laughing at Montreal, predicting a long season of misfortunes as an expansion team in the MLS.
The irony should not escape us.
Let me be clear about a few things.
I think Martin Rennie is a quality manager, a good judge of talent, and an class act. I think he'll have success in the MLS and beyond. I also think that his acquisitions have been very good, filling nearly every hole that needed filling. And of course, I think Montreal are a bunch of buffoons and will likely fall flat on their poutine eating, supporter spitting, championship surrendering faces.
But before we anoint the Whitecaps of the new MLS dynasty, there are a few question marks surrounding the club going in to this season.
As was shown last year, the MLS is a tough, long grind. All this travel with limited days off between games can take it's toll on aging players. Last year the Whitecaps starting 11 was decimated by injuries, destroying any chance the team had of overcoming their other well documented deficiencies to compete for a playoff spot.
DeMerit appears to be over his groin/leg problems, but I'm not completely sold that he can make it through the season without a stretch or two off. The type of injury he had was caused by a problem in the way that he ran and moved about on the pitch. It's not that easy to change the way you move after doing it the same way for 30 years. Although he's not signed yet, Etienne Barbara will not be with the club for months, if he does sign, and we still don't know the extent or severity of his injury and how that'll affect his play. Atiba Harris appears to be flying around in pre-season again showing no ill effect from his knee injury, but knees are one of those things that have a tendency to cause lifetime problems.
And I haven't even mentioned John Thorrington's name yet.
You can never really predict most injuries. It wouldn't even surprise me if all these guys get through the season without a single stretch of time off due to injury. But there will be injuries. And while we've acquired depth throughout the park, it still concerns me.
If Young-pyo Lee goes down for the season, who will be our right fullback for the season? Is Greg Klazura good enough to start at right back? Is Matt Watson good enough to take a healthy serving of MLS minutes should Jun Marques Davidson go down to injury while John Thorrington is out with a broken bone that the medical world didn't know existed? Unforunately, too many of our depth players are unknown quantities at the MLS level, so it's going to be hard to judge until we see them in game action.
Let's hope our depth is good enough to keep us afloat when the inevitable happens.
This sort of ties in to both the injury concern above, as well as what Benjamin Massey spoke of in his article a week ago.
Going into the inaugural season, Whitecaps FO claimed they wanted to do things the right way. Build a team, don't buy one. Draft for the future. It's why they rated Omar Salgado so much
Now we sign a 34 year old fullback, still rely on a 32 year old oft-injured Thorrington, signed a 33 year old designated player as a centre midfielder, and will have our midfield anchored by a 32 year old Jay DeMerit coming of a season littered with injuries.
Oh, and speaking of that designated player you signed? Yeah, you'll have to wait until July to have him.
It's unlikely the Whitecaps will be pushing for the Supporter's Shield this year, so why all the focus on players who may not be playing, or at least starter quality in 2 or 3 years?
It goes against the mantra the front office spoke of going into 2011. While I agree that you need to instill a winning mentality, Russel Teibert, Darren Mattocks, and Gerson Koffie wont be progressing much more by playing reserves games. They need MLS minutes, and all three could be outstanding MLS players with just a touch more seasoning.
3. Off field success
I didn't expect minute long ads after Coach's Corner on Saturday Nights, but the advertising campaign for the Whitecaps second season has been virtually non-existent. I realize there's a budget and all, but money invested now, this year, gaining young fans of a young franchise will be money well spent for years to come. It is short sighted to think that they must get by on budget marketing expenses in this city and hope to generate life long fans.
We still don't know what our season ticket renewal is looking like. Now, I'm confident it'll be higher than the 7000 that the Impact are rumoured to have, but i'm not so sure we'll be seeing 20,000 butts in seats past the first couple games of the season. The Whitecaps better win early, win often, and play some damn exciting football if they want to keep the single ticket games rolling in.
I can't count how many people I've talked to who said it just wasn't the same when we left Empire. There was nothing like having a cold beer on a sunny day, watching the beautiful game only feet in front of you. More than half of the people from my work who had season tickets are not renewing, and BC Place is their excuse. Now, I'm quite sure they'd all renew if we had a barn-burner of a season, but the fact is, poor on field performance and the loss of that nostalgia is hurting the renewal rates.
I don't want to sound like a Debbie Downer. I actually think the Whitecaps will have a very successful season. I think Rennie is a hell of a manager, and I think that if the team wins it's first couple games in impressive fashion, the stadium will stay full. I want to just point out there are some concerns still, and supporters should consider them before we set our expectations too high.