Whitecaps Set to Reach New Heights

A rare sight in 2012: Eric Hassli leaps high to head the ball. - Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

Filed under: Moves I like for 2013. Quick, off the top of your head how many MLS regular season goals did the Vancouver Whitecaps score off headers in 2012? And if you'd really like a challenge, how many of those came off set pieces?

If you follow the Caps to any degree, you'll hardly be surprised that the answers are a dismal five and two respectively. By comparison, just two hours down the road, long-time rivals the Seattle Sounders notched up a grand total of 14 noggin netters.

Of course, some of the reason for the low header total is explained by Eric Hassli, and the aversion he had to putting head to leather. Getting consistently decent service into the box off the flanks was another major issue in 2012. Y. P. Lee began the year strong in that regard, but the quality of his work diminished over time. So, in view of the fact that no Whitecap managed more than one header goal - DeMerit, Le Toux, Koffie, Mattocks, and Robson each scored once - it's welcome news to see Vancouver adding more depth (or better put, height) to their aerial attack.

In recent weeks the Whitecaps have signed a number of new faces, including two forwards and a defender/mid that stand head and shoulders, physically at least, above most of their teammates. And this bodes well if the blue and white are to add an aerial dimension to their play this season.

First off, there's 6' 4" striker Tom Heinemann, signed as a free agent. Heinemann, 25, spent the past two seasons with the Columbus Crew. He's got pace for a big man, and has demonstrated a good degree of agility, a weapon that Hassli never had in his arsenal. For those with 14:45 to kill, here's a compendium of his work. The hirsute Heinemann has an impressive hang time, and needs no invitation to attack the ball aggressively. He's coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of last season, and will need a little time to get himself back into game shape. the fifth-year pro has experience in the USSF-D2, where he played part of the 2010 season under Martin Rennie.

Fellow striker Corey Hertzog is 22, and tops out at 6' even, making him the third-tallest forward on the team. He's spent the past couple seasons within the Red Bulls organization, who selected him 13th overall in the 2011 SuperDraft. He spent the 2012 season on loan to the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL PRO. Hertzog posted impressive numbers while at Penn State, before being named as an MLS Generation Adidas player in 2011.

At the back end, the Vancouver Whitecaps have signed another big man in Brad Rusin. Like Heinemann, he's 6' 4", but weighs in at a much heftier 213 lbs. He's just returned from Europe, after having played a year-and-a-half with HB Køge in the Danish Superliga, and then the 1st division. Prior to that, he played a little over two seasons under Martin Rennie for the Carolina RailHawks. Rusin played his college soccer for UCLA, where he was Defensive MVP and named to the first-team All-Pac-10 in his final year. Here's one of his highlight reels.

For much of the 2012 season the Vancouver Whitecaps were woeful in the air - be it on the attack or on the defensive side. Martin Rennie now has some useful tools to employ in the 2013 campaign. I, for one, look forward to seeing how he prepares the Whitecaps to soar this season.

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