That's the offseason the Vancouver Whitecaps never had. Theirs was more evocative of glass-shard projectiles driven by a searing napalm explosion, all backed by a Yoko Ono extended solo – playing over and over again. If you were a Whitecaps fan, water boarding would have been a much more pleasant alternative.
Leaving aside the finger-pointing, let me briefly re-cap, if you will, the goings-on since the end of last season:
- Coach Martin Rennie is let go
- The search for a replacement drags on and on
- Golden Boot winner Camilo bolts to Mexico – Happy New Year everyone!
But my, how things have changed in the past month and a half!
What initially appeared to be a dead loss in Camilo-gate morphed into a transfer that netted the 'Caps a fee somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million.
The gaping hole at RB, vacant since the retirement of Y.P. Lee, has been filled very nicely by former-'Quake Steven Beitashour, who new coach Carl Robinson highlighted as "Arguably…the best right back in the league..."
Depth guy (RB) Ethen Sampson put in a very solid performance at the Rose City Invitational in Portland last week as well. He's a very capable defender, but the 20-year-old South African still needs some seasoning on the distribution end.
Starting CBs Andy O'Brien and Jay DeMerit appear healthy and ready to go, while LB Jordan "goal-machine" Harvey has resumed his 2013 form, netting two markers in exhibition play against Portmore. He'll start at LB for sure.
Christian Dean, drafted third overall in this year's MLS SuperDraft, is listed as a CB on the Whitecaps' website, but had stints at LB in the pre-season. At 6'3" and 200 lbs, he's a very physical presence. It'll be interesting to see whether Dean has put Sam Adekugbe beneath him on the depth chart, or it's the other way around. Both look to be very promising talent.
The Caps acquired holding midfielder Matias Laba from TFC in exchange for "Future Considerations". As the deal solidified, it became clear the 22-year-old Argentine phenom was coming on a transfer, and not merely as a loan, as first reported. SB Nation's TFC website, Waking the Red, went into full meltdown mode thereafter.
The Laba move is the single biggest positional improvement over last year, with the young designated player filling the spot formerly occupied by Jun Marques Davidson. Laba is far more mobile than Davidson was, and more intent on doing the dirty work himself than simply containing until the cavalry arrives. If Davidson was a mall cop asking you to slow down in the parking lot, Laba's an M18A1 Claymore who'll blow you up for even thinking of coming near his patch of land. He'll partner with Nigel Reo-Coker in what looks to be Robinson's preferred 4-2-3-1.
The attacking midfield is where things become interesting - and somewhat problematic - for the Whitecaps. They've added Uruguayans Nicolas Mezquida, 22 (M/F), and Sebastian Fernandez, 24 (M/F) to the fold, with CAM Pedro Morales (Chile) having just arrived from Malaga. Mesquida's a featherweight at 5'6" and 150 lbs, but he's got big-time dribbling skills and can spot an opening for a through ball before it develops. In preseason, both Mezquida and Fernandez have shown a will to have a go from distance – with Fernandez looking to have the more dangerous peg.
Now that the rumoured Morales move has indeed come to fruition, that's three high-quality M/Fs set among the backdrop of Kekutah Manneh, Russell Teibert, and Erik Hurtado. And that's not even counting the likes of Bryce Alderson, Aminu Abdallah, Mehdi Ballouchy, draftee Andre Lewis, any of the three promising U-23 midfielders (Marco Bustos in particular), U-23 player Ben Fisk, or the two remaining later-round draftees. Certainly, four or possibly more of these will soon find themselves out on loan with the Charleston Battery.
For Russell Teibert, in particular, the re-tooling may have come at a cost. In the early pre-season it looked like Robinson had the intention of dropping Teibert back to pair with Reo-Coker in a holding role. Enter Laba, and poof! – that opportunity vanished. It's now up to Teibert to compete hard if he's to play a significant role with the blue-and-white in 2014.
Up top, it's Kenny Miller for now, sharing time with Darren Mattocks, and possibly Kekutah Manneh, or Omar Salgado – if he can manage to mature emotionally in a hurry, provided he doesn't get moved in the interim. How it'll look come the end of June? Will Miller's stay in Vancouver be extended? That's anyone's guess.
Year-on-year, it's an improved Vancouver Whitecaps side in many respects. Defensively, they've made key improvements and added great depth. They've also made moves to shore up the weaknesses in midfield. But just two days from first kick it's not yet clear whether it'll be enough to offset the loss of Camilo. Morales is a set-piece specialist, so that should be one monkey off Vancouver's back at least.
David Ousted remains an enigma. If the Caps want to reduce their goals against this season, his consistency will need to improve. He's had a full offseason under his belt this time 'round, so let's see how he performs. Otherwise, there's recent addition Paolo Tornaghi, and brand-new homegrown signing of 17-year-old Calgary native Marco Carducci.
Prediction: 15W-10L-9D, 4th place Western Conference
Breakout year: Not really a breakout, but more of a revelation… Nicolas Mezquida, wearing Eric Hassli's old number 29. He's my pick as the master key to help unlock opposition defences.
Keys to a successful season:
- Avoiding the injury bug that plagued the Caps' back line last year
- Not giving up early markers. The Caps conceded within the first 10 minutes a total of seven times last season. Playing from behind early is an unnecessarily steep hill to climb.