The long wait is almost over, dear readers. Soon, the Vancouver Whitecaps will lace up their boots and don their kits for real, playing in matches that actually matter. So the questions that we have been pondering this entire off-season will soon be answered. Before the first whistle is blown however, let's take a look at 86forever's season preview and predictions.
THE VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 2012 RECORD:
5th place in the Western Conference, eliminated in first round of Playoffs. 43 points: 11 wins, 13 Losses, 10 ties.
THE VANCOUVER WHITECAPS PROJECTED 2013 RECORD
IF ALL GOES WELL....
4th place in the Western Conference, Conference Semi-Finals Appearance. 51 points: 14 wins, 11 losses, 9 ties.
The Whitecaps will surely be a better squad than last year, simply because I believe they will score more. It's been a point of weakness for the squad since they entered MLS play, but they have too much talent and depth this time around to struggle to tickle twine.
You have a healthy Camilo, a maturing Darren Mattocks, and Kenny Miller, who is trying to prove that he still has gas left in the tank. Plus, you have the young Kekutah Manneh, a speedster who could very well break out this season. The mid received a major over-haul as well, with the creative Daigo Kobayashi and the newly acquired Nigel Reo-Coker greatly improving a 2012 mid that lost it's swagger when Davide Chiumiento was transferred to Switzerland.
It would be a massive disappointment if the team goes through a drought like they did last season, and Whitecaps management really have done a good job addressing the problem.
The defensive core has remained intact, at least for this season. However, they go into 2013 with plenty of question marks. Jay Demerit is already injured and hopeful he'll play in the season opener. How long before he aggravates the injury and has to miss a couple of weeks? YP Lee has also been promised a lighter workload this season, who will fill his boots? The Whitecaps added depth in the off-season, with their big catch being Johnny Leveron. Brad Rusin also joins the squad, although he will most likely see bench duty, along with Jordan Harvey. They are great depth players, but I`m wary to suggest that they will be able to carry the load if Lee or Demerit go down. We all remember how scattered the backline looked when Demerit was not healthy, let's hope it doesn't happen again.
Goalkeeping is a position of strength for the 'Caps, with two MLS caliber 'keepers both competing for playing time. Brad Knighton will probably get the start, but should he falter, the crafty veteran Joe Cannon should have no problem taking over.
Seattle and Real Salt Lake could take a step back, and the Whitecaps could take a step forward. That's the optimistic outlook, anyway.
IF IT ALL GOES TO HELL...
See 2012 season.
Let me be clear; I am in no way saying the 2012 was a disaster season for the Whitecaps. They became the first Canadian MLS team to make the playoffs, and they managed to go from last to fifth. It was an impressive turnaround.
I am simply suggesting that a 2013 season like 2012 would be a disappointment after all the hype surrounding the club coming out of training camp.
If Jay Demerit or YP Lee get injured for a lengthy amount of time, that could hurt the club. If the boys behind them on the depth chart can't be suitable replacements, that could hurt the club.
If Mattocks loses his scoring touch and Camilo and Kenny Miller can't find theirs, then that could hurt the club. If Nigel Reo-Coker implodes and becomes a distraction off the pitch (*cough* Barry Robson) that could hurt the club. If Daigo Kobayashi is exposed as a pure skill player that can't handle the physicality of MLS, that could hurt the club.
Lastly, the club still does not have a suitable number 3 goalkeeper. If the worst happens and Cannon and Knighton are both taken out, yikes.
Like any team in professional sports, there are a million 'what if's' that could create the perfect storm. I don't anticipate that happening, but that is my pessimistic outlook for 2013.
D Johnny Leveron, D Brad Rusin, M Nigel Reo-Coker, M Daigo Kobayashi, M Erik Hurtado, F Kekutah Manneh, F Tommy Heinemann
GK Brian Slyvestre, D Martin Bonjour, M Barry Robson, M John Thorrington, M/F Atiba Harris, M Michael Nanchoff, F Etienne Barbara
In all honestly, the 'Caps did not lose much this off-season. John Thorrington was a great leader and a gutsy performer, but his high priced contract did not fit with his lack of production. Kobayashi, though an unknown MLS quantity, has looked very good in pre-season and figures to be a sizable upgrade.
Martin Bonjour looked good early on last season, but quickly proved to be a foul machine and had his spot swiped by Andy O'Brien. Johnny Leveron and Brad Rusin should be much better.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP (4-3-3)
GK-Brad Knighton. This seems to be a pretty simple option. Knighton is younger, cheaper and has more potential. He was given the reigns to the squad at the end of last season and performed quite well for the club. With playoff experience under his belt to boot, look for Knighton to have a great 2013.
RB-Nigel Reo-Coker. A little surprising, I know, but Martin Rennie has hinted that Reo-Coker could move here so YP Lee could move to his more natural position, Left Back. This essentially moves Leveron, Rusin and Harvey to the bench.
CB- Andy O'Brien. O'Brien was a pleasant surprise in 2012, adjusting to MLS almost immediately. A big body with quick feet, O'Brien should continue his steady play in 2013.
CB- Jay Demerit. The Captain enters 2013 a little banged up, dealing with an achilles issue. Nevertheless, when he is healthy, he is one of the best defenders in the game. The soul of the Vancouver Whitecaps should be getting more rest this season with more depth on the backline.
LB- YP Lee. The club's 2012 MVP, Lee could see his final season be one of his best given the concessions the 'Caps are willing to make. A decreased workload, a move to his natural position and a proud warrior entering his final season? Look for Lee to want to exit in a blaze of glory.
M- Alain Rochat. The versatile, solid, often underrated Alain Rochat was moved to mid last season, and Martin Rennie appears to like him there. He's an upgrade on the safe, unspectacular Jun-Marques Davidson and should stay here for 2013.
M- Gershon Koffie. One of the Whitecaps best mids, expect Gershon Koffie to hold onto his starting spot in 2013. His stats should increase with the added help around him.
M- Daigo Kobayashi- This spot truly depends on whether Kobayashi can make the smooth transition to MLS play. He's looked good in pre-season, where the checking is looser and the physicality is softer. If he can't maintain his solid play, there are others chomping at the bit for more playing time.
F/M- Camilo. This is Camilo's chance to re-establish himself as a dangerous, double-digit goal scorer. He should be fully healthy, he ended the pre-season on the high note (hat trick!) , and he looks to have some chemistry with Darren Mattocks. Like Kobayashi, if he fails, someone else will step in quickly.
F- Darren Mattocks. The 2012 super rookie hasn't had any kitchen mishaps, and he enters 2013 as the 'Caps best scoring threat. He has said he could score 20 goals in an MLS season, and while that is a high number, double digits surely should be an attainable goal.
F/M- Kenny Miller. The DP with a huge salary has one more chance to prove himself to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Will he rebound from the dreadful 2012 campaign? If he doesn't, we could be seeing plenty of Kekutah Manneh.
THE FINAL THOUGHT:
The 'Caps will be better than 2012. I feel comfortable making that statement, and I feel confident that the franchise will take another step forward in their MLS existence. It may be a bold statement, but I expect the Whitecaps will improve on their achievement of 'First Canadian MLS team to make the playoffs', and will become the first Canadian MLS team to post a win, in the playoffs.