Perhaps it's just because I've recently returned from a very sunny vacation spot, but I'm feeling more optimistic than usual. Not about the playoff hopes for the Vancouver Whitecaps, because let's face it; that ship has sailed and the Whitecaps missed their spot. Now, as an off-season filled with question marks looms, let's take a brief gander at why we should be excited about this squad.
The Young Guns are Still Around
It was a season of high expectations for Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks, expectations that he miserably failed to meet. Whether it was spotty play, injury, or at times just pure apathy, Mattocks became a bench player for the Whitecaps with the emergence of Camilo and Kenny Miller as every day players. That being said, he's still going to be the fastest player on the pitch, and now he's had a few MLS seasons under his belt. If he can get his work ethic where it needs to be, and if he can fine tune his finishing as he moves further in his career, he could still become an elite player in this league.
Then there's Kekuta Manneh and, to a lesser extent, Erik Hurtado. Manneh has shown flashes of brilliance and made the Whitecaps roster at the tender age of 18; he's clearly got game and should only improve in the years to follow. Hurtado has shown that he has an infinite amount of energy, and while his touch needs drastic work, he's a nice puzzle piece to have lying around.
Lost in the shuffle is Camilo, who has had a breakout year with 16 goals. Camilo is just 25 years old, and while you'd love to see more consistency from him, he's clearly a major player for the Whitecaps moving forward.
Don't forget Caleb Clarke, who's been making noise this season while on loan in Germany, and Omar Salgado, the former first overall pick that's still coming back from injury.
Then there is the youth movement on the backline in players like Johnny Leveron and Carlyle Mitchell, who both sit under 30 and both have proven they deserve big minutes at the MLS level. While the 'Caps would be better suited to have Jay Demerit or Andy O'Brien back there to tidy messes up, it's a very promising future for the club.
Bottom line; just because the 'Caps had a disappointing year does not mean there are more grey skies on the horizon. This club should stay competitive for a while.
The Back Line should be Better
While scoring appeared to be the Whitecaps greatest problem late in the season, the 'Caps had to struggle with a patchwork defense for much of the year. With Andy O'Brien and Jay Demerit both missing significant time with injury, the 'Caps forced Johnny Leveron, Brad Rusin and Carlyle Mitchell into minutes they weren't ready for, although they handled their responsibilities wonderfully. Still, if the 'Caps can get Demerit to sign a contract, he would prove as a massive upgrade if he can stay healthy. Same for O'Brien; although both may no longer be needed.
Whitecaps management will go shopping this year to replace YP Lee, and they might look at an upgrade for Jordan Harvey as well. Mix all those factors together, and the 'Caps should have more stability, or at least depth, for their defensive core.
They were competitive all season long
Think about it; we could be Toronto FC. We could be a team that has never even sniffed post-season contention, but at least we've been entertained for the majority of the season. At least we got to experience the thrill of the mad dash towards the finish line, even if we did stumble coming out of the gate.
It was a rough season, boys and girls. However, try not to lose sight about where the Whitecaps are, and where they could be considering they are a relatively new club. Is this season acceptable? Hell no; that being said, it could be a whole lot worse.