The 2014 edition of the Vancouver Whitecaps certainly differed from Martin Rennie's 2013 squad, with names like Camilo, Kenny Miller and Jay Demerit all leaving the club, and names like Fernandez, Morales and Waston doing their best to replace them.
While a lack of movement in the striker position was certainly a disappointment, there's no denying that Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps scouting department made several terrific moves that improved the squad and made them play-off bound for 2014. Here are the top 3 moves the Whitecaps made in the off-season, in my opinion.
#3) Steven Beitashour
How: January 27th, 2014. Acquired from San Jose Earthquake for allocation money
Why it was a great move: One of the biggest question marks for the Whitecaps heading into 2014 was the sizable hole left by Right Back YP Lee, who retired and joined the 'Caps front office. However, the club went out and got arguably one of the best in the league at the position in the 26 year old Beitashour. In Beitashour, the Whitecaps got a younger player that still had plenty of MLS experience, as well as some international experience for the Iran National men's team. I mean, this is a dude that was named to the MLS All-Star team in 2012, so you knew the Whitecaps were getting something special.
Beitashour is obviously stable defensively, but it's his ball movement up the pitch that really made him a vital cog in the Whitecaps machine. With Jordan Harvey on the other side, the Whitecaps suddenly had two options from the back end that had a nose for the net, something that only improved when Kendall Waston joined the club at the CB position.
Beitashour started 27 matches for the Whitecaps, totaling 3 assists. That was very similar to his 2013 season for the Earthquake, although he did manage to pop one in the back of the net that year. With a full year under Robinson's system, Beitashour could be more comfortable, and therefore even better for 2015. While Kendall Waston got all of the headlines towards the end of the season, I would argue the pulse of the Whitecaps backline comes from Beitashour.
2) Matias Laba
Why it was a great move: Many of you may have wanted to see Laba top this list, and you may have an argument there. The 22 year old Laba was an absolute rock in the defensive midfield for the Whitecaps, and was rarely left out of Carl Robinson's starting 11 (31 matches started).
David Ousted lead all MLS goalkeepers with 13 clean sheets on the year, and Laba played a big role in helping him get there. Winner of the Jock MacDonald Unsung Hero award this year, Laba lead all midfielders in interceptions, as well as recording the most tackles per game at 4.9.
Carl Robinson has already made it known that he plans to work out the details and get Laba back in a Whitecaps kit for 2015 and hopefully beyond, which is obviously good news for 'Caps fans. In his first season with Vancouver, Laba proved himself to be an invaluable, irreplaceable player for the club. If the Whitecaps do hold on to him long term, it only strengthens the argument that Laba was the best addition Robinson made during the off-season.
1) Pedro Morales
How: March 5th, 2014. Free transfer from Malaga CF in La Liga
Why it was a great move: Come on, you knew that Mr. Morales was going to top this list, as the 28 year old was the Whitecaps only consistent offensive threat for the 2014 season. In his first MLS season, Morales lead the team in goals, assists, shots and shots on goal.
I mean, the shot stat tells you everything you need to know about the Whitecaps popgun offence this season; Morales had 105 shots in 2014, which was double that of the next closest player, Erik Hurtado at 55. In addition, he had 39 shots on goal, 16 more than Darren Mattocks, who was second. Without Morales, the club would have been absolutely despicable offensively, although the mid-season addition of Mauro Rosales did help that situation a little bit.
You can't give enough credit to Carl Robinson, who not only went out and found a premier playmaker, but also found one under 30 years of age. Like the other two players mentioned on this list, the Whitecaps will hopefully be able to keep Morales in the fold for a while and build around him.