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That Was the Year That Was

It was a season of highs and lows for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Mark Dailey tries to make sense of it all in his season review.

Winning a record fifth Cascadia Cup was a highlight of the Whitecaps' 2014 season.
Winning a record fifth Cascadia Cup was a highlight of the Whitecaps' 2014 season.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Wait, what?  The Vancouver Whitecaps 2014 season is over?  If it wasn't for the heavy November rains drumming on my window pane then I'd be inclined to heartily disagree with that notion, because it only seems like only a few weeks have passed since we were celebrating the dismantling of the New York Red Bulls on opening day.

A lot has happened since then.

So, where should we start with our review?  The logical place to start would be the beginning of the season of course, but we have to go back a little further than that because what transpired last winter would in part influence the fortunes of the Caps all year long.

The goal scoring void left by Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller was always going to be tough considering that the pair accounted for 30 of the Whitecaps 53 goals in 2013.  It is interesting to note that Miller, even though he only played the first couple months of the season, finished sixth in team scoring in 2014 with three goals.  The theme all year long was, to coin a phrase, that the Whitecaps would have to "score by committee" or that the other (younger) forwards would have to step up and seize the opportunity laid at their feet.

While it is pointless to rehash the departures of the Camilo/Miller duo, I do think it is important to note that without them on the team consistently scoring goals has been an issue for the team all year.  It is somewhat amazing that this team managed to achieve anything of note without a regular or proven goal scorer in the side.

Of course our inconsistencies finding the back of the net have been well documented, and lamented, all year long.  Players like Sebastian Fernandez, Erik Hurtado, Darren Mattocks, and Kekuta Manneh have all enjoyed extended runs in the side, and while they all have managed to score goals, they have done so on an irregular basis.

Mattocks and Hurtado drew more than their fair share of the fan's discontent when the team was mired the depths of the midseason slump.  While we have undoubtedly seen Hurtado improve under the tutelage of Robinson and his coaching staff this year, it is unlikely that he is the answer to Caps' scoring problems.  That does not mean, however, that he does not have a place on this team especially if he does continue to develop and grow.  Erik's goal against the Seattle Sounders on May 24th is my choice for goal of the season.

Mattocks, on the other hand, did not take advantage of the opportunities that were given to him this year.  Granted he scored more goals in 2014 (6) than he did in last year (3), but he has never been able to live up to the famous boast he made in his sophomore year that he expected to score at least fifteen goals that season.  Mattocks has, in fact, scored a grand total of just 16 goals in the three years he has been with the club.

Mattocks has been criticized (again) at various times throughout the season by fans and pundits alike for his attitude, body language, and his work ethic during matches.  While he did start the season quite well, it did not last and was often overlooked in favour of Hurtado and Fernandez.  Have the Whitecaps seen the best from Mattocks or is the best yet to come?  It is certainly an interesting situation and I'm sure it's one that Robinson will consider carefully in the months ahead.

It is interesting to note that in the Whitecaps' two MLS playoff appearances they have managed to score just two goals, and these two goals have been scored by, yes you guessed it: Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks!

Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps brass have said recently that bringing a proven goal scorer (or two) to Vancouver is a priority.  We have seen this team strengthened in many other areas, and a dangerous front man (or two) is what this team needs to become a threat week-in and week-out.  I am certain I am not alone in saying that we do not need a repeat of the 450-minute long scoring drought that we witnessed this past summer.

Speaking of this past summer, I was quite alarmed that the annual "Summer Drought" transitioned from being a mere "trend" and has become a summer "tradition".  Why this team does so poorly during the summer months remains a mystery to me, but it cannot, and must not, be repeated again in 2015.  Here is a sobering stat: from June 1st to August 30th, 2014 the Whitecaps only won three games.  To their credit, however, they finished strong and closed out the season with a record of 5W-2L-2D in their final 9 matches.

As regular listeners of the From the Backline podcast will know that another of my (our) biggest concerns this year was consistency.  Many times this year we pondered what this team could achieve if the entire side could deliver a consistent and solid ninety minute performance.  While there were many examples of individual players who had excellent individual performances, collectively it was an issue that dogged the team throughout the year.  We have seen that when they do play well as a team then they can beat almost any team in this league.

We have seen some solid performances from our backline and in particular from our 'keeper, David Ousted.  The big Dane earned 13 clean sheets this season and was very solid during the stretch run.  Ousted had a fantastic game against the Colorado Rapids in the final match of the season, and made two clutch saves against Gabriel Torres towards the end of the match to preserve the Caps' lead.

Speaking of solid performances, how good has Matias Laba been this season?  Pedro Morales may have made the headlines for the majority of the season, and deservedly so, but Laba had a huge role for the Caps this season as well and cannot be overlooked.  Robinson said this week that the Whitecaps will complete the deal with Toronto FC to keep Laba in Vancouver, and that is fantastic news indeed.

I lamented earlier (once again) about the loss of Camilo and Miller, but after the departure of the Wee Brazilian Futboldemort there were plenty of new signings and contract extensions for fans to cheer about including (in no particular order): Steven Beitashour, Jay DeMerit, Pedro Morales, Matias Laba, Sebastian Fernandez, Nicloas Mezquida, Mauro Rosales, Kendall Waston, Russell Teibert, Paolo Tornaghi, Ethan Sampson, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese.  Normally I would not go to the trouble to list them all, but I wanted to make a point, and the point is this: since the departure of Camilo the club has strengthened or upgraded positions across the board.  Some signings, obviously, are to provide depth for Robbo's squad, but several of them were strokes of genius, and I am specifically referring to the signings of Morales, Laba, Rosales and Waston in particular.  All of these signings were brilliant, but the signing of Rosales (which was basically a straight-up swap for Nigel Reo-Coker) stands out, and it's no coincidence that the Caps' fortunes changed for the better once Mauro joined the team.

Now finally we get to the highest of the high points of the season, but if it weren't for the late season run of good form then things could have turned out differently, and it could have ended really, really badly.

So here is a list of the "highs" of the Caps' 2014 season: a club record 50 regular season points, CONCACAF Champion's League berth, a record 5th Cascadia Cup and MLS playoffs.  Not a bad list of achievements for a team that struggled at times this season, isn't it?  As a fan it is frustrating that we still have not been able to win the Voyageur's Cup, but on the other hand being the first team to win five Cascadia Cups more than makes up for it, as does securing the CCL berth for next year.

Of course the MLS season is a long and gruelling one, but when it looked like the season was going to slip through our fingers, the Caps came through and it is because of their record over the past two months that we can sit here (somewhat) satisfied with the outcome of the 2014 season.

The achievements of 2014 does not mean that the hard work is over; in fact the hard work is about to begin.  Vancouver sports fans expect their teams to be perennial contenders and play an exciting and entertaining style.  The Whitecaps briefly captured the imagination of sports fans in this city during the past few months, and must continue to build on that momentum in 2015.  To do this they will have to strengthen the team in the areas that need strengthening and build on the successes of 2014.

Carl Robinson has done well in his first year, and has put in place some strong foundations for this team.  This is a team not only full of talent, but also a team full of character and heart.  It will be interesting to see how Robbo shapes this team in the months ahead for next season and beyond.

At least for now I can sit back and enjoy the exciting finish to this season (playoff game notwithstanding), and look ahead to the 2015 season.  It's been quite a ride this year and it has left me wanting more.  As I close the book on the 2014 season I think this sentiment sums it up best:

I just can't get enough.

Thanks Whitecaps, I'm out (for now)!

Editor's Note: tomorrow our season in review series continues when Rituro will deliver his verdict on the manager, Carl Robinson, and his first season in charge.

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And now it's your turn - if you would like to add your voice to the discussion then please leave a comment in the section below.