The Vancouver Whitecaps will no doubt remember 2015 as a successful one, considering their second place finish, their first ever home playoff date, and their first Amway Canadian Championship victory. The off-season has started off on the right foot too, with the 'Caps locking up Matias Laba for at least the next two years. However, before we fully move on from the season that was 2015, the writers at Eighty-Six Forever have a few questions to go over. What did the staff here think of 2015? Find out below.
1) We all know the Whitecaps had some trouble scoring in 2015. In your opinion, who had the most disappointing season amongst the attacking players? On the flipside, which attacking player were you impressed with?
I would say that I'm probably a little disappointed with almost all of the attacking players, but for different reasons. Octavio Rivero, of course, is the most obvious choice because he was unable to maintain his hot start, or find his scoring boots during the stretch run when the 'Caps desperately needed goals. Then there is Kekuta Manneh, who teased us with exhilarating moments of brilliance, but also showed that he still has a little way to go in his development. Pedro Morales was plagued by injury and was unable to replicate the impressive season he had in 2014. Finally, I'm disappointed in Darren Mattocks, who plays the way only Darren Mattocks can play. 'Nuff said.
Out of all of the attacking players I was most impressed by Cristian Techera. He settled nicely into the squad, adjusted to MLS quickly, and started banging in the goals almost right from the very start. A very good signing by the Whitecaps, but the big question that remains is whether or not the 'Caps will make El Bicho's loan deal a permanent transfer.
I think that the entire attacking unit had a disappointing season. There were a lot of expectations and they all fell flat. Rivero is the obvious choice, after his quick start and high salary, for most disappointing, but I am going to give the ‘award' to Morales. He ended up where I was expecting him, maybe even a bit better in some regards, but I suspect that there was more expected of him from others and thus he has to be looked at as a disappointment.
The attacking player that I was most impressed with is Techera. However, I am going to focus on my second choice. Coming in to this season, I did not know what to expect of Mezquida. He did not play much last year and when he did play, there wasn't much. However, he seemed to become more comfortable this year (hopefully a positive sign for Rivero's growth next year) and appeared to be a different player. More importantly, the Whitecaps looked to be a different team with him at the helm, compared to Morales. If Mezquida continues to grow, he needs to see more time in the #10 role. He brings an important dynamic to this team. The stats show, when Morales is #10, the team scores less than when Mezquida starts. Small sample size? Maybe. But let's get a bigger sample size to find out!
I was particularly disappointed with Kekuta Manneh's season. I feel than after three years in the league we should see more consistency from the young Gambian. Manneh can be electric and the best player on the pitch but don't see those performances nearly as frequent enough
Disappointing - Darren Mattocks. So, he's done, right? Are we all in agreement that 2015 was his last chance? Look, I understand that expectations have always been high for Mattocks; such is the price of being a first-round draft pick. Or, to put that another way, his "Air Mattocks" goal against Toronto wasn't the only situation involving Mattocks and absurd elevation. That being said, somehow, the Jamaican international has put the ball in the back of the net for his country - a feat he has struggled all season to do for his club, notching only three goals to tie Pa-Modou Kah(!). Mattocks is clearly motivated to perform at the highest level of the game. I suspect that no matter how hard Carl Robinson and his staff have worked to bring out that scoring touch at the club level, that mental battle may be a lost cause. No motivation = no goals = no more Darren Mattocks in Vancouver. Disappointing.
Impressive - Cristian Techera. Get rid of the diving and I'll fork over the transfer fee myself. (Note: cheque might not clear.) Techera had the best G/90 of all field players with more than 1,000 minutes of action (0.40), he tied Kekuta Manneh for second on the team goal-scoring charts with seven and his creativity on the flanks (including nifty set pieces) have been a vitally needed component of the Whitecaps attack. In short, Techera not only impressed me - he has me completely won over to the point where I fear for the Whitecaps' potency in 2016 should El Bicho not return.
2) Give me an overall grade on Carl Robinson's Season as a Head Coach
A+. Robbo has taken the youngest team in the league to second place in the Western Conference, and has transformed the group into Supporter's Shield contenders. He's elevated the promising talents inside his roster to new heights through a refreshingly astute brand of soccer. Vancouver finds itself in an extremely exciting position and the boss, through his management and nous in the market, is responsible for that.
B. Juggling three competitions with a 30-man, salary capped roster is a prospect that would make many a lesser coach's head explode. Yet there was Robbo, shuffling the deck all season long to try and build familiarity across the entirety of the roster rather than just a select 11-14. On top of that, we heard stories and saw evidence all season long of a locker room that is unified, buoyant and enjoying their soccer, not to mention each other's company. That has to make you feel good as a coach, knowing that you're building a group that is willing to fight for each other when the chips are down.
Yes, injuries ultimately thinned the depth and exposed a few more holes in the 'Caps roster - such is the peril of our league, where building a truly formidable team is no easy task. Yes, you can argue Octavio Rivero started red hot and finished ice cold, hold-up play notwithstanding. These are the issues Robbo will need to sort out in the offseason, assuming he hasn't already put the next phase of his long-term plan into motion. I have faith. #InRobboWeTrust
A- Under Robbo's guidance the Whitecaps won their first ever Voyageur's Cup, amassed a club record for victories and points, had the best road record in MLS, conceded the fewest goals in the league, secured a much coveted home playoff match and were still in the Supporter's Shield race right up until the bitter end. Yes, the end of the season was disappointing, but how can you argue with what the Whitecaps did achieve in 2015?
3) Are the Whitecaps close to winning an MLS Championship?
Yup! This is not homerism. I feel I am very critical of the Caps and work hard not to sugarcoat things. With that in mind, yeah, they are close. They had the 3rd best record in MLS. They had one of, if not the best defense. They have a strong core. They have a great team-mentality. MLS has a lot of parity and thus a number of teams have a legitimate chance. Just as the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact, who appeared to be missing the playoffs just a few months ago. So, while the Whitecaps are close to winning the championship, they are also close to missing the playoffs. I am not stating anything you all do not already know, but if this team can become a threat on offense, then they could be at the top of the Supporters Shield race again next year. If they do not get consistent scoring, then they could be fighting for 5thor 6th in the West. We know that Ousted, Waston, Parker, Laba, Koffie/Teibert will give them a chance each week though.
Not yet. I think they still need a few players, and perhaps add some new tactics or formations before they'll become a legit MLS powerhouse and contender.
Each year MLS, and the Western Conference in particular becomes increasingly more competitive. The Whitecaps surpassed expectations this year however it is expected that high spending teams will continue to sign big budget players. The Whitecaps will need to continue to be smart with their recruiting to remain competitive. Reaching the Western final would be a good objective to have in 2016.
No. They're still a dark horse threat, to be sure - just not close enough to be a serious contender.
I would say so. I trust the technical staff to improve the competition for minutes over coming months and to make Vancouver a more dynamic outfit overall. The biggest incentive for my optimism is the trajectory of the younger members of the squad, particularly in the attacking department. I can't wait to watch Octavio Rivero silence his critics and deliver unprecedented success.