It's been another long offseason for fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, and one that could have been prolonged if MLS and the MLS Players Union did not agree to the framework for a new CBA earlier this week.
But there is a match this weekend to look forward to. Opening weekend will, in fact, feature ten matches starting tonight when the 2014 MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy host the Chicago Fire at the StubHub Center at 7pm.
Tomorrow's match against Toronto FC will be the one and only MLS regular season meeting between these two clubs in 2015. When these teams last faced each other at BMO Field last July it was the Whitecaps who took the lead in the 50th minute when Darren Mattock's put the Caps in the lead after he slotted home a cross sent in from the left flank by Russell Teibert.
The Caps, however, were not destined to leave the Centre of the Universe with all three points in their pocket. A mere fifteen minutes after Mattocks had put Vancouver ahead, Nigel Reo-Coker, who was filling in that night at right back for the incumbent Steven Beitashour, fouled Toronto's Jackson Goncalves inside the box. Jermain Defoe converted the spot kick and neither side was able to able to break the deadlock before full time and thus the points were shared.
Now we fast forward to March 2015. It's been a busy off season for both clubs, and based on the "quality" of signings, it can be said that once again Toronto "won" the off-season for the signings and transfers they made since the end of last year.
TFC seems to always been in a constant state of change and upheaval. Doneil Henry, Gilberto, Dominic Oduro, Dwayne DeRosario and Jermain Defoe, who all started or were on the bench for the previous tilt between these two clubs, are all gone.
In what could be perhaps one of the best signings this past offseason, Toronto sent Defoe to Sunderland and in return received US-international striker, Jozy Altidore. Then the Reds made headlines around the football world with the signing of F Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus in Italy. Not content to stop there TFC also added Damien Perquis, Benoit Cheyrou, and Robbie Findley to Greg Vanney's squad.
Has TFC finally gotten it right, or is this just another case of throwing money around and hoping something sticks? Time, of course, will only tell, but the early indications from the preseason are promising for the BMO Field faithful.
Despite his woes in the Premiership there is no question the skill of Altidore. Opposing teams will have to watch out if Altidore's teammates can provide him with steady and quality service in front of goal. Is he capable of regaining the form he had when he scored 39 goals in 67 appearances for AZ Alkmaar in Holland? Who knows, but fans of the Whitecaps will be hoping that he won't figure it out this weekend at BC Place at least.
The Whitecaps, on the other hand, have their own questions to answer. This is a team that despite another mid-season slump, did manage to qualify for the MLS playoffs after an impressive stretch run.
The offseason for Carl Robinson's team has seen a combination of promotion from the youth ranks, and well-scouted and researched signings. Will the likes of Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese see more first team minutes this year, or are they destined for a year honing and developing their skills in the USL under the tutelage of WFC2 head coach, Alan Koch.
Robbo certainly hopes that his big offseason signing, Uruguayan striker Octavio Rivero, is the answer to Vancouver's inconsistent goal scoring. "El Cabeza" has impressed during the preseason, but will he make an immediate impact in MLS or will he need time to adjust the MLS style of play?
On the backline there are also questions. 2014 saw the departure of several centre backs including Jay DeMerit (retired), Andy O'Brien (contract option declined) and Johnny Leverón (contract option declined). The past two years the Whitecaps used their SuperDraft picks on centre backs (Christian Dean in 2014 and Tim Parker in 2015). In addition, Robbo brought in 24-year old CB Diego Rodriguez from Club Atletico de Las Piedras in Uruguay on a one-year loan and then signed Pa-Modou Kah, who played the past few seasons for the Portland Timbers. Which one of these two will pair up with Kendall Waston tomorrow afternoon?
Finally, Whitecaps fans will be looking to Pedro Morales for the magic that only he can provide. We saw that as the season wore on that it took a toll on the Chilean playmaker. Morales has returned to Vancouver rested and fit and looked strong in preseason. A healthy and productive Pedro Morales is a a key to any successes the Whitecaps will have, and many are hoping that he will be the difference maker in this season's opener as he was a year ago when he was key in a 4-1 dismantling of the New York Red Bulls.
So who will come out on top tomorrow under the dome? Toronto will want to spoil the Caps party, but they'll have to get on the score sheet early to take the crowd out of the match. On the flipside the Whitecaps will want to capitalize on the energy of the crowd and put this one out of reach early.
Predicted score: Whitecaps FC 2 - 1 Toronto FC
Toronto FC: (4-4-2 Diamond) Bendik (GK), Morrow, Perquis, Caldwell, Creaville, Osorio, Bradley, Cheyrou, Findley, Altidore, Giovinco
Whitecaps FC: (4-2-3-1)Ousted (GK), Harvey, Kah, Waston, Beitashour, Teibert, Laba, Manneh, Morales, Rosales, Rivero
Referee: Kevin Stott
AR1: Mike Rottersman
AR2: Marco Arruda
4th: Baboucarr Jallow