With the Vancouver Whitecaps players set to report on Saturday, it appears that the 2016 MLS season is about to begin. Excitement among Whitecaps faithful has been high with anticipation over what a full season of Cristian Techera and the additions of two excellent attackers in Masato Kudo and Christian Bolanos will mean for the Whitecaps chances of challenging for the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup. The addition of Kudo and Bolanos, coupled with the Whitecaps poor scoring record last season, has led to a lot of speculation surrounding what formation Carl Robinson’s team will deploy.
Last week, we examined the possibility of the Whitecaps trying a 3 Center Back formation. Opinions were mixed, at best, as to whether this formation was suitable for the Whitecaps. While we will examine the attacking decisions Robbo will have to make this season, next week, today we are going to focus on that position between the backline and the attacking front: Defensive/Holding Midfield.
To no one’s surprise, Matias Laba was the foundation of the D-Mid position last season, with even those outside the Whitecaps organization arguing that he was the best (or at least top 3) D-Mid in MLS. These statements led some to question Carl Robinson’s decision to remain steadfast in his utilization of a 2 D-Mid formation; especially given the Whitecaps late-season troubles scoring and the lack of production coming from the D-Mid position. It appeared that minor attempts were made to address the lack of scoring, with Pedro Morales playing several games alongside Laba; although this proved ineffective for a myriad of reasons. In a few rare instances last season, the Whitecaps played Laba alone and he thrived. With this in mind, it makes sense to replace the ineffective (offensively) pairing with a single D-Mid and using that extra player in a more attacking role. However, the Vancouver Whitecaps are fairly deep at D-Mid and playing only Laba would mean that playing time would be greatly reduced for Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, Deybi Flores, and Ben McKendry.
There may be evidence that Robbo plans to transition to a one D-Mid formation with recent rumblings that Gershon Koffie may be on his way out. Then again, like the Darren Mattocks rumors, the possibility of Koffie moving on has been floating around for several seasons now, with little traction. If the rumors are true this time, it might solve Robbo’s roster quandary. Teibert could serve as the primary backup to Laba, playing when Laba is suspended (yellow cards) or when the Whitecaps a) play road games with two D-Mids; b) have two games in a week; c) compete in the Voyageurs and CONCACAF; d) are holding a lead late in games. Meanwhile, with Flores and McKendry still quite young, regular playing time with the ThunderCaps appears best for their development; with a sprinkling of playing time with the first-team when Teibert is away on international duty.
Then again, maybe we see Robbo stick with the two D-Mid formation, with a primary pairing of Laba and Koffie; or we see the Whitecaps attempt to have Morales play alongside Laba as a ‘false D-Mid’, with Mezquida playing ahead of him?
While the 3-CB formation was proposed last week -in part to enjoy the fantasy of Morales, Techera, Manneh, Bolanos, Kudo, and Rivero being able to be on the field at the same time- it would have made the Whitecaps highly susceptible to the counter-attack. Although the Whitecaps would be scoring more goals, no matter how good Ousted, Parker, Waston, Dean, and Laba proved to be, it is likely that the Whitecaps would also concede considerably more goals too. Therefore, we come to you and pose the poll question, what do you predict, or want to see, from the Whitecaps in the 2016 season at the D-Mid position?