With the Vancouver Whitecaps now on the golf course, many have been going over their 2016 campaign, and trying to figure out exactly where this club went wrong. I thought our contributors would have some interesting things to say in that discussion, and so Eighty Six Forever posed them four questions to answer. You can check them out below:
Who was the most disappointing player?
AtlantisB: While there are plenty of players that we could potentially choose from, I think the most disappointing would be Kendall Waston, given where he was last season. Waston was part of the Vancouver Whitecaps core and runner-up for Defender of the Year. He finished 2016 with 8 yellow cards, which we probably could have expected, and led the league with three red cards. It is not even that Waston received three red cards, but rather the decision-making process that led to some of those yellow and red cards. In addition to the cards, Waston was routinely made to look foolish by opposing wingers and forward. His drop-off was so significant, you begin to wonder whether he can get himself back to the level we saw in 2015.
Ian: I think the easy answer would have been Pedro Morales. You know, the captain and Designated Player who couldn't help but talk about leaving the team before the end of his underwhelming, lethargic season. However, I've got to go with Kendall Waston. When he joined the Whitecaps, Waston was the dynamic, goal-scoring CB, who only occasionally had to rely on veterans like Andy O'Brien and Pa Modou Kah. But now, he's the vet in the center, and it's not a good look when the team's talismanic centerback leads the league in red cards for a defense who clearly regressed compared to last year (going from 2nd to 12th in Goals Allowed, for example).
Edmond: The first, and seemingly obvious culprit to come to mind is Pedro Morales. At the start of the season he showed well and we saw how effective he can be when healthy and on his game. His game deteriorated significantly as the season wore on, and Morales admitted at the end that he was playing through pain. Morales' 2014 season showed how good he could be in this league, and his big ticket DP salary said the 'Caps expected him to be that good. Both points made his lackluster season seem so disappointing. There were games toward the end of the season where he was hardly noticeable on the pitch.
But in my mind, Octavio Rivero was the greater disappointment. He is a skilled player that should have done better in this league. His first season was a disappointment as well, but it often takes international players a year to figure out the league with its travel, physicality and questionable referees. So, with a year's experience and the additions at the striker position of Kudo and Perez to share some of the load, it wasn't unreasonable to expect him to succeed. Rivero and the team around him, which includes Robbo's tactics, never figured out how to release his talents, but even the chances he did get to score were often squandered. When Rivero didn't work out and was sold to Colo Colo in Chile he left such a devastating hole in the position that the 'Caps continued to struggle to score. Not only was his lack of scoring a disappointment, the team's offense was structured to be so dependent on his goals that without him there was no one to take his place.
CascadianLion: Pedro Morales. Pretty simple one here. Only 3 goals from open play all year. If he was indeed still injured, then why was he playing.
Most Promising Player? (Writers were not allowed to pick Alphonso Davies, because we figured that one was too easy)
Ian: It's got to be Brett Levis. Though he only had 6 minutes of MLS exposure this season, Levis excelled every where else: he nabbed four goals and two assists for WFC2, played in all four CCL wins, and even drew heady praise in the friendly against Crystal Palace. Whether its at left back or on the wing, Levis will make an impact next year (or in 2018, at worst) if he gets regular minutes.
Edmond: Without a doubt, Bret Levis.
This should have been Marco Bustos or Kianz Froese's category, but in only a few first team games Levis showed he can play in this league. I was impressed with his ability to dribble the ball around the defense and either get the ball to a teammate or get a shot off himself. It is early days with a small sample of work and I already feel more confident about him than Adegkube as the future at LB . With his ability to play farther forward on the wing, hopefully, we will see a day with both Canadians bombing up the left side. But for our needs right now:
Oh, that Levis wasn't a RB.
AtlantisB: There are the sexy picks, such as Alphonso Davies and Brett Levis, but I feel it is more important to look at some of the less-noticed players. Richey seems to be a potential replacement for Ousted once he moves on, which is nice, while Kianz Froese could turn into the solid box-to-box midfielder the Whitecaps have coveted.
Heading into 2016, it appeared that it might be Froese breakout season. It certainly started out well, but he quickly fell out of favor with Carl Robinson. After a short-term loan to Germany, Froese came back and played for the ThunderCaps. He ended up being instrumental to their deep run to the Western Conference Finals, contributing on both the offensive and defensive ends. If he can continue to grow and the attitude and/or work ethic does not become an issue, he could prove to be a solid, cheap, midfield option for the Whitecaps.
JonSzekeres: This might be cheating a bit, but I’m going with 21 year old Fraser Aird. The young defender struggled early in the season, but was adapting well to MLS before he started battling injury. In all, he played in 18 matches during the regular season, while starting 16. The backline was not very good this season, but Aird is very young and can hopefully grow with the club and continue to get comfortable in this league.
How do you fix this team?
CascadianLion: Try a different formation 4-1-4-1 perhaps. 4-1-3-2.
Edmond: The 'Caps need to figure out how they intend to score goals and get the players to fill the roles they need to do that. They will need a play-maker capable of starting the offense. If they intend to score using the 4-2-3-1, then he needs to be a dynamic link in the mid-field that is mobile enough to get in behind the forwards to feed them with passes and can drop back to receive the ball from the DM's. If they are serious about the 4-4-2 then he also needs to be able to defend a little.
A reliable, stud striker that will score goals for this team and another striker that will either effectively work with him or score his own goals as a substitute. I know, not a particularly out of the box opinion, but this team has only had one truly effective scorer in its MLS history and it needs to get this position right if they expect to succeed. If that means they need to spend some money, then spend the money, there are two DP slots available!
Everyone knows RB needs to be addressed. It just needs to be decent, and back line will fare better.
Ian: Figure out the ideology. Should they be a pure counter-attack team? If so, the defense has to be FAR better than it was in 2016. How about develop a high-pressing attack? It can work, but not when those who get results (e.g. Nicolas Mezquida) do not see the pitch until the 89th minute. They can always be a possession team, but again the defense was an issue while everyone else suffered from blunderous passing far too often. There's a multitude of strategies for Carl Robinson to choose. Maybe he should go with just one.
AtlantisB: I may be too optimistic here, but I do not feel that a massive overhaul is required. There was a reason why the team was pegged as a MLS contender to begin the season and why many outside of Vancouver have been surprised by the end result. The problem is that the fixes do not appear to be easy. I have faith that the defense can return to being solid. Yes, Harvey, Waston, and Ousted are a year older, but I think that should not be a major issue. That right side certainly needs to be addressed, but I do not think that it requires a ‘top’ right back, just a defensively responsible one (although I am not opposed to Aird).
The other problem is the lack of variety in attack and, potentially surprising, the lack of creativity. One of the typically highlighted strengths of Latin American players is their creativity and despite having a strong contingent on the Whitecaps, the team seemed lost when they reached the attacking third. Maybe it was because the midfield did not have confidence in the striking options, maybe it was something else. If the Whitecaps can obtain two quality strikers a lot of the problems can be corrected. Having a threat to score means the defense plays back a bit and it frees up space in the middle of the field for the playmakers the Whitecaps clearly have. However, finding those players is easier said than done. It does not necessarily require money, and money does not guarantee success, but there is certainly a correlation!
How many starters from 2016 should be back next season?
Edmond: If Ousted wants to come back, then bring him back. As always, he is the no-brainer in this discussion. It was a let off season from last year, but I think that has more to do with the troubles on the defensive line.
Harvey has proven he can still play, and if he becomes back up to a young up and comer, then he will be a reliable back up. I believe that Waston and Edgar will grow into a solid CB pairing. Bolanos proved to be a good signing and he may become the midfield play-maker they need.
Keep Manneh and Laba. They should also keep Jacobson and Hurtado as they are useful players, but the talent on the field needs to improve enough that they are not relied upon as starters. After that, all bets are off.
AtlantisB: Who were the starters for the Whitecaps? There were some variations. I think that the midfield, less Morales, can be strong and should remain. I am a fan of Hurtado, but not as the main scoring threat. Most of the defense can be retained, but something needs to be figured out about the RB.
Ian: When looking at players who played at least one-quarter of this season, but also started 80% of the time, I count only seven players who could have been called a "starter" in 2016: David Ousted, Matias Laba, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey, Pedro Morales, Christian Bolanos, and Kendall Waston. And of those seven, the doubting eyes turn to Morales: his contract expires this year (though it does have an available option for 2017), he talks as though he's already leaving, and he supposedly played through an injury this year. So even if he wanted to come back in 2017, would the club keep him around? Especially if the quality in play drops drastically the moment he picks up a knock?
CascadianLion: Not Pedro