The Vancouver Whitecaps completed their training period in Tucson, Arizona last night with a convincing 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo and now head back to Vancouver briefly before finishing their pre-season schedule in Portland at the Simple Invitational Tournament. While little can be inferred from pre-season victories, it is worth noting that the Whitecaps went undefeated, beating Seattle (2-1), New England (3-2), and Houston (2-0).
Heading into his third season as head coach, there was plenty of intrigue about what we would see from Carl Robinson’s young team during the pre-season. It was clear to everyone that goal scoring was an issue last season and while few roster changes occurred over the off-season, those that did attempted to address the scoring problems. This lead to plenty of speculation about the preferred formation of the Whitecaps for 2016. Robinson received criticism last season for being too predictable in his formation and too defensive. Many thought that with the additional offensive weapons we would see something different than the 4-2-3-1 of last season. We have now had three matches to get some ideas about what the Whitecaps will bring to MLS this season and as the Caps return to Vancouver we will discuss some of the takeaways from their two weeks in Tucson.
It was good to see Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh get in at least 30 minutes last night against Houston Dynamo. Both have been dealing with some nagging injuries to start the pre-season. However, what is concerning here is that the injuries are hold-overs from last season. Morales battled injuries for most of last season while you would hope that Manneh was mostly healed from his injury in the playoffs. Then again, if the injury was serious, which it appeared to be, 3-6 months to heal is not out of the question. My feeling on both accounts is I would rather have BOTH sit out the first two months of the season and be 100% than to have them in and out of the lineup all season because they are not fully fit upon their return. The Whitecaps have enough competition for starting positions in the midfield that the team can be successful in the first quarter of the season without Morales and Manneh. You will notice that I avoided the term ‘depth’. It seemed to be a contentious term last season. This season, the Whitecaps appear to have strong, legitimate, competition at each position and appeared to only increase that competition over the off-season; although some might disagree about the right back spot.
There was plenty of discussion here and elsewhere about whether the Whitecaps would play a different formation this season. Pre-season indications are an emphatic ‘NO!’. In each game, the same predictable formation was trotted out onto the field. Look, I am not saying that they need to move away from 4-2-3-1, however, the pre-season is an opportunity to try something different in a (semi) competitive environment. I get the concept of practicing what you will play so everyone is familiar with one another. However, outside of a few additions this is the same team that finished out last season. Do they really need to have 6+ games together to get on the same page? Can’t you get on the same page, to some degree, in different formations? The Whitecaps bring in several offensive reinforcements to address your terrible scoring record in the final quarter of the season, and yet you do not even try to have them play on the field together? That just seems like a huge misstep to me. Have 4-2-3-1 as your primary formation, but you need to have a backup and the pre-season seems to be a great opportunity to test that out in a game situation.
Sure, there are valid questions about the right back situation. But wow, is that defense young and good. You still have the veteran Jordan Harvey, but the rest of that defense is YOUNG. Tim Parker has not played much, thanks to international duty, but he looks as calm and solid as we came to expect last year. Sam Adekugbe looks ready to challenge Harvey for games. Take this how you want, but Fraser Aird looked better than Jordan Smith last night. Kendall Waston is dominant with that head (dude, you should be scoring off corner kicks from the penalty spot!). However, the player I want to focus some attention on is Christian Dean. This is an important year for him. It is probably his last as a Generation Adidas player. He also saw himself leap-frogged by Parker last season. It seems from pre-season interviews and fitness testing that he has come to camp with something to prove. His on-field play has backed that up as he has looked solid. With any luck, Kah will be relegated to a similar role that Robert Earnshaw filled last season: coach with little first-team playing time. If the Whitecaps can rotate Waston, Parker, and Dean, I think the central defense is going to be excellent!
Odds and Ends
- If Smith can perform at RB, that long throw could come in handy
- Blas Perez will definitely help this team on and off the field, but it sure was weird to see him running around the field in Caps’ white last night. Very weird.
- Cristian Techera and Nicolas Mezquida looked great last night with their crosses.
- The Whitecaps ‘depth’ dominated the Dynamos ‘depth’ last night. With that in mind, keep the name Alphonso Davies in mind.
- Marco Bustos will dominate USL this season and force his way into the discussion for regular playing time!
Those are my three main takeaways from the pre-season in Tucson. What are your main takeaways? Anything catch your eye, good or bad?