The 2016 season is just about upon us! Dreams are still alive and wishful thinking occupies the minds of every supporter. Also alive and well is prediction season. Supporters Shield, MLS Cup and MVP talk is being highly contested, so instead I'm going to throw out ten predictions that are equal parts out there and specific.
1. Blas Perez outscores Octavio Rivero in open play despite starting twenty less games.
For all the good he does in hold up play, Rivero matches it with some brutal moments inside the penalty area. His red hot start had me hoping it was just a huge lose of confidence at the end of the year but his play in preseason still looks trigger shy and weak on the ball. Presuming Pedro Morales regains penalty duties, Rivero will struggle to hit double digits in goals. With Masato Kudo nipping at his heels, eight goals may not be enough to put himself ahead of future super sub/current super pest Blas Perez.
2. Matias Laba scores a thunderbastard.
2015 saw Matias Laba score his first MLS goal for the club, a wonderful strike from distance* against the Portland Timbers. The hard working, relentless defensive midfielder isn't usually one to add offense to his team, but that goal in Portland has me thinking that a smashing goal from distance is set to be a fun and comical yearly tradition.
*The goal was followed by my favourite celebration of all-time, a full field jog to the travelling supporters at the opposite end of the pitch.
3. Sam Adekugbe takes over the left back spot by June.
Okay, maybe this isn't too hard to believe at all. Last year it seemed like the job was his until he was stopped (literally) in his tracks by Orlando City 'keeper Donovan Ricketts. He started and looked very active down the left flank in the Simple Invitational opener against Chicago, providing the assist on Christian Techera's goal. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he started on March 6th, but if it is Jordan Harvey I don't think it'll be long before both fullback spots are occupied by Canadians.
4. Pedro Morales and Christian Bolanos both end the year top-5 in assists in MLS.
This is a bit of an optimistic prediction but I was really encouraged by what I saw against Chicago in the Simple Invitational. Watching Bolanos and Morales play together will be a treat for supporters this season. They look like two puppet masters controlling the game. Both players are capable of making the key pass to set someone free or putting their foot on the ball and slowing it right down when it's needed. If they can learn to combine their next-level vision and skill together then they should have no problems hitting double digits in assists.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps score the most goals in MLS.
Preseason is the time to think the club you support can accomplish anything, before the cold harsh reality of professional sports kicks in. So hey, why can't the Whitecaps lead the league in goals in 2016? Generally speaking, it takes 60-70 goals as a club to lead the league and if all goes well there is certainly goals in this squad. I don't see this as likely but I certainly expect an upswing in goals from last season's 45.
6. Kekuta Manneh doubles his season high for goals.
Manneh's current high for a single season is seven, which he accomplished in his rookie season on the back of a hat trick performance in the seasons penultimate match in Seattle. Every season Whitecaps fans have watched with excitement as Manneh's grown into a more complete player. 2016 is the next step in Manneh's progression towards MLS stardom and I look for him to become a legitimate goal scorer in the league this year. Twelve to fifteen goals isn't out of the question for the 'Caps wonderkid.
7. The Whitecaps send multiple players to the MLS All-Star Game.
In their history, the Whitecaps have sent three players to the All-Star game. Jay DeMerit, Camilo and David Ousted have all represented the 'Caps in the game, coming in three different seasons. Last season looked like the year they would send multiple players to the game with Ousted, Waston and Rivero all getting off to great starts. This year may just be the year the Whitecaps get the respect they deserve from the league (gasp)! Ousted, Waston, Morales and Manneh are all good possibilities to represent the 'Caps against Arsenal this summer.
8. Pedro Morales betters his first season's numbers.
The Pedro Morales of 2014 that took the league by storm, putting up ten goals and twelve assists and becoming the club's captain along the way, is the real Pedro Morales. Tricky, confident and able to bust open a game at any time, he rightfully won MLS Newcomer of the Year and brought about high expectations for 2015. What Whitecaps fans got instead was a shell of the player he's able to be, seeing the captain become injured, uninspired and inconsistent. With a full, healthy preseason under his belt and strong competition behind him, 2016 will be Morales' return to form and he could very well improve upon the ten goals and twelve assists he tallied in 2014.
9. Kendall Waston scores five goals.
If Waston connects on even 25% more headers in the opponent's penalty area in 2016 then five goals should be a breeze for him to get to. An absolute force in the air when defending, it just hasn't quite translated to goals at the other end yet for him in MLS. With two goals in each of his first two seasons in Vancouver, it's time for Waston to become a legitimate goal scoring threat for the Whitecaps off of set pieces and give the supporters more of his emotionally fulfilling celebrations.
10. Four Homegrown players score for the Whitecaps this season.
Last year saw Marco Bustos make his debut for the Whitecaps in MLS as well as expanded roles for both Sam Adekugbe and Kianz Froese within the squad. I expect bigger roles for all three of those players in 2016 and all three, as well as Russell Teibert, will have an impact on the team at one time or another throughout the season. With more players coming through in the near future, these four will help set the standard and all find the scoresheet in 2016.
There you have ten bold predictions for the 2016 MLS season. Some feasible, some not so much, but even the most outrageous (fourteen goals for Manneh!?) give you an idea of what to look for this year. For all their successes last season, the Whitecaps are a young squad that's growing together so there will still be some great peaks and low valleys.
Have any bold predictions of your own? Kudo for Newcomer of the Year? Ousted getting the recognition he deserves? Let us know in the comments!