The next time we see the Vancouver Whitecaps take the field it will be to start the MLS regular season against the Montreal Impact. While Carl Robinson’s priority this offseason appeared to be renewing the contracts of his core players (e.g., David Ousted, Matias Laba, and Kendall Waston), he did bring in a few additional pieces to address the lack of offensive output by the team last season. Those came in the form of a young, offensive, Canadian fullback in Fraser Aird, midfield experience in Christian Bolanos, and additional scoring threats in Masato Kudo and Blas Perez.
Last season the Whitecaps and writers touted the team for having great depth. During the season fans were critical of this assessment as the Caps had to play that depth and did not fare well. Of course, it is important to note that depth does not mean being able to have a different Starting XI and continuing to win, but rather an ability to plug in different players into the lineup and not suffer. Nevertheless, I think the word choices will be ‘competition’ and ‘flexibility’. So, let’s start that phrasing today.
I do not think that anyone can argue that the Whitecaps come into the 2016 MLS season with more competition and positional flexibility than they have ever had. Carl Robinson has done well to create a team that is united with players that can play in different roles. While I believe the Whitecaps will stick with their typical formation, I do not believe that it will resemble a traditional 4-2-3-1. There were question marks surrounding playing Morales beside Laba, but I think we are going to see a lot of this year and with the likes of Cristian Techera, Nicolas Mezquida, and Bolanos up front (and Marco Bustos from time to time), it should work out nicely. I believe that playing Morales deep will also result in Octavio Rivero being partnered with Perez or Kudo more often, with each switching back-and-forth between #9 and #10 (field positions).
The Whitecaps have competition and flexibility all over the field this season. Starting at the back, I believe that the team has 2 legitimate options at both fullback positions and the choice is dependent on form (competition) and game objectives/needs (flexibility). They also have flexibility at center-back with Christian Dean looking good and Kah providing security if needed. They flexibility at DM (Kianz Froese if the team wants a two defensive midfielder setup with some ability to drive forward from the second DM). They have plenty of competition in the midfield. This would have been a strange question to ask last season, but is Kekuta Manneh even in your Starting XI right now? Up front there are options to play with one striker, two tall, strong strikers (competition), or one strong and one quick striker (flexibility). Most importantly, I believe that the team is more capable of switching their formation throughout the game without any need to change the personnel on the field. Hence why I stated that while the team will be setup in a 4-2-3-1, I believe that at times it will be different variations of 4-4-2…..and just for fun, 3-5-2 (with the fullbacks pushing up and Laba sitting closer to the two center-backs.
With the 2016 MLS season almost upon us, who gets into your Starting XI on opening day next Sunday, against the Montreal Impact, at BC Place? What about your bench? Does the lineup change for road games? Finally, where is competition the highest on the field?