With the announcement Monday of which contract options would be exercised, and the confirmation yesterday of new striker Anthony Blondell joining the club, the Vancouver Whitecaps offseason acquisition process is well on its way. With only 19 roster spots (21 now with Blondell and David Norman Jr.) spoken for, and Carl Robinson stating at the conclusion of the season that we would see considerable turn-over, this could be just the beginning of a very busy offseason.
As part of our year-end round-table, we discussed what types of additions the Caps need to make this offseason to be successful next season, and what our expectations are for 2018. While our writing staff provides their thoughts on those two questions below, we want to also hear from you. The Caps already have a new, young, striker and are rumored to be pursuing Nigerian defender Jamiu Alimi. What are your thoughts on these and where are the most changes needed?
Type of addition(s) needed during offseason
Size and skill in the attacking midfield positions; Backup fullbacks; New head coach; Established #10
The ‘Caps potentially have three designated player (DP) slots available for the 2018 season. At least one of those should be used on a striker; hopefully a returning Fredy Montero though prying him away from China could prove difficult. If we can get Montero back, then I think it’s worth doing. If we can’t, then they should probably aim for a striker that’s more of a physical presence to suit the direct style the ‘Caps have favoured. With Brek Shea most likely leaving (or at the very least coming back on a non-DP deal) and Matias Laba seeming to have one foot already out the door, that leaves the Whitecaps with two DP slots to play with. Hopefully they actually use them as opposed to twirling their thumbs until Mauro Rosales phones them up to let them know one of his mates is available. I think one of these spots should be used on a player in the attacking midfield strata, possibly a CAM, possibly a winger. In any case I think it needs to be a player who’s primarily a playmaker. Reyna and Techera are the most dangerous of the attacking midfielders but they’re both very direct players and someone who can slow the game down and distribute a bit would help keep the attack from running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. Basically the ‘Caps should be trying to find a younger and better version of Christian Bolanos. The last DP slot should, in my opinion, be used on a ball playing centre back. I’m a little hesitant on this conclusion because: A) DPs in defensive positions don’t exactly have a great track record in MLS and B) it would mean bouncing one of Waston or Parker from the starting XI. Despite these reservations, one of the most obvious weaknesses of the Whitecaps is their inability to play out of the back. Waston and Parker are both very good but neither is all that great with their feet. Because of this deficiency they are often forced to hoof the ball forward, which in turn forces the very short forward line to have to compete for aerials against towering centre backs, which then causes the team to lose possession and once again be put under pressure. There needs to be more of a link between the big physical defensive half of the team and then short tricky attacking half of the team. Now to be fair Nosa and Ghezal look to be helping with this somewhat. Ghezal isn’t the greatest passer of all time but he’s a big improvement over what Laba offered in that regard and Nosa’s passing accuracy has put the rest of the team to shame since he joined. That being said, I think an MLS version of Leonardo Bonucci would make a big difference. Outside of DPs I think they have a pretty solid core of TAM players and regular squad players. Robbo says to expect a lot of turnover and a lot of the players are on expiring contracts, so we’ll have to see how that goes. I think they need to add a reliable backup for Reyna. Reyna didn’t play well during periods of match congestion and he’s so important to the way this team plays that the overall play suffered quite a bit. It’s MLS so you probably can’t get a like-for-like replacement, but I think they should defiantly look in to a “Reyna-Lite” type of player who provides the same basic qualities.
Either a strike partner to play with Montero, if they can keep him. Or a reliable scoring striker to replace Montero, and a strike partner. I think the team desperately needs another look. They already have their successful 4-2-3-1 road formation in their back pocket, now I would like to see them field a more attacking formation with 2 up front. It will likely involve the new signings, so that formation can leave Reyna behind them as CAM and not the second striker. This one trick pony that the Whitecaps have become has danger written all over it (and not the good kind of danger).
They've got to sign a target-man up front. Montero did well enough with the balls lumped forward at him, but his playing style was too, "Square Peg, Round Hole" for Robinson's offensive tactics.
A lot of what Vancouver will do is going to be dictated on which contracts they decide to renew or not. Overall, I would like to see Vancouver bring in a DP-level winger to replace Brek Shea and perhaps a depth piece or two. But the biggest objective must be to retain Fredy Montero at all costs. That move along would go a long way to getting the Caps back to the playoffs next season.
Expectations for next season
I expect a couple new faces to join the team that fortify the attack. I expect to see Nosa and Ghazal make the midfield a terror for opponents, and I expect to see Nosa’s offensive game unfold. Overall, I expect a stronger, better balanced team to take the pitch next season. I say that because I don’t believe their core players are that far off and just need some improvements around them. I don’t expect to see Robbo instill a team identity that lasts much beyond the roster he assembles for next year, because he seems to work with what is in front of him at the time. I don’t think this is a good thing, but it follows his track record. But, if the team improves over the offseason, I don’t see the identity relying solely on sucking up pressure and hoping for a break. Am I too, optimistic? Maybe, that’s the fanatic fan in me talking.
The team has the quality to once again make the playoffs, and anything less will be utter disappointment. But if the club can't find a new threat at forward, or even adjust tactics to encourage positive possession or a more dynamic attacking, patient build-up, the 'Caps will yet again be spinning their wheels come playoff time.
If Vancouver can retain Montero and add another piece or two to the puzzle, I think this is a side that can and should be contending for silverware. Winning MLS Cup is a tough ask given how fluky the playoff process is, as well as the amount of roster turnover that could take place. A return to the playoffs, a top finish in the Western Conference and a Canadian Cup should all be on the table if the key cogs in the squad return.
Depending on how long Robinson is in charge. My standard expectations: Cascadia Cup, Voyageurs Cup, home playoff match.
I think the team needs to equal or exceed the accomplishments of this season. This means that they make it to at least the conference semi-finals. Winning the Cascadia Cup would be nice but ultimately it’s the least important of the trophies the ‘Caps are competing for (though it is nice to stick it to our Cascadia rivals!). This only leaves the Voyageurs Cup. I think it should get prioritized just a little more than it has previously. Success in a continental competition is important to being taken seriously as a club (Drogba said the Impact’s CCL run was a factor in choosing to play there for example). More success there will help the club attract a higher calibre of player. That being said, I still think MLS should be the first priority and I wouldn’t fire a coach for failing to get into the CCL.