As it stands right now, this Whitecap team does not seem much different than last year’s team. Gone are two DP’s in Morales and Rivero, and gone are Aird and Smith of the much-abused RB duo. Right Back improved over the offseason with the addition of Shaenon Williams, but the attacking identity of the team shifts dramatically. The former enigmatic captain, Pedro Morales was the key to the Whitecaps attack when healthy, and Octavio Rivero was supposed to be the man to put the ball in the net, although that never consistently materialized. The two DP’s, for better or worse, were the focus of the offense while they were here, and with mere weeks to go before competitive games their absence has me wondering just who is this year’s team, and can they be better than last year’s team?
We don’t know if there will be any major signings before the start of the season, and when pressed on the issue coach Robinson assures us they are working day and night on a new number nine. Any talk of a new DP number 10 seems to have been lost in the Welsh fog. Perhaps, the signing of Yordy Reyna is meant to fill that role, although he is touted as more a secondary striker than a traditional number 10. All this sounds like we shouldn’t hold our breath for new a striker to join the team in time for NY. Or maybe hold it just a little. Michael McColl offered that there are some discussions in the works that could possibly result in a striker related announcement in the near future.
Speculation aside, with predominantly the same team we had last year, just what exactly can we expect from them. Did they overachieve in 2015? Did they underachieve in 2016? What is the mean for them to revert to in 2017? Let’s break down some expectations for the possible starters:
Ousted will have a strong year in goal. He was excellent in 2015, and I believe he was very good in 2016. The regression in form of his backline hindered last year’s performance and I expect him to continue to be the strong, reliable and often spectacular, goal tender we love.
The strong defensive form of 2015 was pummeled by an inconsistent RB position that often pulled the CB’s out of position. And the backline’s best player in Kendall Waston lost the plot by becoming a red card machine. Williams may not be the player Beitashour was, but his experience as a RB in MLS must surely improve a suspect right side. I have to believe Waston can continue to be a physical force while reigning in the wackiness. He is too good not to be able to figure this out. Edgar’s injury is a loss to the backline, but Parker will benefit from more reliable defensive partners and we know what we’ll get from Harvey. I see the backline trending upward in 2017.
Laba did not start well last year. He missed some of preseason for the birth of his first child and it took him until late in the season to regain his form from 2015. With a more settled preseason this year he should be the imposing defender we know him to be. And Jacobson, with his veteran experience, will continue to be a reliable and hopefully crafty player.
This is the big question mark on the team. Who will be making the plays in midfield without Morales? Does Bolaños move to the centre, or does the high, attacking press of Mezquida or the quick dribbling penetration of Reyna provide a different look at breaking down opposition defenses? Can we dare to rely on a sixteen year old Davies to score the goals we will need? I expect Techera to be in better condition this year, but the jury is still out on him. He is undeniably quick and crafty; can he score enough goals to be effective?
Ok, you’re right, this is the big question mark on the team. Who is going to score the goals? With the lineup we have today any answers are speculative at best. Do we see the dynamic Giles Barnes that scored two goals in the final game of last season? He is talented enough to be that player, and the most experienced forward on the team. Is that too much hope to pin on him based on one game? I believe Manneh will have a strong season. He came into preseason in 2016 still nursing his injury from the 2015 playoffs and was injured again later in the season. He is healthy and is getting an opportunity in his preferred central striker position, so I expect him to break through this year. Hurtado will surely score more goals than last year and will be a useful sub and Greig is, in Robbo’s words, a sleeper. Who knows what Greig will be able to do in the MLS. Neither of these players is ready to carry a team’s offense and should only carry the expectations of a back up or late game sub.
I expect better performances by key players like Waston, Laba, and Manneh along with the RB’s that should result in more wins than 2016. I am hopeful that Barnes can be an impact player and that Reyna will be a positive offensive force. But, this is a glass half full evaluation. If this team is going to contend for anything this year, I think we all agree, there will need to be some impact DP signings, and the number nine position must be addressed.