The start of a new MLS season is upon us, and for that I am incredibly grateful. A new year, a new dawn, limitless potential: it’s all there to be had. However, after the resounding thud and ensuing hangover that was the Whitecaps’ 2016 season, there’s no time for glossy, wide-eyed wonderment. Now, it’s all about putting work in and taking care of business, and that starts tomorrow with the ‘Caps season-opening match against the Philadelphia Union.
We’re a full year removed from the hype and anticipation brought on by the 2015 second-place finish in the Western conference, and the only thing that heightened optimism brought about was an equal level of dismay once the team languished to eight place.
Even the team’s ballyhooed record on opening day fixtures has taken a hit! Sure, it still stands at 4-2-0, but those two losses have opened the past two seasons, so it may be time to admit that the Whitecaps have lost their “opening day magic”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being an optimist. In fact, I have a renewed sense of confidence in the team, what with the recent progression to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals and the three late-preseason signings that closed a rather quiet winter window. Even the unfortunate injury of newly signed international Yordy Reyna isn’t quite the death knell it could have been.
The point being, however, is that each MLS season for the Whitecaps, dating back to the inaugural 2011, has opened with some sort of luster to crow about. In 2017, the sheen has finally worn off and it’s time to get to work. That starts tomorrow, against the Philadelphia Union.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Sunday, March 5th at 6:30 PST
How: TSN1, TSN4, & TSN5 (TV), TSN 1410 (Radio)
Vancouver and Philadelphia met for a single match in 2016, last June at Talen Energy Stadium, where the Whitecaps overturned an early deficit and held on for a 3-2 victory. Andrew Jacobson (19’), Kekuta Manneh (41’), and Christian Bolanos (84’) all scored for the ‘Caps, whose goals were bookended with tallies by Roland Alberg (14’) and Chris Pontius (90’+4’).
While on the topic of past matches, the Whitecaps hold an all-time record of 3-2-2 against Philadelphia.
Who’s Worth Watching?
This past Thursday, we only got a sample of what he can do, but I’m eager to see what Fredy Montero can do in a rainy Whitecaps uniform for a full 90. His late season signing was one of a few (the others being Brek Shea and Mauro Rosales) that could turn the average supporter’s temperament from broodingly pissy to cautiously optimistic.
Now that he’s able to make an impact from the start of a season rather than part-way through, after transferring from FC Nantes, it’ll be interesting to see if Alejandro Bedoya can lead the Union back to the playoffs. He’s featured on the US Men’s National Team since 2009, is one of two DP’s signed to Philadelphia, and he’s played in both the No. 8 and No. 10 positions this preseason, so there’s no doubt he’ll be expected to contribute offensively and defensively.
The Whitecaps’ injury list carries a familiar tune for this weekend, as all five of the following were unavailable for the Thursday night CCL victory over the New York Red Bulls: Christian Bolanos, David Edgar, Brett Levis, and Yordy Reyna will all continue to heal their various ailments.
Nicolas Mezquida will most likely be a question mark up until the starting eleven is announced, seeing as how he was pulled from the CCL lineup with an injury. If that’s the case, I would not be surprised to see Brek Shea step into the starter’s role once again. He certainly earned it after Thursday’s performance.
And guess who’s suspended? That’s right, it’s Kendall Waston! In all honesty, that wasn’t the most puzzling question, but the reason as to why Waston was suspended may have eluded some (I know I forgot about it), as he was “found guily of violent conduct against the Portland Timbers in the final game of the 2016 season.” After watching the video, I can’t say I disagree.
As for the Union, only defender Joshua Yaro appears on the MLS Injury Report. However, it’s worth noting that Union DP Maurice Edu is still recovering from a broken leg suffered last October.
Who’s Going to Win?
Philadelphia’s offseason was certainly a lively one, with Sporting Director Earnie Stewart able to bring in players of renown (Haris Medunjanin, Jay Simpson, Oguchi Onyewu) to go along with last season’s late pick up, Bedoya. Throw in 2016 Goalie of the Year, Andre Blake, and Rookie of the Year runner-up, Keegan Rosenberry, and you have the makings of a dangerous squad.
The “makings” of one. I have a feeling that Philly will be playoff-bound by the end of the season, but they’ll first have to develop as a team. By comparison, the majority of the Whitecaps’ roster have been together for some time, even including Mauro Rosales, with established players like Shea and Montero having little problem meshing with the team.
That isn’t to say that familiarity breeds a champion. Far from it. But based off the recent CCL performances (not to mention the lack of travel required by Vancouver), the fluidity of the ‘Caps should overcome the raw skill of the Union to the tune of a 2-0 victory.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Ousted; Harvey, Parker, Jacobson, Williams; Teibert, Laba; Manneh, Shea, Techera; Montero.
Philadelphia Union: Blake; Fabinho, Marquez, Onyewu, Rosenberry; Bedoya, Medunjanin; Pontius, Herbers, Ilsinho; Simpson.
Referee: Sorin Stoica; AR1: Adam Wienckowski; AR2 Jason White; 4th: Dave Gantar.