We continue our Vancouver Whitecaps preseason roundtable discussion with each of our seven 86Forever writers. In the first part of our roundtable, we tackled the questions: who will have a breakout 2018; excluding Alphonso Davies; who will be the Whitecaps 2018 MVP; who was the biggest offseason acquisition; who was the biggest offseason loss; and what will the club’s record at BC Place be.
In Part II, we ask: what is the Whitecaps biggest strength; what is the Whitecaps biggest weakness; what formation will Carl Robinson use (to begin and end the season); which trophies will the club earn; and what place will the Whitecaps finish in the Western Conference.
Make sure to give us your answers in the comments, and stay tuned for Part III: Over/Under.
What is the Whitecaps Biggest Strength
Samuel_Rowan: I’ve got to back Kei Kamara on this one. With an incredibly tall roster throughout and terrific delivery from the likes of Reyna and Techera, the Whitecaps could very well be the most dominant set piece team in the league.
CWilkins: I’ve tweeted a lot about the #HeightXI this offseason and it’s mostly been a joke but honestly the height and physicality of this team is going to be hard to deal with. If they can squeeze ten extra goals from set pieces over the course of a season, that can make a huge difference.
Jitsuo: Winning headers. In defense, in dangerous attacking positions, this is not a team that looks like it’s going to be losing aerial balls. There will be beautiful goals and there will be hoof it toward the penalty spot and see what happens type of ugly goals. Those are goals that drive opposition managers crazy, and quite frankly, win you close games.
AtlantisB: Balance and depth. Carl Robinson showed last season that he can rotate players in and out and plug-and-play without a significant drop-off. While the club does not scream champion, it does yell consistent!
TDahl: Back line. Though there is some uncertainty at CB, the Caps have depth and experience at every position. Stefan Marinovic will replace David Ousted without issue. I expect the Whitecaps to be in the top five in goals against by the end of the year.
Ian Jones: Central defense. Even if Tim Parker moves on, an anchor like Kendall Waston being supported by guys like Doneil Henry, David Edgar (if he’s healthy and rarin’ to go), newcomer Jose Aja, and an MLS-proven Aaron Maund will be resolute as hell.
Andrew Bahl: Assuming Vancouver elects to keep Tim Parker, they boast one of the best center back pairings in the league, even with Kendall Waston going off to Russia 2018. David Edgar and Aaron Maund are seasoned, experienced backups and Doneil Henry could very well re-capture his MLS form of old. And I’m very optimistic that Marcel de Jong and Jake Nerwinski can build on break-out seasons, giving the Caps two of MLS’ most reliable fullbacks (a luxury in this league). If Vancouver falls on its face in 2018, it won’t be because of its defense.
What is the Whitecaps Biggest Concern
Jitsuo: Who the heck plays with Kendall Waston now? Aaron Maund came into the team, Doneil Henry and David Edgar are coming back from serious knee injuries – but Aja! Jose Aja! Who for all intents and purposes has a chance to be a starter – though all of these options make me nervous.
Andrew Bahl: My biggest concern for once is actually not striker, something which is an odd feeling for a Whitecaps fan. Instead I’m afraid the team doesn’t have enough creativity to get Blondell and Kamara much service. Yordy Reyna can do this, but will he be as good as he was last season given his tumultuous offseason? Cristian Techera is up to the task but is Brek Shea or Bernie Ibini? If the Caps can’t get create enough chances for their strikeforce, we might see a less-successful incarnation of Robbo-ball in 2018.
Samuel_Rowan: Creativity in the midfield is undoubtedly the biggest concern for me. While the likes of Gahzal, Juarez and Tiebert all boast great work rates on the defensive side of the ball, their confidence on the ball and linking passes through the midfield leaves something to be desired. The potential departure of Tim Parker would only exacerbate this issue.
TDahl: They have no sure #10 (CAM) to link the defending group and the forwards. Nico can kind of play there, but has consistency issues. Reyna is another guy that can fill that roll, but it’s not his optimal position on the pitch.
Ian Jones: The center of the park. Yordy Reyna and Nicolas Mezquida are creative as heck, but who do the Whitecaps have that can bang with the bigger bodies in the league? Particularly if guys like Aly Ghazal, Efrain Juarez, and T̶o̶n̶y̶ ̶T̶c̶h̶a̶n̶i̶ are positioned deeper defensively? The link-up between Nos. 9 and 10 last year was good for what it was, but like any team the Whitecaps will need variance and improvement from one season to the next to keep from being stagnant and predictable.
CWilkins: Properly utilizing DP slots. They’ve got a good base for a team and if you inserted two DP level players into the team you’d have MLS cup contenders on your hand. With less than a week to go the only DP is Kei Kamara, and I feel the team is unnecessarily handicapping itself.
AtlantisB: Not white knuckling it! This Caps team doesn’t elicit confidence. There will be many games we will be able to say ‘It could have gone either way’. If that occurs more on the losing end, it could be a LONG season.
Formation to Start (and End) the Season
TDahl: The Caps will start their season in the 4-3-3 we have seen through the pre-season. Robbo will revert to the 4-2-3-1 he is most comfortable with by seasons end.
CWilkins: Pffft, as if it will ever change. 4-2-3-1 all the way.
AtlantisB: Looks like Robbo is going with 4-2-3-1. I think by the end, we maybe see something like 3-3 (wingbacks and d-mid)-3-2, to get Kamara, Blondell, Reyna, Techera, and Davies on the field together.
Andrew Bahl: Given that Carl Robinson likes defaulting to what he knows best, I’d expect the Caps to line up in something resembling a 4-1-3-2 to start, with Blondell and Kamara up top. But it wouldn’t shock me to see Vancouver using a 3-5-2 by the end of the season.
Samuel_Rowan: While I would like to see Carl Robinson deviate from his traditional 4-2-3-1 and experiment with three at the back, I think the season will both start and end in the 4-2-3-1.
Ian Jones: It’ll start as the 4-2-3-1. I feel like we’ll see some variations to it throughout, most likely when the team is on the road, to protect the net and counterattack. I’m somewhat excited/nervewracked to see three in the back, but this team has to understand what that formation means and the responsibilities that go with it. Otherwise, why bother?
Jitsuo: I’m going to go with the 4-3-3 we’re seeing right now, with the LA Galaxy lineup the one that will likely start against Montreal on Sunday. As the year goes on though I could see that changing - I think both Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell will be coming up with the goods. Something along the lines of either a very-very traditional 4-4-2, or a diamond shaped 4-1-2-1-2 could be what we’re seeing by the end of the season.
Trophies Whitecaps Will Win (Cascadia, Voyageurs, Supporters Shield, MLS Cup)
Andrew Bahl: Vancouver should be much stronger in the Voyageurs Cup than they have been in recent seasons. I think the Caps will come up short in MLS competitions and Cascadia, but will have enough quality to capture their second Canadian Championship.
CWilkins: They have the sort of squad that I can see going on a run come playoff time. So, I will predict that they win the MLS Cup! If they do it, I can point to this and say I’m a genius and if they don’t, well, you’ll probably all have forgotten this by then.
TDahl: The Whitecaps will win the Cascadia Cup (despite playing fewer games than their rivals) and Voyageurs Cup.
Jitsuo: I don’t see an MLS Cup on the cards, despite all the noise from within the club stating that’s the goal - but I’m going to pick the ‘Caps to win the Voyageurs this season. Besides – no one wants to see another Toronto treble.
Samuel_Rowan: I’m still scarred from TFC’s last minute Voyageurs Cup clincher in 2016, look for the Whitecaps to erase this painful memory in 2018, securing the trophy for the second time in club history.
This is the only trophy I see the Whitecaps taking home this season. The Cascadia trophy is extremely competitive, and I see the Portland Timbers having a big season, taking home the Cascadia Cup and Eliminating the Whitecaps in the Western Conference Championship.
AtlantisB: None. With unbalanced Cascadia Cup and TFC’s dominance, I don’t see any trophies on the horizon.
Ian Jones: None of these, to be perfectly honest. Toronto will be tough to push off the Supporters Sheild, let alone the Voyageurs, and the Cascadia is a little wonky, with the ‘Caps having only a home and away against both Seattle and Portland, while the Sounders and Timbers face each other three times. I’m sure the Cascadia has some charter in place that dictates how to handle awkward scheduling (because MLS), but to some degree the MLS Cup may actually be the most likely, only because of how much of a random crapshoot the playoffs can be.
Western Conference Standings Prediction
Samuel_Rowan: I’m looking for the Whitecaps to improve on their record from 2017, only problem is that I think the rest of the Western Conference will as well. I’m predicting 55 points for the ‘Caps in 2018 and another 3rd place finish in the Western Conference.
TDahl: 2nd in the West, behind Seattle. Team defense will lead the way and get them back to the postseason.
AtlantisB: 3rd in the West. I think they can challenge for first, but they could also finish out of the playoffs. Safe bet is 3rd.
Jitsuo: I do think the Whitecaps are a playoff team, but I don’t think they’re a #1 seed in the West. I’ll go with another 3rd place finish in 2018.
CWilkins: Tough to say. The team is certainly better than they were at the start of last season, and last season worked out okay. However, by every statistical measure last season’s success seems like an anomaly that can’t possibly hold for two years in a row. I like to think I’m the sort of person who looks at the facts objectively, but I just can’t shake a feeling of optimism for the upcoming season. So, I’ll balance those two conflicting sides of me out and say the ‘Caps will finish a respectable 4th in the Western Conference.
Andrew Bahl: 6th in West.
Ian Jones: 6th, mostly because the West, in general, seems to have addressed its inferiority complex when compared to the East. The East is still stronger, mind you, but the Whitecaps will find themselves in a much more respectable dogfight this year.