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2016 Western Conference Preview Vancouver Whitecaps

Best defense in MLS, plus an attacking trio with speed and flair. This team might need a deeper bench, though, to get them through the gauntlet that is the MLS season.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Whitecaps

2015 Record:

16-5-13, 53 pts, 2nd in the Western Conference

2015 Goals For:

45, 11th in MLS

2015 Goals Against:

36, Tied for 1st in MLS

2015 Key Statistic:

The Whitecaps had 8 players in 2015 that played more than 2000 minutes in the regular season (Rivero, Laba, Waston, Beitashour, Manneh, Harvey, Kah, Koffie).

The Rest of MLS for comparison:
SEA: 4, TOR: 6, SKC: 5, SJ: 7, RSL: 4, POR: 7, PHI: 4, ORL: 4, NY: 8, NYC: 5, NE: 6, MON: 4, LAG: 6, HOU: 7, FCD: 5, DC: 6, CLB: 7, COL 3, CHI 6

Key Additions:

Masato Kudo, Fraser Aird, Christian Bolanos

Key Subtractions:

Steven Beitashour, Gershon Koffie, Darren Mattocks

What they have going for them:

The Vancouver Whitecaps were the cool pick for the MLS pundits to go to MLS Cup in 2015, after creaking into the playoffs for the first time in 2014 (by beating our beloved Rapids). They earned a first round bye with their 2nd place finish, but were bounced in their first game by the Portland Timbers, 2-0 on aggregate. Almost the whole team is back in 2016, and almost all the key players are still young and fit. That's pretty comforting for Whitecaps fans.

The Whitecaps are stellar defenders. Kendall Waston is an immovable force at the back- muscle and height and reflexes and positioning and a little pace too. Pah Modu Kah and Jordan Harvey rejoin him on the best backline in 2015 , at least according to goals allowed. Steven Beitashour leaves, and Vancouver has brought in Fraser Aird on loan from Scottish side Rangers to take over at left back, although Homegrown player Sam Adekugbe might get a shot too. Matias Laba is one of the league's better defensive midfielders. Patrik Ousted is at least an above average keeper, if not better.

On offense, Vancouver showcases a top-flight striker in Octavio Rivero and maybe the fastest player in MLS on the wing, Kekuta Manneh. They added to that a Japanese striker in his prime, Masato Kudo, who will be that 70' striker swapped in to rejuvenate the squad. Kudo racked up 66 goals in the Japanese league.
He'll replace Darren Mattocks, who is probably off to China.

They also added Blas Perez, but I really don't want to waste my time or yours discussing Blas Perez. Vancouver should be able to score goals at least at the pace they did last year, and that was good enough for 11th in MLS. Good, not great. But if your defense is the best, average goal scoring is all you need.

The best thing about Vancouver was their consistency and fitness. They were one of only two MLS teams that gave 2000+ minutes to 8 outfield players; the other was New York Red Bull. That speaks to two things: first, that the team knew who their best players were, and put them out on the field nearly every week. By comparison, the Colorado Rapids had only three players over 2000 minutes - Lucas Pittinari, Dillon Powers, and Sam Cronin. And second, that the players on the team were fit and durable. That is a big deal, especially if you aren't sure how your bench will do.

Vancouver has one other cool thing going on: their roster has six homegrown players on it. This team has talent, durability, youth, defense, and a passionate fan base. Not bad, Canada.

What's Troubling?

The one name not on that 2000 minute list happens to be the team's playmaking number 10, Pedro Morales, who could not stay healthy in 2015, and missed both of Vancouver's playoff games too.

The team filled in with Nicolas Mezquida and Christian Techera, who are pretty good players, but neither are dominant playmakers like the Chilean Morales. Morales started last Saturday and looks fit, but he needs to be... this team isn't nearly as good without him. The ‘Caps also let Gershon Koffie go to DC, so they'll hope that homegrowns Kianz Froese or Russell Teibert can do the holding midfield job alongside Laba.

You'd think I could be more effusive about a team this good that returns most of its players, but remember that although they finished 3rd in the Western Conference last year, the ‘Caps needed a 3-0 win over Houston on the last day of the season to do that: a loss and they would been 6th. The margins are tight in this league, and few clunky performances could drop a team mighty far down the table.

Durability will be at premium as the team begins its first CONCACAF Champions League campaign in August this year, earning their spot as the Canadian Champions of 2015. Can they stay healthy and rested, AND compete in three different cups - Canadian, MLS, and CONCACAF? All while playing on turf at home, and being one of the farthest traveling teams in MLS? I wouldn't bet against them, but it's no small feat.

2016 Forecast:

4th in the Western Conference. But if they're in form and healthy at playoff time, like Portland was last year, the sky's the limit for this club.