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2017 Western Conference Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

Our first preview for the new MLS season starts at the bottom, or at least pretty near to it.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Columbus Crew SC
Cristian Bolanos may be the key to getting Vancouver back to the playoffs.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Each season we at Burgundy Wave have previewed all the other teams in the Conference to precede the season. It is a fantastic and challenging thing: fantastic because as soon as I begin previewing the season, I know that actual, real-live MLS soccer is just around the corner. Challenging because writing 10 preview articles is a lot of work.

This year should be nothing but sunshine and rainbows, though, because Burgundy Wave Editor Abbie Mood and I will be splitting the load. That’s also good because, as MLS expands, the workload starts to approach lunatic proportions. When Sacramento, San Diego, St. Louis, Arizona, and Las Vegas are in the league by 2020, suddenly you’ve potentially got 16 teams in just the West to do a deep dive on. If that is the case, well, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

We’ll do this in reverse alphabetical order, which means we’ll begin with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Vancouver Whitecaps Preview for 2017

2016 Record: 10-9-15 (WTL), 39 points, 8th in Western Conference

2016 Goals For: 45 (12th in MLS)

2016 Goals Against: 52 (12th in MLS)

Key Stat:

Assists for Vancouver 2015 & 2016

Assists, 2015: Assists, 2016:
Assists, 2015: Assists, 2016:
Kekuta Manneh: 6 Manneh: 2
Cristian Techera: 5 Techera: 2
Steven Beitashour:5 traded to Toronto
Pedro Morales: 4 Pedro Morales: 6
Mauro Rosales: 3 traded to FC Dallas
--- Cristian Bolãnos: 8

Key Additions:

Jacob Nerwinski, Francis De Vries, Yordy Reyna, Sheanon Williams

Key Subtractions:

Pedro Morales, Fraiser Aird, Jordon Smith, Masato Kudo

What Vancouver have going for them:

Coming in to 2016, the Vancouver Whitecaps were a popular pick to be one of the strongest teams in the West. Regarding Vancouver’s prospects last year, I said this:

(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.

Yeah, about that. Things didn’t go quite that well for Vancouver.

Soon-to-be USMNT winger Kekuta Manneh broke a bone in his foot against the Rapids in week 17, and missed the rest of the season. Transfer Masato Kudo was hurt as well, and in the 17 matches he did play in, he contributed precious little. The backline went from one of the stingiest in MLS, conceding only 36 goals in 2015, to a below-average 52 Goals Conceded in 2016. Vancouver finished the season with a 6-6-5 (WTL) record at BC Place; only Houston was worse at home.

Lastly, as you can see from the stats above, one significant problem Vancouver had was replacing the assists they had generated the previous year. Manneh and Techera both declined, and Beitashour and Rosales plied their trade elsewhere in 2016. Although Costa Rican midfielder Cristian Bolãnos racked up 8 assists, overall the team was less dynamic. Additionally, MLS teams could focus their efforts at containing Bolãnos, knowing that not-much else would happen.

Hopes are high that a lot of those problems can be solved in 2017. Although Vancouver were hardly active in the offseason, they do get Manneh back from injury, and his speed makes Vancouver a very different team. In his absence, Jamaican International Giles Barnes filled in on the left side, to little effect. If Manneh can be equal-to or even better-than he was in 2015, this team will improve. Another thing that can help Vancouver is the maturing of super-kid Alphonso Davies. Davies came out of the Whitecaps academy, and debuted for VW last year at the age of just 15 years old. He appeared in 15 matches overall. He could be 2017’s breakout MLS star.

Yordy Reyna joins the team as a TAM-level player from RB Salzberg in the Austrian League. He’s a speedy sprite, standing just 5’7”. The idea that Bolãnos will pull the strings while two streaking wide players with insane speed try to dive behind opposing back lines is an attractive one for sure.

Right back was a problem for Vancouver, with neither Frasier Aird nor Jordan Smith getting the job done. Both were released at the end of 2016. The ‘Caps hope Sheanon Williams, who was acquired in December from Houston in exchange for General Allocation Money, will solve the problem. Kendall Waston and Tim Parker look likely to be the tandem at CB, but MLS Super Draft pickups Jacob Nerwinski and Francis De Vries both have a slim chance at cracking the lineup if they can impress.

Amidst all the disappointment of 2016, Matias Laba quietly went about leading the team in tackles and being the reliable holding midfielder he has been since he joined MLS in 2013. So there’s a fair amount to be hopeful about for the Caps.

Whats Troubling

Like I said, this team is counting on 2016 being an aberration, on Kekuta Manneh becoming destroyer of worlds, and that the right back for the worst team in the Western Conference will be an improvement.

Vancouver is also assuming the problem on defense was contained to the right back slot. But what if the problem is Waston’s lack of pace? Or his propensity to foul (he had 7 yellow cards, 3 red cards in 2016)? What if Tim Parker is the problem? The club may have a capable backup stashed ready to replace those guys... or not.

Then, there’s the striker position. Octavio Rivero scored just 2 goals in the first half of 2016 and was promptly sold to Colo-Colo in the Chilean League. (Uruguayan midfielder Pedro Morales [9 goals, 6 assists in 2016] joined him at Colo-Colo in December too, so if Colo-Colo win the Chilean Clausura, they can send the trophy to Canada as thanks.) The Whitecaps turned primarily to Erik Hurtado to do the job for the rest of the year. He scored... 2 goals. The Caps also have Giles Barnes to play the spot, although he spent many games on the wing for VW. They also tinkered between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 during the year, from what I saw, so they may try to solve their striker-production problem by doubling the options. But we’re looking at a team that got even less production than the Rapids did at striker, and go into 2017 with the exact same options at the position. In other words, there are problems.

2017 Forecast

Unless this team is planning on saving itself for a shocking late-February upgrade, or is planning on blowing a wad of cash at the Summer transfer window for a blockbuster talent, they look suspect in a whole host of areas. My prediction is that they finish 9th, 10th, or 11th in the Western Conference in 2017, and Carl Robinson gets fired.

...

Stay tuned for later this week, when Abbie wanders down the yellow brick road to preview Sporting Kansas City.