Reasonable expectations for 2013
By Jon Szekeres
It's been two incredibly different campaigns for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS so far, but the third should provide more stability. In 2011, they were the new kids on the block, and no one expected much of them. That is, until they destroyed Toronto FC in their first match. Eric Hassli looked good, the team won 4-2, and everybody suddenly had heightened expectations. They sure as hell didn't last long, as the team limped along to a dismal, worst in the MLS campaign that had Whitecaps brass apologizing and preparing for 2012.
Then last season, the club started off great; the team looked good, Eric Hassli did not, but they were winning matches. A tailspin at the end of the year couldn't prevent a playoff spot for the 'Caps, a positive step for a young franchise. They ended up losing, but were competitive against the eventual MLS 2012 champion LA Galaxy.
Fast forward to now. The 'Caps are going in with, well, no one really knows what to make of them. What team will start the season? The team that had great goalkeeping and timely scoring? Or will it be the second half Whitecaps, the team that couldn't score, couldn't hold a late lead and the team that saw their season spiral out of control? No one, including myself, can truly figure it out. That being said, here's my best shot.
Darren Mattocks has lit the world on fire in the pre-season, scoring 4 goals in two games. Not too shabby, and it's an indication that he might make the step to elite goal scorer this season. Granted, pre-season is just pre-season, but his offensive production can't be totally discarded. Mattocks and Camilo have looked unbelievable together in the two matches, and that's an incredibly positive sign for a team that couldn't score to save it's life in 2012. If the two can forge a great professional relationship, then the 'Caps will be set for goals in 2013.
Kenny Miller continues to look like a square peg in a round hole, but he now has an entire season to prove himself. Who knows? Maybe Miller becomes the complementary scoring the 'Caps need this year, and he redeems himself? His price tag is his biggest detractor, but that doesn't mean he should be written off completely.
In goal, the Whitecaps have two reliable and solid options in the veteran Joe Cannon and the up and coming Brad Knighton. Knighton has made it clear he intends to run with the number one job this year, which means he should be playing with greater determination than last season. Competition is awesome for productivity, so let's hope Knighton or Cannon feel the same way.
On defense, the return of YP Lee solidified a solid top four, but a thin one. Lee, Demerit, O'Brien and Harvey are an underrated group of defenders, and they should prove to be the backbone of the squad. That being said, one injury to Lee or Demerit and the season could be in jeopardy. Given Demerit's injury background and Lee's promise of a reduced workload, that could prove to be an imminent problem.
In mid, the addition of Diago Kobayashi is great, the departure of Barry Robson and his immaturity and high price tag are even better. The mid is almost as thin as the backline, especially if Gershon Koffie goes down, but you can't argue that the starting lineup is as good as they come.
So, the final verdict. The 'Caps have the potential to be a top three club, but I doubt they'll climb any higher than top 5. Their roster is too thin to overcome adversity, and there are just too many question marks at important positions. Goal scoring should be easier to come by, and the 'Caps might be the club that can outscore their mistakes. That being said, if Mattocks goes down, so does the season. I have faith in the 'Caps this year, but they're a young, stud defender and good offensive bench players away from being elite.
MY PREDICTION: 4th in the Western Conference, 1st round playoff loss