It's time for another round of know your enemy! Ahead of Saturday's match against the Vancouver Whitecaps I had a chance to ask Benjamin Massey of SB Nation Whitecaps blog Eighty Six Forever about the team. He graciously gave his time to answer my questions, and thanks very much to him for doing it.
Vancouver made major changes in the offseason, and that's a topic I ask him about below. But one thing we didn't touch on specifically was new coach Martin Rennie. He was hired during the 2011 season to take over this year, and although he's not an exciting young American or Canadian coach, as he's Scottish, he does seem to be a coach very much on the rise. While there is always the risk of a coach moving up league tiers (he was previously with the Carolina Railhawks in the NASL) and failing, he is expected to be in Vancouver for awhile and establish a winning culture in MLS for the Whitecaps.
But we'll get a chance for ourselves to see Rennie and his squad in action at the Home Depot Center on Saturday. In the meantime, let's find out more about the 2012 Whitecaps from Benjamin.1. The Whitecaps have made significant changes to the roster and coaching staff in the past several months. Which newcomer do you think will have the biggest impact on Vancouver's season, and why?
When you have as many newcomers as the Whitecaps do at every position, it's hard to pick just one. Newcomer Sebastien Le Toux scored a lovely goal last Saturday against Montreal, but newcomer Jun Marques Davidson was Man of the Match with a quality performance in central midfield. Newcomer Matt Watson also did very well as a short substitute, newcomer Martin Bonjour was another good man of the match nominee, and of course designated player Barry Robson is arriving at the end of the English Championship season. There are just too many new, quality players to pick one who'll have a big impact.
At gunpoint (or at least questionpoint) I'll take Le Toux. Alone among Vancouver's major new additions, he has significant MLS experience, and as a link between the midfield and the target man Eric Hassli last Saturday he filled a role the Whitecaps were desperate for in 2011 and the offense got a big boost because of it. Le Toux can do so many things well on the field and doesn't need to adjust to the speed and physicality of MLS: his once-gaudy goalscoring numbers might go down but he could still be an important part of the Vancouver attack.
2. The Whitecaps' offense has gotten all of the headlines this past offseason, but what about the defense? Will they be much improved in 2012, or are you worried about their capabilities this season?
Early on, the Whitecaps defense is probably going to struggle a bit. Young-Pyo Lee and Martin Bonjour are both new to the league; Bonjour doesn't even speak English yet. This isn't helped by the fact that one of the key defensive midfielders, Jun Marques Davidson, is also a new arrival. The players on the back four seem individually talented but there's no chemistry between them yet and it almost burned the Whitecaps a couple of times against Montreal. Communication and anticipation needs to improve among the Vancouver defenders or else better offenses are going to pick them apart.
The skill is definitely there. Lee is an international legend who plays younger than he looks; his ability to control the ball is second-to-none on the team and watching him use his body to control the pace is a revelation. DeMerit and Rochat both proved themselves last year when healthy, and while Bonjour is a wildcard he's off to a great start. (If Bonjour falters, then backup central defender Carlyle Mitchell had an excellent cameo last season after arriving from Trinidad and Tobago). There are concerns about the back four, but with patience they should be an adequate bunch.
3. What are your expectations for the team this season? Any specific goals?
I've said a few times that the Whitecaps season could go any direction without surprising me: I'm not ruling out an MLS Cup but I'm not ruling out a Wooden Spoon either. There are so many new players, new coaches, and new philosophies that they might succeed beyond all hope, crumble worse than all our fears, or split the difference and become an average team (which, after last season, doesn't sound too bad). I'm going with "average". Successfully qualifying for the playoffs would be enough to make this season a success, and they seem to have the quality for a good run but I just don't know. Anybody who says they do is deluded or lying.
4. (Bonus) A prediction for Saturday's game?
I think some Vancouver fans are underrating Chivas a little bit and overrating the Whitecaps. They beat Montreal fairly handily but it wasn't a one-sided thrashing and this team has never been good on the road. I predict a 1-1 draw in a frustrating but evenly-played game that'll send both sets of fans home grumbling about how they could and should have won that one.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!