This is part one of a four-part series reviewing the 2016 season for Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Whitecaps FC 2.
2016 Vancouver Whitecaps FC MLS Record: GP: 34, W: 10, L: 15, D: 9, Points: 39, PPG: 1.15
If there was one positive to Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s 2016 MLS season, it was that it wasn’t the worst MLS season statistically in ‘Caps history. That dubious distinction goes to the Whitecaps’ inaugural MLS season in 2011 when they finished dead last in the league.
However, the 2016 season ranks statistically as the second worst season in Vancouver’s MLS history. Although they did not finish dead last in MLS this time, 39 points put the ‘Caps in 8th of 10 in the West and 16th of 20 in the overall table.
Although, despite the statistics, 2016 was the worst MLS season for the Whitecaps ever.
The 2011 side had countless excuses for their poor play. The step from the USSF Division 2 Professional League to MLS was difficult to make; the team was an unorganized mess of players from their 2010 side, the MLS Expansion Draft, and assorted signings; and they went through a coaching change and had an interim coach for the majority of the season.
The 2016 Whitecaps had none of these reasons to excuse their poor play. Head Coach Carl Robinson was at the helm for the entire season after success in 2014 and 2015, the ‘Caps kept the majority of their core of players intact with transfers helping to bolster the side, and the ‘Caps proved with two straight playoff appearances heading into 2016 that they could play in MLS.
So, what went wrong?
What went wrong?
Entering the season, ‘Caps fans had a lot to be positive about. Carl Robinson and the key pieces from the 2015 team that finished 2nd in the West were back, additions like Masato Kudo and Christian Bolanos filled holes in the roster, and VWFC looked prepared for the season going 5-1-0 in preseason competition. All the elements of an MLS Cup-winning team were assembled.
However, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that 2016 did not bring the results that Whitecaps staff, players, and supporters expected and desired.
While it is painful, the only way to learn what needs to be resolved prior to the kickoff of the 2017 season is to look back at what went wrong. And a lot went wrong.
Consistent Scoring Required
Looking at the season on paper, it may be confusing to see Whitecaps supporters and pundits decrying the team for not scoring enough. The ‘Caps finished the season with 45 goals for, exactly matching their goals for in 2015 when they finished 2nd in the West in regular season play.
However, the issue wasn’t the total number of goals the Whitecaps scored over the course of the season, it was the lack of scoring in each individual game.
In 2015, VWFC were shutout in nine of 34 MLS regular season games. This increased to 11 in 2016, with four of those games being 0-0 draws. While this seems like a small increase, these games, specifically the four 0-0 games, matter. A single Whitecaps goal in those four nil-nil deadlocks would have given the ‘Caps an additional eight points, enough for a spot in the playoffs.
Furthermore, there was nothing wrong with Vancouver’s scoring in any of the six games where the Whitecaps scored three or four goals. The scoring was there; it was just far from consistent enough for a side with playoff ambitions.
A lot of the blame can be placed solely on strikers Masato Kudo and Octavio Rivero, the latter who was transferred to Colo-Colo halfway through the season. Kudo scored two goals in 17 games while Rivero scored two in 12.
In a formation like Robinson’s favoured 4-2-3-1, the lone striker is relied upon for the majority of the team’s scoring. When the two main strikers that are counted on to provided scoring collectively only score four goals in 29 games, there is a major problem.
With the unreliable scoring and lack of goals from strikers in 2016, finding a goal-scorer striker should, once again, be on the top of Carl Robinson’s off-season to-do list.
No Defence for a Poor Defence
Another statistical comparison between 2015 and 2016 exposes a big problem: Vancouver’s defence.
At the end of 2015, the Whitecaps were tied with the Seattle Sounders for least goals allowed with 36 each, and David Ousted led the league with Adam Kwarasey of the MLS Cup-winning Portland Timbers with 13 clean sheets.
In 2016, Vancouver allowed 52 goals and starting keeper David Ousted had six clean sheets in 33 games, while backup Paolo Tornaghi finished with a perfect record of one clean sheet in one game.
However, it is unfair to place the blame solely on Ousted. In fact, most of the blame should be placed on the poor backline throughout the season.
Key pieces in the Whitecaps’ defence in previous years, like Kendall Waston, showed a fraction of their former selves this year. The one core player from 2015 that Robinson traded was right-back Steven Beitashour and replacement Fraser Aird did not live up to expectations.
Despite the poor performances this year, though, on paper, the Whitecaps defence is still strong. Ousted remains one of the strongest goalkeepers in the league; the young backline including Sam Adekugbe, Christian Dean, Brett Levis, Tim Parker, and Cole Seiler look to get stronger; and Robinson should be expected to upgrade the right-back position.
While it was a major woe for the ‘Caps this season, expect improvements next year. Hopefully for ‘Caps supporters, this year was just an outlier to forget.
Between the plethora of injured Whitecaps, arguably unfair Disciplinary Committee suspensions, and a lack of leadership on and off the field, it seemed like a comedy of errors at BC Place at many times throughout the MLS season.
One of the biggest of these issues was the leadership problems the Whitecaps faced.
Captain Pedro Morales seemed not to be a good fit for the armband at many points in the year. He was unable to lead the team on and off the pitch and it resulted in a stand-off between Ousted and Morales at the end of the season.
In one of the final training sessions of the season, Ousted and Morales argued and got into a pushing match culminating in Ousted telling Morales if he wanted to “fight on a football pitch” that he should do it during a game.
This fight was indicative of many issues the Whitecaps faced this year.
2016 was far from the best MLS season for the Whitecaps and arguably their worst season in their MLS history.
A combination of unreliable scoring, poor defensive performances, injuries, DisCo challenges, and leadership issues created a rocky and tumultuous season for staff, players, and fans.
Whitecaps supporters can only hope that Carl Robinson and his staff will be able to sort out the issues they can control and that the MLS gods will shine more favourably upon the ‘Caps in 2017.
What the next MLS season looks like for Vancouver Whitecaps FC is uncertain, however. But it can’t get any worse, can it?
Next in the Whitecaps Review series, Northern Starting Eleven will take a look at Whitecaps FC 2’s sophomore season in the USL.