This is part three of a four-part series reviewing the 2016 season for Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Whitecaps FC 2.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s 2016 season in terms of cups and continental play can be largely summed up in two words: heartbreak and elation.
From the success of their second Champions League group stage to the agonizing end to the Voyageur’s Cup, it was an eventful season for the Whitecaps in their non-league play.
Harkening back to the 2013 final of the Canadian Championship, ‘Caps players, staff, and supporters faced one of the most demoralising situations in soccer: the Whitecaps lost on away goals.
After a 1-0 loss in the first leg of the final against Toronto FC at BMO Field, the ‘Caps knew they needed to win by two goals or more to win the Voyageur’s Cup for the second straight year.
The second leg at BC Place looked promising for the ‘Caps, however, as they possessed a 2-0 lead with only stoppage time left in the second half.
Until the unthinkable happened.
With the four minutes of added time already elapsed, Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted fumbled a catch on the final play of the game, allowing Will Johnson to score for TFC to win the Championship.
It was a heartbreaking end for the Whitecaps who were seconds away from hoisting the Voyageur’s Cup again.
Ousted’s last second mistake wasn’t the only issue the ‘Caps faced in the 2016 edition of the Voyageur’s Cup, however.
As the top seed in the Championship, Vancouver was drawn against then NASL-side Ottawa Fury FC in the semifinals.
It appeared that Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson severely underestimated the Fury in the first leg though, as he fielded an inexperienced side with little to no chemistry.
This was a nearly fatal mistake for the ‘Caps, as Ottawa took a 2-0 lead in the first leg and forced Robinson to field a nearly entire first-team line-up in the second leg in order to get the required 3-0 win.
While the loss to TFC in the final seconds of the final was anguishing for ‘Caps players and supporters alike, one of the biggest lessons to come from the 2016 Championship was something that the Whitecaps should have learned long ago under former coach Martin Rennie: do not underestimate anyone.
CONCACAF Champions League
It’s fair to say that the Whitecaps’ first Champions League attempt in 2015 was far from the most successful.
Drawn in a difficult group with rivals Seattle Sounders FC and Olimpia from Honduras combined with Carl Robinson choosing to save key players for MLS games, Vancouver finished last in their group with a record of 1W-1D-2L.
Fortunately for the ‘Caps, their Champions League group stage was much more successful in 2016.
While their group wasn’t much easier, it still is the Champions League after all, the Whitecaps managed to best Sporting Kansas City and Central from Trinidad and Tobago to top their group with a 4W-0D-0L record and also take the top seed in the Champions League going into the 2017 knockout stage.
While Robinson still chose to rest key first-team players throughout the tournament, the supplement of players from Whitecaps FC 2 together and less-played senior players who stepped up to the challenge made the ‘Caps successful.
Cristian Techera, who didn’t get a ton of MLS minutes in 2016, stepped up to the continental challenge scoring five goals in four games, including a pair of braces against both SKC and Central.
Spencer Richey, then with WFC2, and Whitecaps backup keeper Paolo Tornaghi both also stepped up when needed with both keepers allowing only one goal each while splitting the four games.
When key players were left at home for Champions League matches, fringe senior players, youngsters, and WFC2 players guided the ‘Caps to four amazing performances.
With a difficult quarterfinal matchup against the New York Red Bulls coming in late February and early March, ‘Caps supporters should expect key players to be reintroduced to the lineup, but the contributions that got the Whitecaps there should not be forgotten.
Any supporter of any of the three Cascadian MLS clubs could never forget the Cascadia Cup, the supporters’ trophy that goes to the Cascadian team with the best record in MLS matches between the three clubs.
After claiming the cup in 2013 and 2014 and losing it to the Sounders by only four points in 2015, ‘Caps players and fans were ready to bring the cup back home to Northern Cascadia.
The Whitecaps got a strong start to the 2016 edition of the cup winning their first two matches, both 2-1 over the Sounders and the Portland Timbers, but their cup ambitions weakened as they lost their next three Cascadian matches, two to the Sounders and one to the Timbers.
Heading into the final game of not only the Cascadia Cup but the MLS regular season as a whole, things could not have been any closer.
The Timbers were in first with a record of 3W-0D-2L and a goal differential of +3, the Sounders were second with a 3W-0D-3L record and -1 GD, and the ‘Caps were last at 2W-0D-3L and -2 GD.
There was a lot riding on the final game against the Timbers. If the Whitecaps won, they would eliminate the Timbers from making the playoffs. But more importantly for the Whitecaps, if they won by three goals, they would win the Cascadia Cup for the sixth time.
In an elating victory that numbed some of the pain of the poor MLS season, Gilles Barnes, Pedro Morales, and Nicolas Mezquida scored to give the ‘Caps a 4-1 victory, the Cascadia Cup, and the enjoyment of seeing their rivals miss the playoffs.
It was one bright spot in an MLS season that the Whitecaps would soon rather forget.
2016 was a season of many ups and downs for the Whitecaps, with moments to remember and moments to forget.
Despite the heartbreaking conclusion to the Canadian Championship, the Whitecaps major success in the Champions League group stage coupled with becoming Kings of Cascadia again in the most exciting of fashions means that all things considered, 2016 was a decent year for the ‘Caps.
It certainly could have been a lot worse.
Next in the Whitecaps Review series, Northern Starting Eleven will take a look at the Whitecaps transfers and signings and the successes and failures they brought.