2017 Vancouver Whitecaps FC Season Preview

After a 2016 MLS season that can be classified by most ‘Caps fans as a disappointment, spirits are much higher at BC Place heading into 2017.

After a number of off-season transactions that shore things up both offensively and defensively together with a strong start to the season with a win over the New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, the new season is already looking brighter for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

With an eventful off-season and preseason for Vancouver, Northern Starting XI previews the upcoming season for the blue and white.

Transactions
Out
Player New Team Transaction Date
Pedro Morales Colo-Colo Option Declined December 7, 2016
Fraser Aird Rangers FC Loan Return December 8, 2016
Marco Carducci Free Agent Option Declined December 8, 2016
Jordan Smith Deportivo Saprissa Loan Return December 8, 2016
Blas Perez CD Arabe Unido Out of Contract December 8, 2016
Masato Kudo Sanfrecce Hiroshima Mutual Contract Termination December 30, 2016
Kianz Froese Fortuna Dusseldorf Transfer (Undisclosed) February 1, 2017
Giles Barnes Orlando City SC Trade (for Brek Shea) February 25, 2017
In
Player Transferred From Transaction Date
Deybi Flores CD Motagua Loan Return December 8, 2016
Sheanon Williams Houston Dynamo Trade (for general allocation money) December 13, 2016
Spencer Richey Whitecaps FC 2 Promotion December 19, 2016
Kyle Greig Whitecaps FC 2 Promotion December 19, 2016
Yordy Reyna Red Bull Salzburg Transfer (Undisclosed) January 23, 2017
Jake Nerwinski Connecticut Huskies SuperDraft February 9, 2017
Fredy Montero Tianjin TEDA FC Loan February 15, 2017
Brek Shea Orlando City SC Trade (for Giles Barnes) February 25, 2017
Mauro Rosales FC Dallas Free Transfer February 27, 2017

For the arrivals and departures in 2016, visit the “Post-Season” section of the 2016 Whitecaps Review: Transfers.

2017 brought with it a wealth of new talent to the ‘Caps to replace the likes of Pedro Morales and Masato Kudo who were leaving BC Place.

With the main core of the Whitecaps attack gone, Vancouver supporters were starting to get nervous with no big-name acquisitions made in the forward department heading into the New Year.

Head coach Carl Robinson knew he had holes to fill, however, as the Welsh manager made four attacking additions in Yordy Reyna, Fredy Montero, Brek Shea, and Mauro Rosales.

Montero, the Designated Player on loan from Tianjin TEDA FC of the Chinese Super League, was the biggest signing of the off-season, bringing with him a wealth of experience and 47 MLS goals to his name. The ex-Sounder looks to be one of the best strikers the Whitecaps have signed to date, and he’s already paying off, as the Colombian scored in his first appearance for the ‘Caps in the Champions League.

While Reyna was injured in the preseason and isn’t expected back until the summer, he brings more speed to an already fast front line; a goal-scoring touch; and versatility, as the Peruvian can play the role of both a number 9 and a number 10, providing important depth for the ‘Caps in both positions. Hopefully, the ex-Red Bull Salzburg forward will be healed and back on the pitch soon.

Brek Shea was one of the surprise additions at BC Place prior to the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, as Giles Barnes was shipped to Orlando City SC in exchange for the Texan. Although Shea hasn’t been a star in MLS in recent years, he showed promise as a striker against the Red Bulls on March 2, nearly scoring a goal late in the game. His versatility is also an asset, as Shea can play nearly anywhere in the Whitecaps’ front four.

Rosales, who had 37 MLS regular season and playoff appearances with the ‘Caps in 2014 and 2015 before being traded to FC Dallas for Blas Perez, was another surprise addition, as he flew into YVR on February 27 unannounced, signed a contract, and hit the training field. While the Argentine only scored one goal in his two years at BC Place, he provides further depth for Robinson to utilise and an important veteran presence in the locker room.

Finally, the addition of Jake Nerwinski, who joins recent addition Sheanon Williams at right back, further solidifies the right side of Vancouver’s defence which was a liability at times in 2016. Both right backs have shown moments of strength in 2017 so far and look to challenge each other for minutes throughout the season.

In terms of departures in 2017, Kianz Froese was transferred to Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2. Bundesliga in Germany, while Giles Barnes was traded to Orlando City SC to bring in Shea.

It’s disappointing to see Froese, a homegrown player who came up through the Whitecaps youth system, gone, but it’s for the best for his development, as the young Canadian struggled to get minutes with the ‘Caps. He’s currently playing for Fortuna Dusseldorf II where he has made three appearances at the time of this writing.

Barnes, outside of his brace against Portland in the last game of the 2016 season, was unable to find the goal for the Whitecaps and his lack of scoring made it hard to justify his large contract. How he’ll do in Orlando is yet to be seen, but as of now, acquiring Shea in exchange for Barnes seems like a good deal for the ‘Caps.

Pre-Season Results
Competition Date Opponent Result
Welsh Tour January 27, 2017 Cardiff City U23s 0–1 L
Welsh Tour January 30, 2017 Oxford United U23s 4–0 W
Welsh Tour February 2, 2017 Bristol City U23s 4–0 W
Timbers Preseason Tournament February 9, 2017 Minnesota United FC 1–1 D
Timbers Preseason Tournament February 12, 2017 Real Salt Lake 1–1 D
Timbers Preseason Tournament February 15, 2017 Portland Timbers 1–2 L

For a recap of the Whitecaps preseason tour of Wales, read Whitecaps work in Wales.

CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal Results
@ New York Red Bulls February 22, 2017 1–1 D Goal: Manneh
vs New York Red Bulls March 2, 2017 2–0 W (3–1 agg.) Goals: Davies, Montero

For a recap of the Champions League quarterfinal, read ‘Caps down Red Bulls as Davies guides Vancouver to Champions League semifinals.

Positional Depth
Goalkeepers

Since the Whitecaps entered MLS in 2011, one area that has been a strength for them has been goalkeeping. Whether the duo has been Joe Cannon and Brad Knighton or David Ousted and Paolo Tornaghi, the ‘Caps have always been able to put trust in whatever keeper they put in goal.

2017 is the first season since 2014 where there has been movement in the goalkeeping department, but not in a huge way. While Canadian keeper Marco Carducci was let go this off-season and long-time goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde joined Minnesota United, both holes were quickly filled with the promotion of goalkeeper Spencer Richey from Whitecaps FC 2 and the signing of coach Stewart Kerr from Orlando City.

With Ousted playing almost all of the Whitecaps’ MLS games, Tornaghi handling the Canadian Championship, and no Champions League group stage this year, Richey’s minutes will likely come from the USL side again this season, so it isn’t much of a change for him or the ‘Caps in that regard.

David Ousted remains one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, and it is expected that, barring injury or suspension, he will play almost all, if not all, of the MLS minutes this season. While Ousted’s 2016 season did not match the heights of his MLS-leading performances in 2015, the Great Dane still remains the best part of Vancouver’s defence.

Finally, Tornaghi remains far too talented to be a back-up keeper in MLS, but since 2014 he has been patient and faithful, playing in cup matches and earning his first and only MLS start so far against the San Jose Earthquakes in the second-to-last game of the season, where the Italian earned a clean sheet. The ‘Caps are blessed to have someone of Tornaghi’s calibre on the bench.

Defenders

Centre-backs:

The ‘Caps look exactly the same at centre-back from how they finished 2016, with a solid, deep pool of options to choose from.

Kendall Waston and Tim Parker remain the first choices going into the season, with both defenders having had a solid 2016 season and looking to get even better early on in 2017.

While Waston didn’t have his best season last year and was often undisciplined, being named as captain for the Champions League quarterfinal seemed to change him and make him a more mature player on the field.

Parker, the Whitecaps’ first round SuperDraft pick in 2015, is still very young at 24 and looks to continue improving. The American is always a great choice for Robinson to defend for the ‘Caps.

Further depth comes from David Edgar, Christian Dean, and Cole Seiler, the latter two SuperDraft picks from 2014 and 2016, respectively. While it will be tough to break into the starting eleven, 2017 could be a breakout year for Dean, who was sidelined in 2016 with injury but has a lot of potential to grow.

Left backs:

Left back is another position unchanged since the end of last season with Jordan Harvey, Brett Levis, and Marcel de Jong all able to fill the role, although de Jong often plays as more of an attacking player instead.

Going into the season, Harvey looks to have the starting job secured again, but the further strengthing in the attacking midfield could see de Jong pushed out from there to challenge Harvey for minutes instead. Both Harvey and de Jong provide a veteran presence in the backfield and are both good defenders. One advantage that de Jong has is he can play more of an attacking role, but Harvey is often more solid defensively.

Levis was promoted to the senior team from WFC2 last summer, but still has some work to do before breaking into the starting eleven. With Harvey and de Jong both getting up there in age, at 33- and 30-years-old respectively, the young Canadian could see himself with a spot one day, but for now, he’ll need to buy his time gaining as many minutes in the USL as possible.

Finally, Sam Adekugbe remains on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion FC, but his future is unclear. With the English club pushing for promotion to the Premier League, it is unknown if Adekugbe will stay or return to the ‘Caps. If he returns, he will return far more experienced and will be another option at left back for Robinson to select.

Right backs:

Last season, the ‘Caps didn’t own either of their own right backs, with loanees Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith splitting the minutes. With Smith completely failing to impress and Aird heading back to Scotland, it was clear the Whitecaps needed to do something much different this year to improve the position.

By trading for Sheanon Williams and drafting Jake Nerwinski, Robinson has put together a formidable pairing. The veteran Williams and rookie Nerwinski have both looked good in the preseason and Champions League, and it looks like Vancouver finally have a reliable pair of right backs to utilise.

Midfielders

Defensive midfielders:

The three main options for defensive midfielders in Robinson’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation include Matias Laba, Andrew Jacobson, and Russell Teibert.

Laba, the Argentine Designated Player, is the best option the ‘Caps have in this part of the park and should be expected to start the majority of MLS games this season, as he has done in past seasons. He is often the best player on the field for the Whitecaps and provides much-needed stability in the midfield.

Jacobson and Teibert will compete for minutes beside Laba. While Jacobson earned the bulk of the minutes in 2016 (1751 minutes to Teibert’s 696), now that Teibert is healthy again, the competition for a spot in the starting eleven will be intense. Hopefully, this will lead to both players stepping up their game throughout the year.

Finally, Deybi Flores and Ben McKendry provide additional depth at defensive midfielder. While the two young players may get some minutes in the Canadian Championship, the majority of their minutes will come from the USL. Flores went on loan to his home country of Honduras for a spell last season, but this wasn’t enough to earning him a spot in the regular rotation.

Attacking midfielders:

It can be argued that the Whitecaps have too many options in the attacking midfield going into the 2017 season. Options for the three attacking midfielder spots include Christian Bolanos, Marco Bustos, Alphonso Davies, Kekuta Manneh, Nicolas Mezquida, Yordy Reyna, Mauro Rosales, Brek Shea, and Cristian Techera. That’s nine players vying for three spots in the starting eleven.

While some players like Reyna and Shea can also play as a striker, there is an abundance of options for Robinson to choose when creating his midfield.

It can be argued that they are not all possible choices as Bustos has struggled to break into the first team and Reyna is out injured until the summer, for example, but even with those few cases aside, there are still many choices.

It will be interesting to see how Robinson chooses to manoeuvre his attacking midfielders, but it should be expected that he will rotate heavily. Hopefully, this will allow for stronger line-ups in competitions like the Canadian Championship going forward.

Strikers

With the departure of Barnes, the Whitecaps currently have three main options at striker: Fredy Montero, Erik Hurtado, and Kyle Greig. While Shea and Reyna can both play striker as well, expect Robinson to rely mostly on the main three throughout the season.

New Designated Player Fredy Montero will be relied upon throughout the season to be the main striker and scorer for the ‘Caps. Arguably, the Whitecaps haven’t had a main scorer since the departure of Camilo, so if the Colombian can live up to his billing, bringing him in can be considered one of Robinson’s biggest successes.

Prior to the arrival of Montero, it looked as if Hurtado would be the main striker for the season, so although he isn’t always the most reliable in front of goal, he is a good quality back-up and substitute.

Finally, Kyle Greig still remains an unknown. After a great 2016 season with WFC2, Robinson signed him to the senior team, but it’s still yet to be discovered how he can do in the MLS and what role he is expected to play, whether it is as a reserve striker or a super sub for late goals.

Whitecaps FC 2

The 2016 USL season was incredibly successful for Whitecaps FC 2. Between the promotion of four players to the senior team (Alphonso Davies, Brett Levis, Kyle Greig, and Spencer Richey) and an appearance in the Western Conference Final, only a USL title could have made the season any better for the baby ‘Caps.

But 2017 is a very different season for WFC2. With the departure of key players like the promotion of the aforementioned four to the senior team and Daniel Haber moving to the Real Monarchs coupled with the move of head coach Alan Koch to FC Cincinnati, it remains to be seen what sort of team the USL side will be this year.

While players like Bustos, Levis, and Seiler will still likely be sent down on loan, recent promotions like Levis, Greig, and Richey will most likely get many USL minutes to continue their development too.

New head coach Rich Fagan was himself promoted from the Whitecaps youth system moving from U18 coach to WFC2 coach, meaning he is familiar with a lot of players in this Residency. This bodes well for the promotion of more young Canadian players from the Residency to the USL.

Just exactly how the season will go for the Thundercaps remains a mystery at this point, but in terms of producing young Canadian talent, they should be very exciting to watch again this year.

Season Predictions

While most people will admit that 2016 wasn’t the Whitecaps’ best season, there were still many positives to come out of it, such as qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage, winning the Cascadia Cup, and promoting and developing players from within.

For 2017, I expect a better showing from the ‘Caps in MLS. While I don’t believe they’ll hit the heights of 2015 when they finished second in the west, I expect them to qualify for the playoffs, likely as fifth place in their conference.

In the Champions League, I expect Vancouver to put up a valiant fight against Tigres in the semifinals, but be unable to match the strength of the Mexican side with the current roster and salary cap restraints. If MLS wants their clubs to be able to regularly beat Mexican teams and win the Champions League, the salary cap needs to be dramatically increased and the roster size needs to be increased as well to allow for proper rotation of players.

In the 2017 iteration of the Canadian Championship, I expect the Whitecaps to avenge their 2016 loss to Toronto FC on goal difference and hoist the Voyageurs Cup again. Montreal has stayed stagnant this year and Vancouver should be able to beat them, and although Toronto FC has made a few key additions, the ‘Caps are strong enough to beat them over two legs.

Finally, the USL is a total mystery as of now. As the team is still incomplete and has only had one preseason match against the UBC Thunderbirds so far, it’s impossible to know how they’ll shape up against USL competition. If nothing else, though, I expect a fast, young, exciting team to watch at Thunderbird Stadium.

Conclusion

2017 looks to be a better year for the Vancouver Whitecaps thanks to a number of key additions, especially in attack. Expect exciting play on the field week in and week out at BC Place throughout the upcoming year.

The Whitecaps’ MLS season begins on Sunday at 6:30 PM at BC Place as the ‘Caps take on the Philadelphia Union. Both teams will be looking to start the year off on a successful note, but I give the edge to the blue and white thanks to their preseason and Champions League preparation.

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Jacob Noseworthy

Jacob Noseworthy

Jacob is a first-year political science major at the University of Victoria, but he is also setting his sights towards a minor in journalism. He joined Northern Starting Eleven to combine his passions of soccer and journalism and to help promote and grow the sport in Canada. NSXI gives him the opportunity to refine and grow his writing skills, while also growing his love of the beautiful game. When he’s not studying, Jacob can usually be found watching soccer, whether he is supporting Vancouver Whitecaps FC from across the Georgia Strait or at Centennial Stadium cheering on the UVic Vikes.

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