The end of Vancouver Whitecaps’ season has certainly brought with it a number of talking points. What went wrong? Who should stay and who should go? What needs to be done to get the ‘Caps to take the next step? Can they formulate a way to win matches with single digit possession? There’s a lot more. It’s a long list.
With so much to talk about, a collection of Whitecaps writers, from various sites, got together to chat about some points from the ‘Caps season and to look ahead to next year.
The participants are: AFTN (Michael), 86Forever (AtlantisB), From the Back Line (Mark), Daily Hive (Rituro). Each site will run the piece today, so let’s get it underway…
QUESTION 1: WHAT WAS YOUR OVERRIDING FEELING SHORTLY AFTER THE LOSS TO SEATTLE (IN ONE OR TWO WORDS)?
AFTN: Missed opportunity
86Forever: I can’t put it into a word, but Simba trying to roar in Lion King and it comes out as a cute little roar. Whitecaps are Simba roaring.
Daily Hive: Frustration
QUESTION 2: WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE LOSS NOW THAT YOU HAVE HAD SOME TIME TO DIGEST IT?
AFTN: Anger becomes the overriding feeling, especially now seeing that Houston would have awaited in the Western Conference final. Hugely disappointing to go out with a whimper and not a bang. One shot on target over two legs of a playoff semi-final is completely unacceptable. As ugly as that first leg was, I can’t fault the ‘Caps too much as the game was then theirs to win in the second leg. It was perfectly set up and with the personnel they had out and the away goal rule in full effect, to play that conservatively and impotently was a disgrace. In the post mortem you have to look at whether it was Robbo that shackled the team or the players simply weren’t good enough to get the job done. You have to feel it’s a combination, and I’d put the bigger percentage for the failure on the tactics employed.
Daily Hive: It almost felt inevitable, didn’t it? While playing a pragmatic, defence-first game may seem like the most logical choice given the threat posed by the opposition, it leaves next to no room for error. If you can’t get a goal yourself, you have to stymie the enemy for 210 minutes. To Robbo’s credit, he almost did it. “Almost”, though, is not enough. The results had to be near-flawless. They weren’t.
86Forever: Heading into the playoffs we still had no idea what team the Whitecaps were. I believe many of us saw it equally likely that they could flame out in the first round or go on to win the MLS Cup. Maybe we did not fully believe the latter, but I feel it was a serious prediction. Still, we all knew that if they made it past Seattle and the Western Final, it would be considered a bit of an upset. Reflecting on the loss, I am not disappointed in the loss but rather how they lost. It was such a disappointing end to a season with a lot of positives that I feel it leaves an unfair taste in people’s mouth.
QUESTION 3: DID THE WHITECAPS MEET PRE-SEASON EXPECTATIONS?
AFTN: As fresh as all the disappointment of the playoff capitulation is, realistically Robbo took his squad further than expected. At the start of the season, considering all the acquisitions from the rest of the West and the less glitzy signings from Vancouver, making the postseason seemed to really be touch and go. At best it felt getting a fourth place finish and a home first round playoff game would be a huge achievement, 5th or 6th place the realistic goal, and out of the playoffs altogether a very real possibility. So based on that, I have to say they exceeded my expectations.
86Forever: Outside of Hercules Gomez at ESPN no one had high hopes for the Whitecaps heading into this season. While doing double duty with MLS and CONCACAF to begin the season, it appeared that the low expectations were warranted. However, the Caps were able to meet and surpass expectations, not by being a flashy club, but by being a consistent club. Their longest losing streak of the season? A single two-game skid at San Jose, where they were in command until David Ousted’s red card, and the following week, at home, to TFC. You know which other teams can make that same claim? New York City, Sporting Kansas City, and Toronto.
FTBL: That’s an interesting question, and I think it’s largely dependent on what each individual’s expectations were coming into the season. Since winning silverware is never guaranteed, no matter how good of a season you have, my main concern was whether the Whitecaps would be able to turn things around after a disappointing 2016 campaign. I think they acquitted themselves in the CCL, and once they were fully healthy they had quite a run all the way to the top of the Western Conference. For me the ‘Caps mostly met my expectations. They made back to the playoffs, and many of the core players had a much better year than they did in 2016.
Daily Hive: Yes. 2016 was a train wreck, so the bare minimum was a playoff appearance — and a home one, at that. In that vein, the Whitecaps delivered (twice!). They also made a respectable run to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals, which helps. Dropping the Voyageurs Cup campaign so early wasn’t exactly a standout point, and whimpering out of the Cascadia Cup was underwhelming. On the whole though, yes, expectations were met.
QUESTION 4: WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON?
86Forever: We could play the ‘what if’ game about how much different this team would be with Yordy Reyna all season, but maybe he starts strong like Octavio Rivero did and fizzles out, so I will leave that alone. The biggest disappointment was how predictable and boring this club became. Let’s be honest, at the end of the day coaches and clubs are judged on whether they win or lose. Therefore, if Robbo can win playing compact and boring, then I get why he would do that. However, when I look at this roster, I see a team that can play better than what we see most matches. It is disappointing to continually watch a team and know that they will pass it around the back then Kendall Waston will lob a ball forward. If Fredy Montero or Reyna get on it, great. If not, they sit back and bunker until they get to try the Waston lob again.
FTBL: The biggest disappointment of the season was the way they finished the regular season and their playoff exit. We saw numerous examples of how well they can play, and when they’re on form they’re a match for any other team in MLS. Sadly, that will be overshadowed with their underwhelming playoff performance against Seattle, which people will be debating for some time to come.
Daily Hive: May 27th. BC Place. DC United shows up in full dumpster fire mode. They leave 1-0 winners. Unacceptable. Rage-inducing. Highly disappointing.
AFTN: Gamewise, definitely one shot in target in the playoffs against Seattle, but that aside, the preseason injury to Yordy Reyna does leave you wondering what could have been. Could he have produced a whole season like the magical few months he had, or would the playoff Reyna have been there for longer?
QUESTION 5: WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO GO IN THE OFFSEASON (MULTIPLE PEOPLE)?
FTBL: I think that Robinson gave us a foreshadowing of what this team will look like for 2018. Obviously, with David Ousted confirmed as one of the players not coming back for 2018, Stefan Marinović will most certainly be the Caps shot stopper next year. With Marcel de Jong getting the starts at left fullback, I feel that Jordan Harvey has also played his last game for the Whitecaps, and also possibly Matías Laba as well. Laba, however, I think may be back for at least for the start of the season until he’s fully recovered from his injury. The late season signings of Aly Ghazal and Nosa Igiebor suggests that if the ‘Caps are loading up with midfielders, then they may be preparing for life post-Laba. I have my doubts that the Fredy Montero loan will be made permanent, and I don’t think Sheanon Williams will be back either. Brek Shea, with that DP tag and salary will be an interesting situation to watch over the winter as well.
Daily Hive: Lots of people. David Ousted is all but gone. Jordan Harvey surely won’t be back at his salary with Marcel De Jong and Brett Levis in place. Matias Laba probably won’t be re-upped. Cole Seiler, Russell Teibert, Andrew Jacobson, and Mauro Rosales are surplus. Brek Shea, if they can’t buy him down, will be gone — at least, he’d better be at that salary.
AFTN: Fredy Montero, unless the ‘Caps can get him on another loan, a free transfer, or some secret help from MLS. The Front Office opening up their check books and paying the transfer fee and/or salary for him feels slim. Hopefully they prove me wrong. David Ousted has now confirmed that he is to move on. Whether back to Europe, which has always been his ultimate goal, or to another MLS club is the only question remaining. Jordan Harvey is a free agent. If he doesn’t end up in LA (with either the Galaxy or the new boys), I’ll be amazed. From the rest, free agent Andrew Jacobson is unlikely to be back, Kyle Greig has shown he isn’t MLS quality, Sheanon Williams needs moved out asap, Brek Shea is far too expensive, and Ben McKendry will most likely be replaced by a newer and younger Canadian model in David Norman.
86Forever: I think we see several changes this off-season. Specifically, with big contracts. David Ousted has already confirmed he is gone. Fredy Montero is 50/50 to return. Brek Shea has to be gone right? I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see Jordan Harvey leave. Marcel De Jong overtook him at the end of the season, and with LA coming in, there are beliefs that Jordan Harvey could be taken in the expansion draft. While it has not been talked about much of late, because of the injury, I don’t see Matias Laba coming back either. Prior to the injury it seemed like it was almost a done deal that he was being transferred. In addition, with Aly Ghazal coming in, I just don’t see a place for the two of them. You want to see a really disconnected and anemic attack? Put Ghazal and Laba on the field together. If you keep both, one sits too much on the bench for the salary. Use the Ousted/Shea/Laba salary to bring in an offensive, creative, threat that the Caps desperately need.
QUESTION 6: WHAT/WHO ARE THE KEY BUILDING BLOCKS FOR THE WHITECAPS?
Daily Hive: Fredy Montero. Open the purse-strings and pull the trigger on that option, dammit. You’re not going to find an MLS-experienced, 15-goal scorer ready to go on the cheap. Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera have already established themselves as core attackers, so naturally they’ll figure into teambuilding going forward. The pleasant surprise, though, is Jake Nerwinski and his now-established bonafides on the right side. A Nerwinski-Techera overlap tandem has potential to cause opposing defences fits for years.
AFTN: It’s not sexy, but Robbo likes to build a team from a solid defensive footing. Holding on to Kendall Waston till at least the summer shouldn’t be taken for granted, but it’s crucial they can. His partnership with Tim Parker, and the new two man defensive shield of Nosa Igiebor and Aly Ghazal is what the ‘Caps will then be building their attack around.
86Forever: Yordy Reyna would appear to be a building block, but I feel he is best as a strong support. Think how Cristian Techera is now to Reyna, or how Victor Vazquez is for TFC. Let’s be honest, this is a defence-first team, so the true building blocks for the ‘Caps are the heart of the defence: the Kendall Waston/Tim Parker partnership, and Stefan Marinović. I am curious to see how David Edgar fits into the picture when he returns.
FTBL: For me, it’s build that solid spine up the middle of the park. Build around Stefan Marinović in goal, Tim Parker and Kendall Waston at the heart of the backline, and then move up to Aly Ghazal and Nosa Igiebor in midfield, then Yordy Reyna in the number 10 spot. Get a good striker up top, and this could be a very good team.
QUESTION 7: WHAT DO THE CAPS NEED MOST FOR NEXT SEASON?
FTBL: I think many of the pieces are already in place in this squad. As usual it will be interesting to see which contract options they pick up at the end of the season, and the players they bring in over the winter. If Fredy Montero indeed goes back to China, then Robinson will need to find a similarly competent striker to get the 10-15 goals that Fredy provided this year.
Daily Hive: A DP left-winger. Brek Shea couldn’t cut it and Christian Bolaños looks past his prime, so getting an undisputed star signing to rampage up and down the left side with (or without) Marcel De Jong has to be A+ Number 1 Alpha Prime Priority Plus Ultra for the offseason.
AFTN: A true, creative, experienced number 10 to work with Fredy Montero if he stays. If the Colombian moves on, then a proven goalscorer to go with that.
86Forever: Those who think this team is not talented enough to compete doesn’t understand the players that exist. It is cliché, but I really think the team needs a dynamic player or two to be near the top. Their defense is solid, although they need better passing from the centrebacks. I think people discount how good Pa Modou Kah was at that. The back half of their attack is good (full backs and defensive mid). The wings are alright (Christian Bolanos and Cristian Techera), and their ‘two strikers’ (Yordy Reyna and Fredy Montero) are good. However, they need to have some upgrades in the middle number 10 role and a big, tall, forward. If they can get Montero/Target with Reyna behind, and Techera/Bolanos playing with Reyna, with some better link-up from the back half (Nosa was okay, but they need better), then they could be difficult to play against.
So that’s some of our thoughts, we’d love to hear yours as well, so let us know what you think in the comments below.