>By Evan Ream, with help from the Intern
Last Year: N/A
Key Losses: N/A
Key Additions: Joe Cannon, Alain Rochat, Jay DeMerit, Atiba Harris, John Thorrington, Michael Nanchoff, Omar Salgado, Eric Hassli
Projected Starting XI: Many of these projected starting players are untested in MLS and thus Vancouver is somewhat of an unknown side. Up top, Atiba Harris has been a fringe starter everywhere that he has gone as a utility man; Vancouver will count on him to score goals, not something he is exactly known for. Their newly signed designated player Eric Hassli scored quite a few goals in the Swiss First Division, but the level of competition there isn’t what it is in other parts of Europe. Vancouver are counting on him to make the same impact as Alvaro Saborio, another player with Swiss First Division experience. Other than John Thorrington, the entire midfield is completely untested. Blake Wagner had a decent stint with FC Dallas a few years back and he will join Wes Knight and Terry Dunfield as players trying to prove they can play at this level. The backline is led by team captain Jay DeMerit, an EPL and USMNT veteran. DeMerit was one of the best signings any team made of the offseason and should solidify a decent backline. He will be partnered by former USL super defender Greg Janicki who was solid but unspectacular for DC United a few years back. Alain Rochat, also a former Swiss First Division player will be the team’s starting right back while former Kansas City Wizards player Jonathan Leathers will look to play right back. In goal two time Goalkeeper of the Year Joe Cannon should be the starter, but there are rumblings around camp that Jay Nolly could take the starting spot if Cannon, 36, starts showing his age.
Prognosis: I don’t really know what is going on with this team. They have signed some decent players in Jay DeMerit, Joe Cannon, and John Thorrington, but they have just 20 players overall signed, one of which (Omar Salgado) can’t begin playing until he turns 18 in September due to FIFA laws. Not only is this team extremely light on depth, but they just don’t seem to have signed very many quality players as well. Vancouver may have the worst midfield in the entire league with only one above average player. I think this team could very well be headed to a last place finish, especially if Eric Hassli doesn’t pan out. They could possibly win some games based on the strength of their backline, but I expect Vancouver to struggle like Toronto did in their first season.
The Intern’s Take: Although the quality of the teams likely won’t be as great as those in tomorrow’s opener between the Sounders and the Galaxy, the opening game for the Whitecaps against Canadian rival Toronto FC should be a fun game. There will be a lot of emotion tied up in that matchup, both because of it being Vancouver’s first game in MLS, and both teams will be playing for Canadian bragging rights. As far as the actual team goes, Vancouver just do not seem to have the talent and experience needed to have a strong year, which is alright at this point. Just getting adjusted to MLS and improving the team are reasonable goals for the Whitecaps and there really isn’t anywhere for them to go besides up. They have a veteran leader in the back in Jay DeMerit, but he was without a club for several months after the World Cup has not played competitively since the USA-Ghana game, nearly nine months ago. The Whitecaps have some decent players, but they do not seem to have done as much during the offseason as this year’s other expansion team, the Portland Timbers, and Vancouver will likely struggle as they try to find a style of play and develop their on-field chemistry. The signing of Eric Hassli is a good one because Vancouver do not seem to be pinning their hopes on him, which should allow him time to adjust to MLS without having unrealistic expectations and pressure placed upon him. The forward duo of Hassli and Atiba Harris should be interesting and will need to score often if Vancouver are to finish above the bottom four or five spots at the conclusion of the season.