Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Whitecaps Look to Build on Historic Season Major League Soccer Season

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Whitecaps Look to Build on Historic Season Major League Soccer Season

Article excerpt

Whitecaps plan fewer mid-season changes


VANCOUVER - As the Vancouver Whitecaps enter their third Major League Soccer season, they are planning to make fewer of the mid-season changes from last year that team president Bob Lenarduzzi suggested might have been "rash."

That didn't stop them from making significant moves in the off-season.

Notable newcomers include top MLS SuperDraft picks Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado and midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker, a former English Premier League star, and Daigo Kobayashi, a relative unknown from Japan who has shown signs that he can control play with his adept passing skills and vision on the pitch.

"There's been quite a changeover of the personnel," said defender Andy O'Brien. "The new players that have come in have added that enthusiasm to the energetic side of things and, hopefully, we've got a good balance of experience and youth players."

Heading into Saturday's season opener at home against Toronto FC, the third-year Whitecaps are looking to improve on an 11-13-10 season in which they became the first Canadian side to make the Major League Soccer playoffs.

Reo-Coker, who could also see action at defender, and Kobayashi will help make up for the departure of Scottish international midfielder Barry Robson, who parted ways with the Whitecaps in January. Robson, who now plays for Sheffield United in England's third tier, was among the mid-season changes that included the arrival of fellow Scotsman Kenny Miller, who remains with the club.

As part of the moves, star striker Eric Hassli, an extremely popular figure in the Whitecaps dressing room, was shipped out via trade to Toronto. (The Frenchman has since been dealt to Dallas.) In addition to an attempt to build on a strong start to the season, the moves were designed to help the Caps develop a championship culture, while also increasing offence and overall play.

However, Robson and Miller did not score as expected, and the club struggled down the stretch before backing into the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We made those changes on the basis of wanting to improve where we were at, and we were probably a little rash in doing so," Lenarduzzi said. "So I think you're going to see less player movement at the halfway point of the season."

Second-year striker Darren Mattocks, who shows signs of being a world-class player with his breathtaking speed and an uncanny ability to sidestep defenders, will again be the prime fixture in the offence. After being forced to sit out the start of the 2012 campaign due to arm burns sustained in a cooking accident, he should benefit from a full season, and has a chance to add to the team-leading seven goals he scored as a rookie.

Manneh and Hurtado excelled with him at times in the pre-season, and the speedy trio could be productive, depending on whom coach Martin Rennie elects to deploy in a 1-5-4 formation.

Miller, the Scottish national team captain who is expected to line up as a withdrawn striker in midfield, will be under close scrutiny at the outset as fans look for him to produce more goals now that he has a training camp and exhibition season under his cleats. …

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