The Vancouver Whitecaps are a club every season that many around MLS expect to challenge for every competition they are in. Despite high expectations, there hasn’t been a ton to cheer for in recent years, unfortunately enough. But with some major improvements in attacking depth, some solid defensive additions, and the high likelihood of Ousted re-finding his form of 2014 and 2015 the Whitecaps’ fortunes might just be on the upswing come the start of the 2017 MLS Season.
Three Questions for the 2017 Vancouver Whitecaps Season
With the campaign already underway for Vancouver, albeit not in Major League Soccer, expectations are already high for the 2017 season. With players like Kekuta Manneh healthy up top, complimented by the likes of Yordy Reyna (not quite yet), Fredy Montero, and Alphonso Davies, the excitement is understandable.
Will Montero and Reyna be the Difference?
Fredy Montero was an absolutely fantastic signing for Vancouver, of this there is no doubt. A player with a proven history of scoring goals, even though it was for the ‘Caps rivals just south of the border, is something that brings high expectations for the season and makes it hard to curb hopes of a season with playoff soccer. On top of that, Montero is coming back from big money moves where he justified his price tags in Portugal and China, meaning there should be no reason to doubt that he can make an instant impact in British Columbia.
As for Reyna, he’s a bit of a different story than Montero. Reyna is a young, athletic, and exciting new name on the roster that is more than likely going to be playing up top alongside Montero, pushing Manneh back to his preferred left wing position, when he’s back from his recent surgery that is. Reyna made his name at his first professional club Alianza Lima, where he made his first appearance in a senior team. After his success there he went on to sign for Red Bull Salzburg, and had a relatively prosperous European career over the last four years.
The combination of Montero and Reyna up top, accompanied with the fact that Manneh showed he could play in the center forward/central attacking midfield role in pre-season, means the depth up top is exponentially better than it has been in recent history. This is all without taking into account that the ‘Caps still have Davies as well, a homegrown player that everyone is rightly excited about. All of these exciting attacking options and combinations could very well be the reason the playoffs are a realistic vision in the not so far off future.
However, with Reyna being out for the foreseeable future after having foot surgery, Manneh might very well be called upon to play in behind Montero. Manneh showed that he was quite capable of playing that role during the pre-season in Wales, so this is really nothing to worry about. The combination of Manneh and Montero should make for a good one, and with guys like Hurtado as well, there is plenty enough depth to cover up for the missing Reyna. And when he makes his return, the depth and dynamic attacking should be enough to avoid another second half of the season scoring slump like the ‘Caps experienced in 2016.
What Will Erik Hurtado and Brek Shea Bring?
Erik Hurtado is nothing short of an interesting figure in Vancouver. He is consistently in the right spot to create opportunities, is quite athletic, and sees the field well. He has all the tools to be successful, but consistency has been a major issue with the American-born forward.
Over the course of his career Hurtado has shown flashes of brilliance, but only has seven goals and seven assists in 78 appearances in MLS play to show for it. This isn’t the goal production you’d hope for from him, but he can still play an important role in the depth of the attacking corps for the ‘Caps. His speed, quickness, and dynamic runs on the pitch will prove to be pivotal coming off the bench this season. The question is, can he produce goals commensurate to his abilities?
Brek Shea is a totally different story to that of Hurtado. Not only is Shea a veteran of both MLS, but he’s made 34 appearances for the USMNT as well. His 149 games of experience in MLS, with 22 goals and 22 assists in that time, will prove very helpful over the course of a long and arduous season.
Another important point to make about Shea is his versatility. Not only does he play in the midfield, but he has the ability to play up top when needed, and even has been reliable at fullback.
Despite Shea falling out of favour with Orlando City, that shouldn’t be cause for concern. Shea will slot in nicely to add more depth to an ever-improving attacking front for the ‘Caps. And with Reyna out, the signing of Shea could very well mean that Manneh can move up to accompany Montero up top, with Shea slotting in at his favoured left midfield position. The depth is truly something to behold when comparing it to past seasons.
It’s safe to say that Carl Robinson and the ‘Caps ownership have no interest in anything but challenging throughout the season, and likely into the playoffs. The additions of the likes of Montero, Reyna, and Shea have made that blatantly obvious.
Will the Defense and Ousted Hold Up Their End of the Bargain?
This almost seems like it could be a rhetorical question when looking at the returning back line of Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey, and Marcel de Jong. When you take into account that the club added the likes of Sheanon Williams, a reliable MLS veteran, and 2017 MLS Superdraft selection Jake Nerwinski, it’s hard to think the back line will be anything short of staunch, even against the best of offenses.
Waston and Parker make up a center back duo that leave little to be desired, and with some added depth at the fullback position, the ‘Caps are arguably among the strongest of back lines in the league on paper. If the back line can perform like they have in the past, and the new attacking options put up some consistent pressure, the 2017 season could make for a much better stat line than the 52 goals allowed by Vancouver in 2016.
Just behind the back line is a well-founded keeper of top quality. Ousted is well-known as being one of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer when he, and the men in front of him, is in form. However, the 2016 season was as generous to Ousted as it was to the Whitecaps in general. It was obvious throughout the season that Ousted still had the quality, and still does, to be one of the best goalies in the league, but everything seemed to go wrong at all the worst times.
The 2016 season was the worst of the three full seasons Ousted has spent in MLS in many respects. He allowed the most goals (52) and had the least amount of wins (10) in his three seasons since joining Vancouver. But for the man who was a finalist for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2015, this was a learning lesson. Many people, both inside and outside of the club, expect Ousted to bounce back this season and show his true quality. With the added depth of the men directly in front of him, there is every reason to believe that Ousted will re-find his form he had in both 2014 and 2015.