With their 2-0 aggregate loss in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Vancouver Whitecaps season is officially over. The season was a bit of a roller coast for the ‘Caps, but there is much to look ahead to.
2017 Vancouver Whitecaps Season Review
Big Changes in Training and on the Field
Not only did the Whitecaps finally move into their state-of-the-art training facility, but the faces training there changed significantly over the course of the season.
They changed up their goalkeeping situation, parting ways with backup goalie Paolo Tornaghi and bringing in New Zealand international Stefan Marinovic. This led to a new name taking over between the posts in the latter part of the season and into the playoffs.
They also brought in much-needed attacking talent in Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna. This turned them from a side struggling to score goals to a side that was strong on the counter attack and able to score from multiple situations, with set pieces becoming a strength.
It is less than a revelation to say that the team that we saw at the beginning of the season paled in comparison to the one that finished it.
There are a few names that are in the conversation for team MVP, with many of them on the back line. Reyna deserves recognition for revitalizing the attack upon his return, but he didn’t do enough to be considered the MVP of the 2017 Whitecaps.
This distinction belongs to none other than defensive stalwart Kendall Waston. He was, as always, a brick wall on the back line. It was because of this that he has been nominated for MLS Defender of the Year.
Aside from winning a team award and being nominated for league awards, there are other reasons his play this season deserves praise. He contributed to the attack with a career-high four goals this season. He also added an assist, dropped his yellow card count to seven, and he went the season without a single red card.
Waston was all-around fantastic in 2017, and he is well-deserving of being recognized as the Whitecaps Player of the Year, and has a strong case towards MLS Defender of the Year.
What Went Wrong?
After revamping the squad with the return of Reyna and the signings of players like Marinovic, Aly Ghazal, and Nosa Igiebor, the ‘Caps looked set to challenge for the first spot in the Western Conference.
They were firmly in the drivers seat going into the final two regular season games, but were unable to get the job done, falling to third in the West and missing out on a first round bye that would have kept the squad healthy, rested and ready to go.
While the 5-0 whacking of San Jose in the knockout round was a nice finish to the season, especially with it being the first playoff win for the organization, it wasn’t enough to fight off the disappointment that was the two legs of the semifinals.
The ‘Caps were only able to get a single shot on target over the two legs, with that one shot coming away from home. Getting 27,000-plus fans in BC Place to play out one of the least entertaining matches they have played in a long time was indicative of how the season finished for Vancouver.
What Went Right?
While many fans love David Ousted, the emergence of Marinovic in net has brought a bright spot to the final third of the season. Marinovic looks to be the goalie of the future, and there is every reason to believe the ‘Caps can have continued success with the Kiwi in net.
Another thing that deserves praise is the ability of Carl Robinson to spot talented players. Ghazal has proven to be a fantastic addition to the midfield, and he has filled in fantastically for the injured Matias Laba. Igiebor, while only playing limited minutes since joining the club, looks to be a good addition as well. If there is one thing that Robinson does at an elite level, it’s spot talent to improve the roster.
The obvious other thing that went right was the Whitecaps winning their first ever MLS playoff game. Winning a playoff game is great, and winning it 5-0 over a side the ‘Caps struggled to get a good result against this season makes it all that much sweeter.
How to Contend in 2018
It’s pretty simple for the Whitecaps to contend in 2018. Keep the core intact and continue to improve the depth of the squad.
The first order of business would be to make a move at the buy option that was added into the loan of Montero. He proved to be a very important part of the attack, and losing him would be a huge blow.
Aside from that, there could be a few other bigger names that the ‘Caps could let walk upon the expiration of their contracts. Ousted and Harvey are two that could very well end up elsewhere in 2018, something that would be a move to free up space for possible additions over the off-season.
With a strong back line in Waston, Tim Parker, Jake Nerwinski, and possibly Marcel de Jong, the Whitecaps need to focus on adding an attack-minded midfielder to the mix. The defense and goalie situation is one of the strongest in Major League Soccer, but the attack could use some reinforcements.
If the Whitecaps can return a majority of their key players, add an attacking mifielder, and bring back Montero on a permanent basis they will be a team to be feared in the Western Conference in 2018.