Top fives for the Whitecaps' 2016 season

 

 
 
 
 
File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

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The Sun’s Gary Kingston kicks off another Whitecaps season with a series of top fives on hot tickets, body parts, and predictions, among other topics.

5 games to see at BC Place

The Whitecaps say it’s the home-team stars — Morales, Manneh, Bolaños and Rivero, et al. — you should want to come and see. But come on, the opposition is often pretty good, too.

1. APRIL 2 - Los Angeles Galaxy

Given that MLS seems to allow L.A. to operate under its own special salary budget, it’s no surprise the Galaxy is more star-studded than ever. Already stocked with the likes of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, Bruce Arena’s Galaxy landed Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme and English fullback Ashley Cole in the off-season.

2. MAY 7 - Portland Timbers

The first of three matchups in 2016 with the reigning MLS Cup champions and Cascadia Cup rivals. No big-name signings in the off-season — that’s not the way they roll in the Rose City. But this intense rivalry is all about the crests and regional bragging rights, not the names on the backs of the jerseys.

3. JUNE 18 - New England Revolution

It’s the return of Gershon Koffie, the popular Ghanaian-born midfielder who was an original MLS Whitecap. He was traded to the Revolution in January to allow the Caps to play more offensive options alongside Matias Laba. Koffie will be a focal point, but the Revs have some nice young offensive talent of their own in Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.

4. JULY 16 - Orlando City SC

Caps fans first chance to get a look at Brazilian legend Kaká, but also another opportunity to catch young Canadian international striker Cyle Larin, the 2015 MLS rookie of the year. He’ll be one of “ours” on March 25 when he wears the red and white in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico at BC Place, but he’ll be the enemy on this night.

5. OCT. 2 - Seattle Sounders

Seven months into the season and Caps supporters finally get their first look at the other Cascadia rival. Obafemi Martins is in China, but Clint Dempsey is still playing the villain with the Sounders. This is also a chance to get a look at highly touted rookie Jordan Morris, who is being billed as the next Landon Donovan.

5 numbers to keep an eye on

1. 60 - The goal total Caps head coach Carl Robinson would love to reach in 2016 after getting just 45 and 42 the last two seasons. He’ll allow his midfielders to take more risks this season to try to get there. The Caps’ career season-best total was 53 in 2013 when Camilo led the league with 23 goals.

2. 13 - David Ousted’s shutout total in both 2014 and 2015. The Caps were stout defensively in both those seasons, but can the Great Dane hit that number again if Robinson sacrifices a holding midfielder in the attempt to generate more goals?

3. 7-7-3 - The Caps were the only MLS team in 2015 to play at least .500 soccer on the road. If they can maintain that standard and improve on their middling 9-6-2 record at home, they’ll be Western Conference champions.

4. 4 - Fullback Jordan Harvey’s stunningly unexpected goal total in 24 games in 2013. The Caps have four capable fullbacks this season in Harvey, who didn’t score in 2015, Sam Adekugbe, Jordan Smith and Fraser Aird. All are capable of getting forward and sniffing around the box. Will one of them break Harvey’s record for goals by a fullback?

5. 22,120 - The new capacity for most home games in 2016. The Caps decided to boost capacity after the number of season-ticket members jumped to 15,500 from 14,000 in 2015. The Caps had 11 sellouts last season at 21,000 and another at 27,837 for the home playoff game. Capacity for three selected home games — April 2 vs. L.A., Oct. 2 vs. Seattle and Oct. 23 vs. Portland — will be 25,000.

5 Pedro Morales body parts to talk about

1. Right foot

One of the best free-kick specialists in MLS when he’s on. Also uses it with deadly accuracy to spray passes around the field.

2. Right calf

3. Left calf

4. Hip

5. Back

He’s had trouble with all of 2 through 5 in his time in Vancouver. And let’s face it, it’s all about staying healthy with the Chilean midfield maestro, the Caps’ highest-paid player at $1.4 million. When his legs are strong, he’s as dangerous a player as there is in MLS, capable of racking up double-digit numbers in goals and assists. But he started just twice after June last season because of lingering injuries.

The Caps’ physio staff does yeoman’s work with Morales. But he’s at a point where age (30) and lots of mileage could lead to recurring injury problems.

5 of Carl Robinson’s pet phrases

1. “If I’m honest.”

2. “It’s not about formations, it’s about players.”

3. “Football is fine lines.”

4. “Moments change games.”

5. “Football is about proving people wrong.”

Robinson, of course, is a reporter’s delight — engaging, terrifically accommodating in interviews and seemingly as honest as he can be. But, yes, he does have his pet phrases.

5 headlines to watch for in 2016

1. Kudos to Masato, forward scores twice in Caps win

2. Sam I Am, Adekugbe wins fullback job

3. Blas-T furnace, Pérez ignites brouhaha

4. Aird attack, fullback’s crosses flood the box

5. Froese-n in time, Kianz scores late winner

5 bold predictions

1. Russell Teibert, the Canadian veteran tabbed by Robinson two years ago as future captain of the Caps, starts fewer than 10 MLS games following seasons of 19, 22 and 15 starts. Slowed in pre-season by a calf injury, the now blond-topped, 23-year-old defensive midfielder will become a victim of Robinson’s desire for more offence and the abundant potential of 19-year-olds Kianz Froese, another residency program graduate, and Honduran Deybi Flores.

2. The battle for the club’s Dominic Mobilio Trophy as top goal scorer starts as a good three-way race between second-year man Octavio Rivero, MLS veteran Blas Párez and newcomer Masato Kudo. And the surprise winner is Kudo, the Japanese League import who missed the second half of pre-season while dealing with an unspecified (so as not to embarrass him) medical condition. Unafraid to get into tough areas in the box, he’ll go on a late season run to hit 12 goals. Perez and Rivero wind up with seven or eight each as the Caps really spread out the scoring.

3. Speaking of goals, Kendall Waston, the Towering Tico of the back line, cashes in more often on his set-piece potential and at least doubles the two goals he scored in his first full season in 2015. Unfortunately, the man who wins more aerial battles than the Red Baron did in WWI misses two games due to yellow-card accumulation.

4. David Ousted’s Iron Man goalkeeping run of 81 straight regular-season starts ends mid-season when he severely bruises his shoulder making a diving save off a penalty kick.

5. When MLS commissioner Don Garber presents the MLS Cup to the winning Whitecaps in December on the midfield stage at BC Place, reclusive majority owner Greg Kerfoot actually appears from the shadows to accept. Not surprisingly, however, he continues to refuse all interview requests.

 
 
 
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File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps preseason camp at UBC in Vancouver, BC Thursday, January 28, 2016. Pictured is Pedro Morales (centre).

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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