Whitecaps embrace greater expectations for 2016 season

 

Pundits picking reshaped Vancouver side to have banner year

 
 
 
 
The Vancouver Whitecaps hope marquee midfielder Christian Bolaos, shown during a recent training session, will make an immediate impact for the club.
 

The Vancouver Whitecaps hope marquee midfielder Christian Bolaos, shown during a recent training session, will make an immediate impact for the club.

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

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As the Vancouver Whitecaps bounded about on the unmarked BC Place Stadium turf field in spirited training on Friday, there was a clear parallel to the Major League Soccer season ahead.

With the turf still being “fluffed” back up following last weekend’s Monster Truck show, crews had yet to paint on any of the white touch lines or outline the six- and 18-yard boxes. Yellow and orange discs placed yards apart set a quasi-perimeter, but basically it was an open field, unencumbered by boundaries.

And that’s kind of the outlook as the Caps begin the 34-game regular-season grind on Sunday afternoon against the visiting Montreal Impact.

With more attacking options than ever before, better quality depth, a stout defensive spine and with more young players poised to blossom, the Caps are an open field of possibility.

It’s a side that has the weapons to challenge any attempt to constrain its creativity, a side several pundits are picking to win the Western Conference, with mlssoccer.com’s top analyst, Matt Doyle, predicting an MLS Cup championship.

“The expectations are higher, but we want it that way,” says standout goalkeeper David Ousted. “We want our fans to come and expect us to win. It’s up to us as a squad to handle those expectations and manage them in a way where we can go in and perform every time.”

The Caps set some defined goals for 2015. They wanted to win the Amway Canadian Championship, a title that had consistently eluded them in some extremely frustrating ways. And they wanted to host a home playoff game in their fifth MLS season.

Both those goals were met, although exiting the MLS playoffs by failing to score in a two-game, aggregate-goal playoff series with Cascadia rival Portland Timbers, who went on to capture the Cup, was a crushing way to go out.

The targets are being kept internal this season, but as president Bob Lenarduzzi notes, “I think people can figure out what they are.”

After a 16-13-5 regular season, one in which the Caps tied Seattle for the fewest goals conceded, head coach Carl Robinson knew he didn’t need to make big changes. What he needed was two or three offensive players who could bring something a little different from an attacking standpoint.

“When we went behind last year, we were never able to get back into the game and that was a concern,” says Robinson. “It was a worry and it proved to be correct in the (second-leg) playoff game against Portland (a 2-0 loss).

“When the game dynamic changes, you need different personnel. It was my key point of the off-season, to find players different than what we’ve got.”

Rugged striker Blas Pérez, a true target man, is one of those guys, as is Japanese League import Masato Kudo. The slight forward won’t impress anyone physically, but he has a knack for getting into goal-scoring positions in the box and then finishing when he gets the chance.

But it’s winger/midfielder Christian Bolaos, a two-time World Cup player for Costa Rica, who might make the most immediate impact. The 31-year-old is a terrific playmaker, someone who should complement midfield maestro Pedro Morales, who is looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2015.

“He’s an exceptional player,” says Robinson. “He’s obviously got experience, he’s got quality. He understands the game, knows when to speed it up and slow it down. He can score goals and create goals.

“He relieves the pressure in Pedro having to play every minute of every game. But he’s a different type of player, (coming) into the mix with our young, quick wingers (Kekuta Manneh, Cristian Techera) as well as being a smart head on the outside … will give us different dynamics.”

Robinson says it’s critical that the Caps get more goals out of a midfield that also includes the underrated Nico Mezquida, teenager Honduran Deybi Flores and young Canadians Kianz Froese, who could get a start on Sunday, and Marco Bustos.

The Western Conference, where the second- through sixth-place finishers were separated by just two points, figures to be just as competitive in 2016. And the Caps, who were a league-best 7-7-3 on the road, won’t surprise anyone this time around.

“This is a team with the same desires and the same hunger,” says veteran centre back Pa-Modou Kah. “And that is important because teams will be coming at us because of what we did last year. We cannot relax.”

It all starts Sunday on a field that will have its lines, but one that will be an open canvas for a team with more capable and creative artists.

gkingston@postmedia.com

 
 
 
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The Vancouver Whitecaps hope marquee midfielder Christian Bolaos, shown during a recent training session, will make an immediate impact for the club.
 

The Vancouver Whitecaps hope marquee midfielder Christian Bolaos, shown during a recent training session, will make an immediate impact for the club.

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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