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PREVIEW: 'Caps hand the reins to rookie Robinson
by Ridge Mahoney, March 6th, 2014 12:37AM

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TAGS:  mls, vancouver whitecaps

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[MLS 2014: Western Conference] You couldn’t blame Vancouver fans if they felt 2013 was cursed.

Stalwart captain Jay DeMerit suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon six minutes into the opening game and didn’t return until September. Japanese midfielder Daigo Kobayashi arrived billed as a playmaker, and simply wasn’t. The Kenny Miller conundrum – good games, poor games, what’s his best position? -- continued. A weak finish dumped Vancouver out of the playoff tier, and management waited a while before replacing head coach Martin Rennie.

2013 Vancouver Whitecaps
Record: 13-12-9.
Finish: 7th in Western Conf.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

Then came in December Mexican news reports that claimed Camilo, the league’s top scorer with 22 goals, had bolted from his contract and signed with Mexican club Queretaro. Team president Bob Lenarduzzi reminded everyone Camilo was still under contract to MLS, but Camilo, his agent, and Queretaro cared not. Weeks of talks led to a transfer; MLS and the ‘Caps got about $2 million to share, but not even all that money could eradicate the stench.

And so Carl Robinson starts off his head coaching career in search of stability and continuity as much as results. Kobayashi signed with New England after the ‘Caps declined his option. The midseason arrival of Danish keeper David Ousted -- thankfully, he wasn’t billed as the next Jimmy Nielsen -- moved Brad Knighton to the bench and Joe Cannon off the screen. Knighton went to New England in a trade and Cannon retired, as did popular right back Lee Young-Pyo. Counting Camilo’s breach of professional etiquette, 11 players departed.

Robinson worked his international contacts and knowledge of MLS to restock. He vowed to upgrade the technical quality and leading the charge in that regard is Chilean playmaker Pedro Morales, who signed his contract earlier this week and trained for the first time on Wednesday. He can’t play until the league receives his international transfer certificate (ITC) but during two seasons with Malaga showed he could hang pretty well in Spain.
Uruguayan midfielders Sebastian Fernandez and Nicolas Mezquida showed skill and poise during preseason. Defensive mid Matias Laba is clean on the ball and at 22 among the top prospects in MLS who didn’t get much opportunity to show his stuff at Toronto FC.

Ex-Quake and 2012 MLS all-star Steven Beitashour came over in a trade after a futile attempt to find a foreign club. In a different way, he gets into the attack as did Lee and since breaking into the first team with the Quakes in 2010 has logged 16 assists in 87 games. Another former Quake, Mehdi Ballouchy, brings a nice touch and seven years of MLS experience though an ACL injury limited him to five games last year.

Western Conference Preview:
Chivas USA | Colorado | FC Dallas | LA Galaxy
Portland | Real Salt Lake | San Jose | Seattle

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Robinson is a rookie head coach, but two years as a Red Bull assistant following several MLS seasons as a player provides at least a solid grounding in the ways and means of MLS. DeMerit’s return is a huge boost on the field and in the locker room and though he’s 34, he finished last season strongly. Adding more flair to midfield should alleviate the stodginess that plagued the attack last year and give Russell Teibert, who registered a team-high nine assists, more choices for linkups and one-twos. Kekuta Manneh, 19, kick-started his career with a late-season hat trick that sparked great optimism about his future. Defender Christian Dean, the No. 3 overall pick in the SuperDraft, looked strong in preseason.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Thirteen games in his first MLS season wasn’t enough to fully evaluate Ousted; a solid season from him is essential with changes in so many important areas. There are a lot of pieces to sort out in midfield, where Nigel Reo-Coker and Gershon Koffie both need consistent time to maximize their effectiveness. Darren Mattocks enters his third pro season needing sharp improvement to justify his selection as the No. 2 overall pick in 2012. Making up Camilo’s 22 goals is a tall order.

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th-7th place. Robinson and the additions will probably need a season to ramp up, and the conference doesn’t make concessions for newbies.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-4-2
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
1-David Ousted (29)/Denmark (2nd season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
33-Steven Beitashour (27)/Iran (San Jose Earthquakes)
6-Jay DeMerit (34)/USA (4th season)
40-Andy O'Brien (34)/Ireland (3rd season)
2-Jordan Harvey (30)/USA (4th season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
20-Nigel Reo-Coker (29)/England (2nd season)
15-Matias Laba (22)/Argentina (Toronto FC)
77-Pedro Morales (28)/Chile (Malaga)
29-Nicolas Mezquida (23)/Uruguay (Fenix)
7-Sebastian Fernandez (24)/Uruguay (Universitario)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
9-Kenny Miller (34)/Scotland (3rd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
28-Gershon Koffie (22)/Ghana (4th season)
23-Kekuta Manneh (19)/Gambia (2nd season)
11-Darren Mattocks (23)/Jamaica (3rd season)
31-Russell Teibert (21)/Canada (4th season)
Vancouver Whitecaps: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: New York, 7:30 pm ET
March 16:
at Chivas USA, 7 pm ET
March 22:
at New England, 2 pm ET
March 29: Houston 7, pm ET
Vancouver Whitecaps: complete schedule.








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