20 February 2012

Disney preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

The 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic starts on Friday, signaling the final countdown to the MLS season. I’ll be calling games at the tournament for the third straight year, teaming up with Simon Borg as part of MLSsoccer.com’s coverage of the group stage and then working the final day of the tournament on the ESPN3 broadcasts. As the week goes on, I’ll preview each of the eight teams set to participate in Orlando.

The tournament starts on Friday, and Simon and I will call the second game of the doubleheader, pitting Canadian rivals Montreal and Vancouver against each other in a preview of their March 10 opener. With that in mind, I started with a Montreal preview this morning and continue this afternoon with second-year MLS club Vancouver.

Disney Pro Soccer Classic
Team Previews

  • 2/20 Montreal
  • 2/20 Vancouver
  • 2/21 Houston
  • 2/21 Kansas City
  • 2/22 Toronto
  • 2/22 Dallas
  • 2/23 Orlando City
  • 2/23 Hacken

The basics
Team: Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS)
Head Coach: Martin Rennie (1st season)
2011 results: 6-18-10, 9th place (Western Conference)
Returning Starters: FW Camilo, GK Joe Cannon, MF Davide Chiumiento, FW Eric Hassli, MF Gershon Koffie, DF Alain Rochat, DF Jay DeMerit
Key Newcomers: DF Martin Bonjour, DF Lee Young-Pyo, FW Darren Mattocks, MF Lee Nguyen, FW Sebastien Le Toux

I’m looking forward to watching …
Eric Hassli. I know I should pick one of the newcomers or somebody playing a new position, and I am excited to see Lee Young-Pyo, Lee Nguyen, and Sebastien Le Toux, but I just love Hassli’s game. He throws his 200 pounds around like a bull in a china shop, then also has great one-on-one skills to create his own (high-velocity) shot. Plus, he’s a bit of a wild man in terms of his temper (and his celebrations).
Hassli (MLSsoccer.com)
In short, he is as entertaining a player as you will find. He claims to have mellowed out a little, but his main offseason activity was riding horses with his barrel-racing girlfriend. Check out his sense of humor, even in broken English, in this article from Marc Weber.
In addition to Hassli and the others, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo are always fun to watch. Basically, Vancouver’s got exciting players. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d buy season tickets. But all that excitement still brought a league-low 35 goals last year, so now it’s Martin Rennie’s job to turn that excitement into results.

Most important player …
Jay DeMerit. Suddenly (or so it seems)
32 years old, DeMerit is rising and shining a few steps lower on the soccer totem pole than in his English heyday. But he’s still a great, physical defender, when he’s healthy. His health, his game, and his partnership with potential center back partners Martin Bonjour and Alain Rochat will be absolutely crucial to limiting opposing offenses in 2012. The Whitecaps allowed 55 goals last year, 16th out of 18 MLS teams and almost twice as many as first-place LA. That number will have to go down significantly for them to have any chance in this year’s stacked Western Conference.

Under the radar …
Jun Marques Davidson. I originally had Gershon Koffie here, but the word on the street is that the unheralded Japanese-American Davidson has a chance to start in the defensive midfield spot. I can’t even pronounce his first names yet, but simple research tells us that Davidson spent most of his career in the J. League’s second division. He played for Rennie with the Carolina RailHawks in 2010, which led to his arrival in Vancouver. A tough ball-winner with enough skill, Davidson (or Koffie, or even John Thorrington when healthy) could wind up being the only player in Vancouver’s front six who really likes to defend. Whichever player starts, he’ll have to defend, because the other five midfielders/forwards will be bombing forward.

On trial …
The Whitecaps have 26 players signed, and a 27th – Scottish midfielder Barry Robson, a designated player – arriving in July. So there are only a few spots available. Former NASL standout Etienne Barbara is a favorite of Martin Rennie, but he’s been out with an adductor strain, and the Whitecaps are already loaded at forward. Rookie Greg Klazura appears to be the only outside back still looking for a spot, with second-year man Bilal Duckett hoping to get a new contract. Three Whitecaps Residency players are also on the trip, including forward Caleb Clarke, a 1993 birthday, who has 16 goals in 15 games in USSF Development Academy play this year.

Friday, February 24, 5 p.m. PT, Vancouver vs. Montreal Impact
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)
Sunday, February 26, 10 a.m. PT, Vancouver vs. Houston Dynamo
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)
Wednesday, February 29, 3 p.m. PT, Vancouver vs. Sporting KC
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
MLS Opener: Saturday, March 10, 3 p.m. PT, Vancouver vs. Montreal
(BC Place)

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