As a team coming off a third place finish in 2015, Vancouver was expected to compete for the top of the Western Conference in 2016 but instead finished third from bottom. Their Expected Goal differential was worst in the league, indicating that the year could’ve been even more miserable. The team lacked a reliable forward and went long stretches without a goal. Kekuta Manneh’s season ended on July 9th with a foot injury. Captain Pedro Morales was roundly criticized for poor performance and a lack of leadership with the locker room divided between Latinos and non-Latinos.
Octavio Rivero returned to South America in the summer, so Vancouver sent some GAM to Houston for Giles Barnes. Barnes didn’t score for the Whitecaps until the final game of the season. The team attempted to sell him back to Owen Coyle at Blackburn, but the deal didn’t go through. Does Barnes even want to be in Vancouver?
Masato Kudo was shipped back to Japan after failing to adapt to MLS. Yordy Reyna, a 23-year-old Peruvian striker, arrives after scoring 14 goals in 41 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga over the last four years.
Sheanon Williams will shore up right back, which was a sore spot last year.
David Ousted returns in goal. Jordan Harvey is quietly one of the better left backs in the league. Kendall Waston will anchor the backline, with Christian Dean returning from nearly two years of injury to battle Tim Parker for the other center back slot. Williams hopes to be the consistent right back that was missing.
Matias Laba will hold down the central midfield with Andrew Jacobson or Nicolas Mezquida. Manneh flies up and down the left flank. Christian Bolanos was perhaps the top performer on the team last season at right wing. Reyna and Barnes will interchange at forward and attacking mid, as both prefer to float underneath and neither is truly a line-leading number nine.
Expected Vancouver Lineup
I turned to British Columbia resident and Whitecaps expert @ for her take (and for her help throughout this article). She highlighted the main problem last year as the void in leadership. With a proper right back, a healthy Manneh, and a united locker room, she’s optimistic that the team can finish several places higher and contend for the playoffs.
I’m not convinced. The team is clearly lacking a true striker and a true playmaker. Carl Robinson confusingly stated, “We’re always looking to strengthen. One-hundred per cent will I add? Probably.” That is a man under considerable pressure after last year. Vancouver has been attempting to sign a DP attacker but the deals keep falling through.
Is Manneh ready to make a jump to a full year at his highest level? It doesn’t seem like Barnes wants to be there, and I doubt his motivation.
Waston suspended for the opening game due to a red card, so Dean is almost guaranteed to start at home versus Philly in Round 1 at a measly $4.5. It’s not clear whether Dean will have a spot after R1, but you can buy into the Vancouver backline with Harvey, Parker, and Williams all at an affordable $5.0.
Reyna and Bolanos appear overpriced at $8.5. Manneh is $8.0, which is fine if he can put it all together this year. Barnes is reasonable at $7.5 but cannot be trusted.
Alphonso Davies is in the game as a $4.5 defender but has been seeing time in midfield this preseason. However, this was before Reyna arrived with the team and while Barnes was out due to injury. Marco Bustos is a $5.0 midfielder that is a breakout candidate. Mezquida can bring a spark to the game for $6.5 but is a question mark. If any of these three can get consistent playing time, they will be worth your consideration.
With their locker room woes behind them, are the Whitecaps ready to take a leap up the table? Or will their lack of a true goalscoring striker and a playmaking attacking midfielder continue to bite them? Ultimately, I believe their instability will keep them out of the playoffs. The backline is worth a $5.0 investment at times. Dean is an especially smart play for Round 1 at home against Philly. Will any of the attackers be worth your dollars? Perhaps Manneh will be playable at $8.0 if he can stay healthy and finally hit his potential.