Vancouver Whitecaps' mid-season changes hindered MLS club
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It’s been almost a week since the Vancouver Whitecaps sophomore Major League Soccer season came to an end.
And the post-mortem into how the club got off to such a good start but won only once in its final 10 regular season games, just barely securing the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, continues.
The Whitecaps went from the bottom of the Western Conference last season – their first in MLS – to a playoff position this year.
Their 2012 campaign, which produced an impressive 7-4-5 record through the first four months of the regular season, came to an end with a 2-1 loss to the star powered L.A. Galaxy last Thursday in a single-game elimination opening-round playoff match.
The goal of qualifying for the post-season was accomplished, but many questions still linger.
“Well, we finished dead last a year ago, so being a playoff contender and making the playoffs was our ultimate priority,” said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi in a phone interview Tuesday.
“And we were able to do that. We did it in an unorthodox way in that our season was a season of halves. I think we were good in the first half and not so good in the second.
“I’m happy with the fact that we were the first Canadian club to make the playoffs in MLS, but now we’re in a situation where we should be striving to do that every year and ultimately being far more consistent through the course of the regular season.”
So, what caused the Whitecaps to stutter through the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season?
The abundance of high-profile roster moves the club made between the middle of June to the start of August has become the main theory.
Gone were fan favourites Eric Hassli, traded to Toronto FC for a first-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and an international spot through 2013, and Davide Chiumiento, an exceptional playmaker that was transferred to FC Zurich of the Swiss Super League.
Sebastien Le Toux was traded to the New York Red Bulls for Dane Richards, who, not even two months into his tenure with the Vancouver side, announced he will play for the Burnley Football Club of the English League Championship next season.
Brought in as high-priced designated players were Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, before the acquisition of defender Andy O'Brien.
Both Miller and Robson struggled mightily at times, and, as a result, drew the ire of Vancouver fans late in the season. When the Whitecaps were in L.A. for their first-ever playoff game, Miller was on the bench. Fellow striker and rookie Darren Mattocks got the start, and a goal in the third minute.
“I really don’t want to get into specifics on players but there’s no doubt that if we had it all to do again, we probably wouldn’t have made as many changes as we did,” said Lenarduzzi.
“In pre-season, there was a lot of attention to detail that went into what he wanted from certain positions … and so when you make as many changes as we did, you can’t reproduce that in the middle of the season.
“I think what was highlighted was we just didn’t have the same chemistry that we did prior to.”