After a woeful 2016 campaign, the Vancouver Whitecaps managed to right the ship in 2017. They made a deep dive into the CONCACAF Champions League and finished 3rd in the Western Conference. Largely on the back of a seven game unbeaten stretch that lasted from late August into late September, the Caps made the playoffs and registered their first ever postseason victory in the form of a 5-0 drubbing of the San Jose Earthquakes. Their playoff success was short-lived, though, as they soon fell to the eventual Western Conference champion Seattle Sounders FC. Following a busy off-season, this newly retooled Vancouver side has MLS playoff success in mind and are more than capable of just that.
Off-season Grade: B+
Since losing their top goalkeeper David Ousted, their Great Dane, the Whitecaps went on a spree adding some quality starting XI caliber players to not only bolster their attack but also their back line. The addition of Kei Kamara up top gives the Whitecaps attack a much needed shot in the arm. His signing goes a long way in improving the team’s aerial abilities on set pieces, possibly making Vancouver one of the deadliest set piece teams in MLS. Imagine being a keeper and watching as Kei Kamara, Kendall Waston, Tony Tchani, Tim Parker, and returning Canadian international and former Toronto FC central defender Doneil Henry line up at the edge of the box for every corner and free kick. Scary good.
The Whitecaps also added Venezuelan international striker Anthony Blondell to share the load up top with Kei, Mexican international and 2010 World Cup participant Efrain Juarez from Monterrey of Liga MX, and Aly Ghazal, an Egyptian international from Portuguese side CD Nacional. These additions bolster an already strong and crowded midfield that features Canadian star in the making Alphonso Davies, Yordy Reyna, Cristian Techera, Tony Tchani and Nicolas Mezquida. Most recently, they signed MLS veteran RB Sean Franklin who adds a bit more depth on the backline the Whitecaps will need to navigate a busy MLS season. All things told, the Whitecaps made some pretty massive improvements and will challenge for tops in the West should they be able to find team chemistry and stay healthy.
Key Player: Kei Kamara
Vancouver has not had a prolific goal scorer since Camilo Sanvezzo. In Kei Kamara, they have added one of the top producing strikers in MLS over the last eight years, and there’s still plenty left in his tank. Since 2010, Kei has scored 83 times for SKC, Crew SC and the Revs. The 2015 season saw Kamara’s best performance as he buried 22 goals making him the runner up for both the league MVP and Golden Boot. After what seemed like two subpar seasons by comparison in New England where Kei had two consecutive 12 goal seasons, Kei will hope to see those numbers climb closer to his 2015 output as the focal point of Vancouver’s attack.
An honourable mention goes out to Alphonso Davies who, at 17 years of age, is not only the Whitecaps’ most promising player, but also one of Canada’s. After an incredible showing at the Gold Cup where he took home the Golden Boot, Davies also showed well during the Caps’ CONCACAF Champions League run, scoring two goals and adding an assist, making him the youngest goal scorer in both tournaments. For as much attention as his tournament and international play has garnered, Davies’ has yet to score a goal for the Whitecaps in MLS league play. That is going to have to change in 2018.
2018 Best Case Scenario: Top 3 finish in the Western Conference
The Whitecaps have retooled and improved, but so has most of the rest of the Western Conference. After finishing just one point behind Portland and Seattle who were tied for first in the conference last season, Coach Carl Robinson will hope the additions he made will be enough to at the very least maintain their spot near the top of the table. But with a vastly improved LA Galaxy and Sporting KC, the Caps will have their work cut out for them.
Bold Prediction: Western Conference Finals appearance
The Whitecaps have never done it. Having made the playoffs four times in their history, they managed their first ever playoff victory last season before being handily defeated at the hands of their Cascadian rivals, Seattle Sounders FC. But 2018 will be different. With an improved talented core, veteran MLS experience, rising stars, players looking to reignite their careers, and plenty of depth, the Whitecaps have the right ingredients to be a top club.