2012 Vancouver Whitecaps Preview: Sky's The Limit, But Hardly Guaranteed

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 19: Eric Hassli #29 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrates his goal and the Whitecaps first inaugural goal against the Toronto FC during their match March 19, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

The Whitecaps underwent some serious changes during their first MLS offseason, but it's still an open question how well it will come together in 2012.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2011 record (finish): 6-18-10, 9th West, 18th MLS

Key additions: LB/RB Lee Young-pyo, CB Martin Bonjour, MF Barry Robson, MF Matt Watson, MF Jun Marques Davidson, FW Sebastien Le Toux, FW Darren Mattocks

Key losses: GK Jay Nolly, MF Shea Salinas, MF Peter Vagenas, MF Nizar Khalfan

Projected starting XI:
Cannon
Rochat - DeMerit - Bonjour - Lee
Camilo - Davidson - Koffie - Harris
Mattocks - Hassli

Bold prediction: The Whitecaps will be consistently a tier below MLS's top teams but will still be the league's most improved side in 2012, mounting a convincing playoff charge and winning the Canadian championship.

Biggest fear: That the use of decent veteran depth players like Matt Watson, Jun Marques Davidson, and Atiba Harris could crowd out some of Vancouver's exciting young talent in the forms of Russell Teibert, Bryce Alderson, and Gershon Koffie, leading to little improvement for 2013.

What are the Vancouver Whitecaps going to bring in 2012? Well, if I could promise an answer to that I'd quit blogging and start guessing lottery numbers.

The Whitecaps have a bright new coach of limitless potential in Martin Rennie. There are an exciting array of new players, a few of whom are quality prospects and the rest proven factors in good professional leagues. There are few big names (aside from MLS star Sebastien Le Toux and South Korean legend Lee Young-pyo, of course) but a load of quality players at every position bolstered by a couple real game-changers. On paper it can look awfully formidable: a lineup capable of withstanding fatigue and injuries and throwing punches with anybody. Why not go from Wooden Spoon to MLS Cup?

Then again, many of those experienced professionals come from the NASL and not every player, however talented, can make the transition successfully. Question marks abound, again, at every position. Is Joe Cannon a little old and injury-prone? Is Martin Bonjour just Greg Janicki with an import tag? Can Jay DeMerit keep it together for an entire season? Did we see the real Eric Hassli in the first half of last year when he scored like hell and terrorized the league, or in the second half when he played 60 isolated minutes before being mercy-killed? Can Davide Chiumiento play consistent professional soccer, can Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks play professional soccer period... not a lot would have to go wrong for this team to start warming up another top-two draft pick.

It may average out to a decent run at a playoff spot. Rennie's had his doubters every time he's stepped up a notch but he hasn't coached a bad team yet. His formula hasn't changed much: at every stop he's brought in players he's familiar with, kept those capable of playing at a new level and discarded the ones who aren't without much ceremony. His more cerebral and psychological approach to coaching seems to appeal to the players. It's hard not to be optimistic as a fan, but reviewing the roster with a jaded eye reasons for cynicism leap out.

This is MLS. No team is perfect. But almost all of them have more known quantities on their roster and in their organization than the Whitecaps do. This season could go so many ways it's almost intimidating.

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