The Vancouver Whitecaps set what seemed like a new standard last season as the most-attractive-to-watch yet least successful expansion franchise in Major League Soccer history.
They played a skillful, free-flowing style that created lots of chances—unfortunately, too many of those chances were in front of their own net. They conceded 55 goals and finished dead last in the Western Conference. But they were fun to watch.
During the offseason, center back Jay DeMerit returned to health, and the club acquired veteran South Korean wingback Y.P. Lee and Argentine center back Martin Bonjour, along with French attacker Sebastian Le Toux, who led Philadelphia in scoring last season.
With their defense shored up, and more skill in the attacking third, they got off to a great start this season.
But Whitecaps brass, which includes Scottish head coach Martin Rennie, were curiously unsatisfied, and have kept on tinkering with their roster.
Soon after the arrival of Scottish midfielder Barry Robson in mid-June (on a free transfer arranged in January), the team jettisoned Swiss playmaker Davide Chiumiento, arguably the most skillful player on the roster, Le Toux, and the big (but skillful) French striker Eric Hassli—all within one week.
Around the same time Vancouver brought in Scottish striker (and national team captain) Kenny Miller, Jamaican winger Dane Richards, and Irish defender Andy O’Brien.
O’Brien is not Scottish, but Ireland is close enough, ethnically and in their soccer, to Scotland to justify the following tweet from MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle after a recent Vancouver loss:
“The Whitecaps may have lost, but I still think they’re favorites for the Scottish Premier League title this season.”
With Miller, Robson and O’Brien down the spine, the Whitecaps have become stodgier—and more physical: Their recent 2-0 loss to Dallas featured 41 fouls and nine yellow cards, six of them shown to Vancouver players.
Gone is the silky combination play between Chiumiento, Camilo, and Hassli that made them such an entertaining side.
Sure, Chiumiento was not exactly a defense-first kind of guy, and the team left itself too wide open last season, but the offseason acquisitions addressed that problem, to a T. Now, they’ve fallen off the other side of the horse.
And judging by the results, the problem is not limited to style: the Whitecaps are 2-5-2 in their last nine games.