Competitive groupings in the Vancouver Whitecaps squad

February 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Posted in Whitecaps Season 2012 | 13 Comments

Every manager will tell you what makes for a good football squad:  while the individual skill of each player is key, it is important for each player to be fighting for his position with other competitive rivals.  Martin Rennie is trying to build such a squad.  Lets look at some of the competitive grouping and the ranking of each player.  I enclose my predictions on which players will be fighting it out for certain positions.

Goalkeeper:  Joe Cannon is presumptive number one, Brad Knighton number two,  young keeper Brian Sylvestre is third.  The Joker in this pack is Sylvestre, who undoubtedly has the potential to one day be the number one keeper for the Whitecaps and the United States national team.  If Cannon is injured, and Knighton has a bad match as a deputy, Sylvestre is there ready to pounce.  Cannon and Knighton should worry, because if Sylvestre plays very well,  Cannon and Knighton might never play a first team game for the Whitecaps again. Sylvestre might be the next Iker Casillas, capable of playing first team football while still a teenager.   This possible outcome should keep an aging Joe Cannon sharp and hungry to keep his spot.

Defensive Line

Center back stoppers:  Jay DeMeritt plays the role of hard man/destroyer, breaking up opposition plays with his bone-crunching tackles.   DeMeritt is completely committed,  tough and big. His deputy is Michael Boxall, who is a similar kind of player.  They played together a number of times last year but the weakness was that while they could both win the ball with a vengence, they could not play it well out of the back effectively.  These two will from here on in be paired with:

Centre back sweepers: Martin Bonjour is the number one in this spot.  He can win the ball and his ball skills should provide for some good passes out of the back, which is crucial to start effective counter attacks.  Carlyle Mitchell in number two in this spot.  He demonstrated he could defend and play the ball out of the back, but I don’t believe his ball skills are on the level of Bonjour’s.

Right Back:  I expect YP Lee to start in this spot, even though his best foot is his left.  Last year this was a problem spot for the Whitecaps as both right fullbacks, Leathers and Brovsky, were considered surplus to requirements after last season.  The Whitecaps look thin at this position, and it is not clear who will be pushing Lee for his spot.  One possibility is that John Thorrington backs up Lee. Bilal Duckett is back training with the Whitecaps, but I don’t expect him to make the squad.   In fact, when you look at our squad, we are light on defenders, period.

Left back:  Alain Rochat is number one, with Jordan Harvey putting him under pressure as number two.  While Harvey slipped forward to left midfield for a while at the end of last year, I don’t believe he will be doing so this year, given that the left side of midfield may be taken up by surplus members of our huge striker complement.


Holding/defensive central midfielders:  I feel Gershon Koffie has got to be number one in this spot, having gained lots of first team MLS experience last year.  Jun Marques Davidson will him challenge for it.  Koffie was superb last year in winning and keeping the ball, but he is a complete bust at making good passes going forward.  With a large number of minutes, Koffie managed only one goal and no assists. He gave the ball away a couple of times as well, but experience will have taught him a lesson in this regard.  Davidson’s offensive output in his career has also been basically nil.  The best either of these two can do is to give the ball to someone who can do something with it after they have won the ball.  If Koffie could only work on making creative passes he would be fantastic.

Creative/offensive central midfielders: Davide Chiumiento, John Thorrington, Matt Watson, and Micheal Nanchoff will fight it out for this position.  Davide Chiumiento and John Thorrington have to be the favorites.  In terms of talent and creativity, Chiumiento wins, but will he be fit, will he defend, and will his attitude be right?  Thorrington had a terrible time with injuries in 2011, but if he can stay fit he might just push Chiumiento to the bench.  If Rennie wants some size and offence, Matt Watson has proven he can score goals and provide them in USL division 2.  Watson will also commit himself to defend, and will be able to frighten members of opposite teams who will laugh at the likes of Chiumiento and Thorrington.  Watson might well be suited for the rough and physical MLS, being a big, heavy muscular guy.  Nanchoff adds dimension because of his left foot.  I don’t believe he has fine skills like Thorrington and Chiumiento, however.

My feeling is that this position is our weakest spot and that the Whitecaps need to bring in a better creative midfielder.

The joker in this central midfield pack might just be 17 year old Bryce Alderson who looks fantastic in available game footage.  I expect we will see him get a few games in as a substitute where the Whitecaps are sure they are going to win or lose.  Look for him to be introduced in the 80th minute if we are up 3-0 or down 0-3 early on in the season.  Alderson has the ability to shock us all and steal a starting midfielder’s spot before the season is over.  Alderson looks as though he can play both offensively and defensively.  In my view he is our most exciting prospect for the future.

Left side Midfield: Look for Russell Teibert, who is fit again, to rebound from an injury riddled 2011.  Coach Rennie has had a lot of praise for him, and rates him highly.  Teibert is now possibly the fittest guy on the Whitecaps, having won the “beep” test in training camp.  Teibert may have to compete with Camilo for this spot, as up front is crowded with big Frenchmen.  Rennie may want Camilo to attack from the flanks from midfield a bit like Messi does for Barcelona.  Camilo is the best dribbler on our team and the best at drawing fouls as well.  If this scenario does not work and Camilo starts up front paired with Hassli with Le Toux on right wing, Jordan Harvey may fight with Teibert for the spot, since he did well last year as a left sided midfielder in the latter part of the season.

Right side Midfield:  I believe Le Toux will start in this position.  Hassli and Camilo both did enough last season to earn starting spots up front and I expect Le Toux to play provider at the beginning of the season.  If Hassli or Camilo misfire, Le Toux may move to the middle up front.  Camilo may then start on the right side of midfield in a similar role as described above.  Camilo is good with both his feet so he can play on either wing.

Strikers:  This is where it gets really complicated!  I rate our strikers in the following groupings:  top group: Camilo, Le Toux, Hassli, Harris;  second group: Barbara, Tan, Salgado, Mattocks.   I expect Camilo and Hassli to start up front and Le Toux to start the season as a right sided midfielder, which may promote either Salgado (if he demonstrates he has made major improvements over last year) or Barbara to  the top four.  A fit Atiba Harris will keep Hassli honest up front, and may be played in a midfield role as he has been know to do in the past.

Look for some trades from our large stable of strikers.  Will Salgado tire of playing reserve matches for the Whitecaps and look to go overseas?  Will another team less flush with strikers see the potential in Long Tan?  There is just not enough room for all of these guys!

Unknowns:  Lee Nguyen has shown good skills in re-season, but he is too small to start in the very big and physical MLS.  I expect Rennie to try to use him late in games as a game-changing substitute when he needs to gamble.  At that point in the game the big boys on the other side will be tired and the nimble Nguyen might make an impact.  Is he our supersub?  Lets hope so.

All in all the Whitecaps squad looks deeper, stronger and more balanced than last years squad by far.  Rennie has lots of options and combinations up front on a team flush with offensive talent.   There is good competition in most spots on the squad. For me the question still remains: do we have the creativity and talent in central midfield to get the ball to all of these undoubtedly talented offensive players?  I have my doubts,  and my hope is the Whitecaps will sign a quality central midfielder before the 2012 season starts.  While we have a very strong starting defensive line-up, we look a bit light on defenders, should one of our starters get injured.   We need to sign one of these as well.

Get the checkbook out!



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  1. I definitely agree with your analysis concerning the back line — we need more quality depth there — just having a body to fill in there is not going to be good enough.

    Now if we can only find a way to clone Charlie Adam or Hartem Ben Arfa we’ll be set in midfield!

  2. Wouldn’t that be great! I would love to see either. Thanks RR.

  3. Adam Moffatt for our midfield, anyone? I agree with most of your points but I think you are way off suggesting that we get rid of any of our forwards (except for Long Tan who is conspicuous by the lack of comments regarding his performances). If one or more of the forwards need to be moved it makes much, much more sense for the Caps to make a loan rather than just discard a player. This is particularly important for the younger players (e.g., Salgado) who is mostly potential. They wouldn’t get much for him now but once he is seasoned and a proven quantity his value grows exponentially. My prediction is that mid-way through the season we will get hit with injuries and everyone will say “Thanks goodness we have all of the strikes to plug the holes.”

    • Fully agree with observation about Salgado, and the loan angle. Tan may indeed be the odd man out in all of this — not that he hasn’t acquitted himself well, in fact his play was a bit of an eye-opener toward the end of last season.

      I’m not so sure we’ll be injury plagued up front, but our mids tend to be on the flyweight side and 3/4 of our back line had VGH loyalty cards last year.

      Going off topic a little now, but kinda ironic that the DTES looks to be getting a turf field (albeit temporary), but WCFC can’t get their waterfront one!

  4. Keeper: Cannon followed by the other two.

    RB: Lee
    LB: Rochat

    The question is, can Harvey deputise for both sides?

    LW: Tiebert.
    RW: Harris.

    Forward: Hassli, Camilo, LeToux.

    Barbara, Long, Salgado, Mattocks have their work cut out to get minutes in the above “wing” positions, and the formation has to shift to allow for Chiumiento when he plays. It’s interesting.

  5. Bryan Sylvestre is still suffering from a knee injury and didn’t make the trip to casa grande. for the moment you choices as the third goalkeeper are supplemental pick Andrew Fontien or residency prospect Callum Irving…

    Sylvestre should get well soon!

    this is nit picking a bit but what about our trialists?
    Greg Klazura and Chris Estridge didn’t get mentioned at all and they will likly be providing cover in the wing back spots.
    also not mentioned were Scottish preimier league lifer (and product of arsenals youth academy) patrick cregg, and Floyd Franks one of Rennies boys from Carolina and Cleavland. Both of these players are central midfielders

    however theirs not much mention of them so I’ll give you the benifit of the doubt

    • I only considered players who have actually been signed to an MLS contract.

      • From all reports it sounds like Greg Klazura has some real talent but he is not quite ready for prime time just yet. I haven’t heard a word about Chris Estridge, Patrick Cregg, Floyd Franks, or Long Tan for the duration of the training camp; is that a good thing or a bad thing? I am really starting to wonder about Long Tan. We have hear how everyone from last year’s lineup is doing in camp except for Long Tan.

  6. This article is embarasssing. First off, have you been to training? Sylvestre is hurt and Cannon and Knighton should be able to make it through a first season.

    DeMerit (yes, I spelled his name correctly unlike you) has come back healthier and stronger and has played in a World Cup than qualified to take control of the back line. From what we saw of Mitchell last season, he has the ability to add a little grit to the line-up. Bonjour is an unknown, but from what he has shown in training, he will be a quality player in MLS.

    As for the left and right backs, left is fine with Rochat and Harvey and Harvey can play both sides plus Klazura has been solid in camp according to Rennie himself. Lee will be impressive on the back line.

    Do you honestly believe that Le toux will play at right midfield? The man is a forward, and an active one at that. He has proven he can score goals in MLS by playing up front, why would you change that? That is complete craziness. Rennie has spoken all off-season about how much he likes Harris in midfield and thinks he can play there. Has he been lying to us for 6 months?

    Le Toux and Hassli will start up front, Camilo will rotate up front and on the left.

    I can’t even continue because I’m so disgusted with this post.

    • David,quit the angry pills and calm down. This is only speculation, and it’s fun really.

    • And *someone* doesn’t know the difference between “then” and “than”. Point is, nobody’s perfect — if you can look past the perceived shortcomings, and try to frame things in a positive fashion, you might enjoy life a little more.

  7. So far, from training reports and match line-ups, it looks like Davidson is ahead of Koffie in the DM role.

    • I tend to agree with you, Brenton. I think I am a bit biased towards Koffie because he is a throwback to the Swangard years. He is still young and I suppose Davidson has many more years of competitive experience.

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