The playoffs are here!
Whitecaps FC kick off the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs in Portland on Sunday for the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, before returning to BC Place for the decisive second leg on Sunday, November 8.
Whether you’re a new fan who wants to learn more or a hardcore supporter needing a refresher, this handy guide will tell you everything you need to know before the big match.
1. The boss
Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson.
The architect of Whitecaps FC’s success is a Welshman named Carl Robinson. This is his second year as head coach of the club. Prior to that, he spent two years as an assistant.
Robinson, who turned 39 earlier this month, is a former professional player himself with over a decade of experience at the top levels in England.
Oh, he also has really nice sweaters and his nickname is “Robbo.”
2. Key players
Goalkeeper: David Ousted
This is a no-brainer.
Ousted, who joined the team from his native Denmark in the summer of 2013, has quickly played himself into the conversation as the best goalkeeper in the league.
The 30-year-old finished the season with 16 wins, 13 clean sheets, and a league-leading three penalty saves. Ousted, who has been wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Pedro Morales (hamstring), was also an MLS all-star this season. We call him the Great Dane. Because he’s great. And Danish.
Defender: Kendall Waston
The anchor of Vancouver’s back line is no doubt 6-foot-5 centre back Kendall Waston, who joined the team last year from his native Costa Rica. He made an immediate impact.
Last year, he scored the goal that sent the ‘Caps to the playoffs. This year, he was voted as the club’s player of the year. On the pitch, Waston is an intimidating presence. Off the pitch, you can’t wipe the smile off his face.
Some refer to Waston as the “Towering Tico.” Others aptly call him “Big Man.” Take your pick.
Midfielder: Matias Laba
Matias Laba won’t often make the headlines, but you won’t find many players who make a bigger impact on the game.
Laba, a 23-year-old from Argentina, is a defensive midfielder. He’s primarily responsible for shielding the back line, breaking up plays, and getting the ball back up to the attacking-minded players. And he does it quite well. Case in point, Laba led the league in tackles in each of the past two years.
He’s also probably the biggest clown on the team.
Striker: Octavio Rivero
This is Rivero’s first year in Major League Soccer.
The 23-year-old Uruguayan led the team with 10 goals this season. If Rivero can get on a roll, like at the start of the year when he scored five goals in his first six matches, then watch out.
Another thing you should know about Rivero: he works hard. Like, really hard. One of his dreams is to buy a home for his family back in Uruguay.
Don’t forget: Kekuta Manneh and Cristian Techera
These two players are among the most exciting not only on the team – but also in the league.
Manneh was ranked the second best player under the age of 24 in MLS. And Techera, who is only 5-foot-2, was Vancouver’s most productive player down the stretch.
These two will entertain. I promise.
After falling to Toronto FC in their season opener, the ‘Caps won four straight matches and they’ve been near the top of the table ever since. So what were some of the highlights?
Let’s start with the month of June.
It was supposed to be a daunting month for Whitecaps FC since all four of their matches were on the road. It turned out to be the exact opposite.
The ‘Caps, who finished with the best road record in the league, won three of their four matches. Even more impressive, their wins came over defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy (ending their 29-match home unbeaten run), last year’s runner-up New England Revolution, and the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bells.
Not too shabby.
Another big highlight came at the end of August, when Whitecaps FC won their first-ever Amway Canadian Championship (a tournament between Canada’s five professional teams).
September and October weren’t as rosy, but Whitecaps FC made things right in Sunday’s regular season finale by defeating Houston Dynamo 3-0 to cap off the club’s best season since joining Major League Soccer in 2011.
4. Strong on D
No team conceded fewer goals than Whitecaps FC this season (36).
They say “defence wins championships.” Well, if that’s the case, we should be in for a fun ride.
The kids can play
Whitecaps FC have the youngest team in MLS. They also don’t have a big name superstar – unlike many other teams in the league. Clearly, it’s a philosophy that has worked so far. Robinson believes in his young players. They have gotten him to this point. Now, the question is: how far can the young ‘Caps go?
This is the first time that all three Canadian teams qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Montreal Impact beat Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round, which means there will be two Canadian teams in the conference semifinals. Will this be Canada’s year?
Injuries have been a challenge as of late. Captain Pedro Morales, attacking midfielders Nicolas Mezquida and Mauro Rosales, winger Cristian Techera, and centre back Pa-Modou Kah have all missed time the last few weeks because of them. Mezquida, Rosales, and Techera were each involved in Vancouver’s regular season finale (Techera started, Rosales was subbed on, and Mezquida was on the bench), so you’d have to think they’re ready to go – or close to it.
The biggest question is: how close is Morales to making a return? Can this team make a lengthy run without the maestro?
The Whitecaps franchise (named after Vancouver’s whitecaps on the ocean and mountains) has been around since 1974. Last year, the club celebrated their 40th anniversary. People dressed up and busted out some ‘70s moves. It was a par-tay.
The most memorable moment in Whitecaps history came in 1979. That’s when the ‘Caps upset the heavily-favoured New York Cosmos en route to the NASL Soccer Bowl title. In the process, the ‘Caps became the city’s first pro sports team to win a major North American championship.
Upon return to Vancouver, as many as 100,000 people lined Robson Street during a championship parade.
Vancouver’s Soccer Bowl title came five years after the ‘Caps joined NASL.
Interestingly, this is the club’s fifth season in Major League Soccer. They made the playoffs last year and in 2012. But this is the first time they’ll be hosting a playoff game.
The rest has yet to be written.