The new face of the Whitecaps

A quick look at the Vancouver roster reveals players in distinct categories: players formerly of D2, players hired in 2010 in preparation of 2011, players recruited from other MLS teams, as well as big-name players who were the focus of the transition.

Even if the face of the team has changed quite a bit, a number of elements remain from the last few seasons in the American second division. Starting goalkeeper Jay Nolly, right-back Wes Knight and offensive midfielder Nizar Khalfan have anchored this team since 2009. They’ve participated in six of the club’s seven MLS matches thus far.

A number of players acquired by Vancouver in 2010 are still with the club today, including central defender Greg Janicki, left-back Blake Wagner and Canadian international Terry Dunfield. Some of those players were transferred to the club with the transition to MLS on the horizon, a successful strategy that has been adopted by the Impact.

Ghanaian midfielder Gershon Koffie (arrived from Denmark last September), central defender Mouloud Akloul (who we’ve barely seen since he was seriously injured in early 2010) and creative midfielder Davide Chiumiento (arrived from Switzerland last August) are the best examples. So far, Chiumiento is the Vancouver player who has garnered the most attention for his impressive MLS debut. He’s collected five assists on the 10 goals scored by his team.

We can add the name of Alain Rochat to that list, a former Swiss international and native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Acquired last year, Rochat didn’t play any matches for the Whitecaps in 2010 because he was loaned to FC Zurich for the rest of the season. This year, he’s the only Whitecaps member to play every minute of the team’s seven MLS matches.

Vancouver is also developing young players and a few of them are on the team, such as Russel Teibert, who did particularly well versus Toronto FC in the season opening match. Quebec’s Philippe Davies is also on the squad but has yet to see any time on the pitch. Of the 16 players who suited up for Vancouver against Montreal on September 24, seven are still under contract with the club today.

Aside from the traditional scouting methods being used around the world, Major League Soccer offers its teams additional ways to find talent. In fact, each new club is allowed to select a few players directly from the competition. That, of course, is done under strict league regulations (it wouldn’t have been possible for the Whitecaps to pick the best players from each team). Remember that in MLS, players are under contract with the league and not with their club. The Whitecaps took advantage of their opportunities to bolster their lineup with goalkeeper Joe Cannon (San Jose), forward Atiba Harris (Dallas), defender Jonathan Leathers (Kansas City) and midfielder John Thorrington (Chicago).

Every year, MLS teams are also given the chance to select players from American universities (NCAA). The Whitecaps grabbed midfielder Jeff Brovsky and defender Michael Boxall, who have already made their presence felt. We can soon expect to say the same for forward Omar Salgado, whose debut has been delayed due to administrative reasons. Not yet 18 years old, he is already a U20 international for the United States. The 6’3 Salgado trained in Vancouver in 2010, before spending about 10 days with English club Everton.

All of these elements allowed the Whitecaps to form the base of their club for this season, leaving only a few open spots on an already solid roster. Vancouver acquired five more players to complete the squad. Aside from Long Tan, acquired from Tampa Bay (D2), those additional players came with notable credentials.

Among them, new captain and American international Jay DeMerit, who captained the U.S. squad in its four matches at last year’s World Cup. The centre-back had been playing with Watford in England since 2004. The Whitecaps also reinforced their roster with Canadian Kevin Harmse, who spent the last three seasons in MLS. He returns to the club that originally drafted him in 2003 (USL-1).

The most notable additions to the Whitecaps roster are up front. French forward Eric Hassli (6’3, 200 pounds), a former teammate of Rochat at FC Zurich, adds plenty of size and skill at the forward position. At his side, Brazilian Camilo, good with both feet, has experience in South Korea and Malta (where he was the top goal scorer in 2010). Hassli and Camilo have each scored three goals this season.

The group is managed by Teitur Thordarsson, an Icelander who has been with the Whitecaps since the start of the 2008 season. Even if he hasn’t really changed the style he employed in D2, the statistics are dramatically different. Last season, the Whitecaps didn’t score many goals, but didn’t surrender many goals either. This season, the offensive abilities of Chiumiento, Harris, Hassli and Camilo are on display. The forwards are even committing more fouls than the defenders, which is quite rare.

The Whitecaps may sit 15th (out of 18 teams) in the current Major League Soccer standings, but with 10 goals scored, they possess the league’s most potent offense. That being said, the club has surrendered a league-worst 12 goals. Those statistics are representative of the way this team plays and so far, each game has been a feast for the eyes.

Matthias Van Halst, Impact Media