Monday, November 12, 2012

Vancouver Whitecaps 2012 Major League Soccer season is now over.

Last year the Caps were the worst side in MLS, well adrift from most teams in the League, and in particular from their Cascadian rivals in Seattle and Portland.

34 games played, just six wins (none of them away from home), ten draws and a whopping eighteen losses, for final points total of 28 and rock bottom was last year's scorecard.

It was a hard season to watch.

But what a difference a year makes - and of course, a Scottish manager. It's in our breeding!

As we've mentioned before, Vancouver has two Scots in charge - manager Martin Rennie and assistant coach, Fifer, Paul Ritchie. And they've done an amazing job, on the whole, turning the team around.

If we were to give them an overall rating for the season, you're looking at a B minus.

They overhauled the squad twice. Once in the close season, as everyone expected, and once midway through the season, which baffled everyone at the time and still does.

This season, they've take the Whitecaps from dead last to fifth in Western Conference, becoming the first Canadian side in the history of MLS to make the playoffs.

It was a short lived playoff run as they faced one of the hardest playoff games they could have got, going head to head with a star studded LA Galaxy side in California in a straight knockout cup tie.

Vancouver went in as huge underdogs, against a LA side that had only failed to score in one home game all season.

It ended up as everyone expected for the Whitecaps, one game and out, but not before they shocked LA, and all of MLS, by taking the lead just three minutes in.

They went on to lose 2-1 after a nightmare three minute spell for them towards the end of the match, as they tried to park the bus and defend with nine men behind the ball for the remaining 87 minutes.

Maybe Craig Levein has a future in North America.

The Whitecaps also set the MLS record for the longest clean sheet streak to start a season, going 427 minutes without conceding a goal. Some difference from the team that had the third worst goals against record in MLS in 2011 with 55 goals.

That was the good news. The bad news was that after Rennie midseason overhaul, the team struggled like mad and scraped into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth at the end.

The Caps put the old adage of "it's not how you start, it's how you finish" to bed by logging 67% of their points total in the first half of the season. 29 points from those 17 games. 14 from the rest.

They ended up with a four point cushion, but that was more due to Dallas imploding rather than them finding their early season form.

And a lot of the blame was being firmly laid at the manager's strange dismantling of a winning team and the 'Scottish connection'.

The dismantling was bizarre. With the team not just challenging for the playoffs, but a high seeding and possibly even a Conference title, three of Vancouver's top players, and fan favourites, were moved on.

Davide Chiumiento, a Swiss midfielder with flair and some crazy skills, was transferred to FC Zurich. Frenchman Eric Hassli was moved on to Toronto and his countryman, Sebastien Le Toux, to New York, despite only joining the side in February.

Between them the three players had scored six goals and had ten assists (a huge stat to people over here), and the heart of the team was ripped out, along with some close team chemistry and most of the attacking threat. I'm not sure that people will ever really find out why.

Again, as we've mentioned before in these pages, Vancouver has gone Scotland crazy and it's not just in a managerial capacity, with Barry Robson and Kenny Miller heading over the Atlantic to become highly paid 'Designated Players' (marquee players if you'd like) and to replace the guys that had moved on.

They've both struggled, as has Kris Boyd at Portland. MLS seems to be a League that many UK players struggle to adapt to. It took both David Beckham and Robbie Keane time to settle in at LA.

The Scots have underperformed and with the DP tag and the fact that in a League with an open salary policy, everyone and their dog knows just how much money they're earning ($1.24 million for Miller and $596,499 for Robson), the fans have been on their back.

They've been on their case for everything from not scoring goals, bringing disharmony to the dressing room, replacing fan favourites and, in Robson's case, being whiny and waving his arms around like one of those weird wind men things you find outside car dealerships. There's also been rumour of dressing room disagreements with some of the other top players.

Is it fair to say they've flopped? Yes and no.

Both have contributed to the team, but in the eyes of the fans and the media, nowhere near enough for the money they're commanding.

Robson has played 17 games, scoring three goals and contributing two assists. Ironically, that makes him the team's fourth top scorer, as they've struggled to find the net all that often.

Miller has played 13 games (five of them as a sub), scoring just twice and contributing one assist.

Their performances were getting so much criticism that both of them were dropped to the bench for the last game of the regular season.

Robson regained his starting spot for the playoff game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, but Miller had to be content with being on the bench again. Except he wasn't.

He made it clear that this was a different role for him. Not one that he is used to. And it seemed not one that he was particularly happy about.

With the money he is on, it's also not a situation that Vancouver can continue with.

Miller didn't help his cause by having a great chance to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead in the playoff game against LA, but with the empty goal gaping, he failed to even get his shot on target from ten yards out.

For many, myself included, that was the final straw and he needs to head back to the UK pronto.

Robson may get a reprieve, but the jury is still out on him.

At least one UK ex-pat did come into Vancouver amongst in the summer amongst all the reshuffling and do well.

Former Ireland international Andy O'Brien has come to Vancouver and excelled, immediately making himself one of the starting centrehalfs.

So that was the tale of Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012 and their band of Scots.

With the club now going through their end of season evaluations to see who will be kept on, they will soon break off until pre-season training recommences in January.

If they Scots management team decided to focus on some more UK players, let's hope there's more O'Briens and less Millers.

Poor old Kenny Miller. No-one seems to want him to start these days.

A footballers time in the limelight and glory days are indeed a short one.


[You can read all about Vancouver Whitecaps daily on AFTN's Canadian website at: www.aftn.ca]

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