MLS Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

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With the 2014 season approaching and a new coach in charge, the Whitecaps are hoping their new direction brings them new success. What remains to be seen is if the assembled roster can follow suit.

With an overload of defenders but gaps in the midfield, the Whitecaps are still a work in progress, but things appear to be moving in the correct direction. Up at BC Place they are hungry for success and the Southsiders are ready for some silverware to turn up in British Columbia. Thus far there’s been just one playoff appearance for ‘Caps fans to shout about, but this year they could be a dark horse in the race out West.

LATEST 2014 MLS SEASON PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

Players In: Steven Beitashour (trade with San Jose), Matias Laba (trade with Toronto FC), Nicolas Mezquida (transfer from Boston River – Uruguay), Sebastian Fernandez (loan from Boston River – Uruguay), Paolo Tornaghi (free agent), Mehdi Ballouchy (San Jose, Re-Entry Stage 2), Christian Dean (MLS SuperDraft – Cal), Andre Lewis (MLS SuperDraft, New York Cosmos), Mamadou Diouf (MLS SuperDraft – UConn), Michael Kafari (MLS SuperDraft, University of New Mexico), Mackenzie Pridham (MLS SuperDraft, Cal Poly)

Players Out: Camilo Sanvezzo (Transfer to Queretaro FC), Daigo Kobayashi (Traded to New England), Brad Knighton (Traded to New England), Lee Young-Pyo (retired), Greg Klazura (waived), Joe Cannon (waived), Brad Rusin (waived), Tommy Heinemann (waived), Jun Marques Davidson (wavied), Simon Thomas (waived), Corey Hertzog (waived).

source: AP
19-year-old Kekuta Manneh will be an important part of Vancouver’s strike force as they look to replace Camilo.

Key Players: Kenny Miller/Kekuta Manneh

On a roster completely lacking of any particular star power, it will be up to this strike pair to replace the 22 goals and five assists lost when Camilo completed his transfer to the Liga MX.  19-year-old Maneh, according to coach Carl Robinson, will receive “a lot of time and…a lot of opportunities” to ply his trade up front.

The two of them, plus support from Omar Salgado, Darren Mattocks, and the complete unknown in Nicolas Mezquida should be just fine in replacing the Uruguayan superstar.

However, if multiple pieces of this front line break just as they did last year, it will be very difficult for one particular individual to carry the load. Manneh is only 19, Miller is on the other end of the spectrum at 34 years old and remains fragile, the rest at this point are little more than bench options.

The offense should be fine at the beginning of the year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the attack get off to a bang. They’ll need it to, especially with the completely retooled defense behind them still learning to play together. But the biggest question for the offense will be can it hold up through the rigors of a long season.

Manager: With the departure of Martin Renne after last season, the load now falls on Carl Robinson, who is fresh off his 14-year playing career. The club reportedly made a go at Bob Bradley, Frank Yallop, and Jason Kreis, but failed to bring in any big names.  That left them with one option – promote from within.

At just 37 years old, he’s been thrust into the role, promoted from assistant just a year after joining the Whitecaps.  Robinson only finished his playing career in 2011, retiring as a New York Red Bull. Speaking of the Red Bulls, the bar has been set for first-year former players as coaches by Mike Petke in New York, carrying them to the Supporter’s Shield in his first season as a head coach.

With high expectations in Vancouver and the club in the process of picking up last year’s pieces, there is a lot on Robinson’s plate this season.  But that’s usually the case with any first-year coach.

Outlook: The aura surrounding the Whitecaps this year is young. Their coach is young, the drafted players out of college appear to be headed towards a significant role, and the aforementioned Kekuta Manneh is just 19.  The club has retooled quite a bit and as a result they will not be relying heavily on one or two individuals to carry the brunt of the weight.

However, with a defense that has been shuffled completely, including the exciting addition of Cal central defender Christian Dean and the return of Jay DeMerit, it may take a while for the back line to run together effectively and efficiently.  Thanks to that, the attack will need a flying start early to offset a potentially rusty defense learning on the fly.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.

Report: Aubameyang hands in transfer request at Dortmund

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According to German publication Bild, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has handed a transfer request to the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy.

Arsenal is the latest club linked with the Gabonese striker, with reports earlier this month of a deal to send Aubameyang to China. He has reportedly asked to leave Dortmund multiple times this January, and has been turned down thus far, and it’s causing problems. Aubameyang was suspended by the club for one match for missing a meeting last week, a match that ended in a goalless draw with Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

“We had a very heated discussion,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after the suspension was announced. “He hasn’t behaved like this for years, he’s always been very professional. What has happened is very tolerable, there will be some fines, too. It’s not necessary to talk about a transfer, but it’s clear that things can’t continue like this because some important things are in jeopardy, and that there is tension inside the squad.”

The price tag, according to recent reports, would be around $76 million, and he would be purchased with money from the likely outgoing transfer of Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal transfer guru Sven Mislintat is reportedly driving the deal, having signed Aubameyang at Dortmund during his days as a scout from Westfalinstadion. However, there is buzz among the British media that Arsene Wenger is unimpressed by Aubameyang’s recent insubordination and has expressed his concerns.

Emre Can says new Liverpool contract still a possibility

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Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is out of contract this summer, but says he could still sign back on at Anfield despite heavy rumors of his departure.

Still just 24 years old, the German came over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 and has improved in each of his four years at Liverpool, flourishing under Jurgen Klopp as a strong passer and versatile player who can be used in midfield or defense. With that, he has reportedly turned down a number of new contract offers, and Juventus is reportedly in the lead to sign him to a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal should follow Liverpool’s rebuilding example ]

Can is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone from now until the end of the season, but he says that doesn’t mean he will leave.

“My agent is looking after everything but I am here until the summer,” Can said. “I haven’t signed anything with anyone. I am talking with everyone. Of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest. I just concentrate on the scene, on my performance and the football. I will give everything for this team.”

The loss of Philippe Coutinho this winter is an obvious blow to the Reds, but an argument could be made that the loss of Can would hurt just as much if not more, as stout defensive midfielders are hard to come by. However, the arrival of Naby Kieta this summer could ease the blow of the German’s potential departure. Should Can stay, partnering with Keita in midfield could prove masterful as Liverpool looks to continue building towards a title challenge. Currently, Can has paired with Giorgino Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks, and the club is on a five-match win streak that has seen them shoot into third place in the Premier League table.