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.

Pique says Neymar “does not know what to do”

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Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has spoken out about the Neymar saga, stating that he and his fellow teammates are trying to lend their comrade a hand as he looks to sort out his future between Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking ahead of the El Clasico preseason match in Miami, Pique told reporters, “Neymar and I we are very close and I want him to stay and I know the situation. Right now he doesn’t know what to do and we are trying to help him, the ones [on the team] that are more close to him to take the right decision.”

[ MORE: Miazga loaned back to Vitesse ]

Pique was the source of intrigue a five days ago when he posted a Tweet with picture of himself and Neymar and the caption “He stays.” The defender was forced to clarify later saying that his post was only a hopeful prediction of the future rather than a bit of breaking news.

“It depends on what he wants,” Pique said at the pre-match press conference. “He can be in all the clubs in all the world. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or City. All the clubs will want him. It’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money? Do you want to win titles?”

Then, Pique used his knowledge of American sports to make a comparison, perhaps indirectly referencing Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. “It’s happening here and it’s happening in the NBA as well. There are some players that are not earning all the money that they deserve to win titles. So sometimes you have to take decisions in life and it’s all about priorities.”

Meanwhile, club captain Iniesta was also asked about Neymar, and he said he just wants a decision soon. “We [as players] just want peace which will benefit everyone – the players, the club and everything surrounding it.”

Former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol also spoke out about Neymar’s situation, telling Spanish publication Marca that he thinks Neymar should make his decision soon to erase the uncertainty.

Cheers! Czech soccer club shapes dugouts like beer cans

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PRAGUE (AP) Czech club Viktoria Plzen has come up with innovative beer-can shaped dugouts that truly represent the city.

The club from Plzen, or Pilsen in English, is known as the Czech capital of beer which gave the world the golden “pilsner” lager in 1842.

This week, it unveiled the new dugouts at its Doosan Arena that look exactly like beer cans.

Plzen manager general Adolf Sadek said it was a joint idea from the club and the nearby Gambrinus brewery.

“Such dugouts are unique and I daresay no other club has them,” Sadek said.

Added Gambrinus brewer Zdenek Polak, “Beer and football belong to each other.”

Players welcomed the novelty, particularly with leather heated seats.

The dugouts will first be tested in Viktoria’s season opener against Dukla Prague on Saturday.

Report: USMNT’s Paul Arriola attracting MLS, European interest

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Several U.S. Men’s National Team players made strong impressions on Bruce Arena and Co. at this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup — which resulted in a Stars and Stripes title.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push to top in latest MLS Power Rankings ]

One of those players is Club Tijuana attacker Paul Arriola, whose performance for the USMNT and in Mexico have drawn him significant interest from MLS, Portugal and the Netherlands, according to Goal USA.

The report from Goal states that a “half dozen” sides in MLS have shown interest in Arriola, including Real Salt Lake.

Arriola, 22, has played for Xolos in Liga MX since 2013 after finishing up his academy career with the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy would hold the rights to Arriola if he were to join MLS due to a Homegrown claim, despite the forward only spending one season with the club’s academy from 2012 to 2013.

Chanot, Wallace among missing for NYCFC’s clash at Toronto

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Patrick Vieira’s men have been flying high as of late, but New York City FC’s difficult schedule continues over the weekend north of the border.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push towards top of PST MLS Power Rankings ]

NYCFC will take on Toronto FC on Sunday afternoon at BMO Field, but the third-place side in the Eastern Conference will have to do so without six first-team players.

[ MORE: MLS Week 22 preview — Sigi makes LA debut against Sounders ]

A number of injuries will keep out regulars like center back Maxime Chanot, winger Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita, while Miguel Camargo, Khiry Shelton and 16-year-old midfielder/defender James Sands are also sidelined ahead of the Toronto clash.

Wallace and Camargo each sustained injuries during the CONCACAF Gold Cup while on duty with Costa Rica and Panama, respectively.

The two sides settled for a 2-2 draw when they last met on July 19 at Yankee Stadium, but an NYCFC victory could mean a strong push for Vieira and Co. towards the top of the East.

As the table stands, NYCFC currently sits just three points Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference through 21 matches, while the Chicago Fire are lumped in between the two clubs on 38 points.

Meanwhile, TFC will continue to deal with a couple injuries of its own as Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou remain out with abdominal and calf ailments, respectively.