2016 Season Preview: New Faces Bring New Hope

Last Season: 8W - 6D - 14L        GF:39  GA: 53        

11th in Western Conference

Head Coach: Alan Koch (2nd season with team)

Key Losses: F Caleb Clarke; M Tyler Rosenlund; D Craig Nitti; 

Key Additions: F Kyle Greig; F Daniel Haber; M/F Fatawu Safiu; D Sem de Wit

Projected Starting 11:

                                                           Grieg

                                Blasco                Haber                Safiu  

                                             Seymore              Piraux

                      Levis                 de Wit            Farmar                Serban

                                                         Richey          

Key Storylines:

1. The Youth Movement

Among the group on newcomers are three residency grads. 15 year- old forward Alphonso Davies and 18 year-old midfielder Matthew Baldisimo will join fellow teenagers Kadin Chung, Thomas Gardiner, and Terran Campbell, each of whom has yet to to even reach legal drinking age. Head Coach Alan Koch has shown a fearlessness in playing youth, as Chung and Gardiner, a full back and central midfielder respectively, each saw significant game time towards the end of last season.

“We’re looking to get [the teenagers] as many minutes as we can, said Koch. “Obviously it’s a bit of a juggling act because we’re there to help the young players push up but also their to help our USL players see what they can do, and then obviously accommodate the first team players that come down but we’re excited to see how the young guys do.”

Besides the teenagers, the group overall remains super young with an average age of 20.5 years old.  Newly named captain Kyle Greig is the elder statesmen on the team at the ripe old age of 26. Heading into the offseason Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi talked about WFC2 remaining a team only for players with potential to make the jump to the MLS. With that in mind, expect the theme of a roster built around raw but talented youngsters to remain with this team for the foreseeable future.

2. Defensive Improvement

Last year, WFC2 surrendered the second most goals in the entire USL, something that is going to have to change if they are to make a significant jump up the standings. The team attempted to remedy this in the offseason by bringing in a handful of players that will aim to make the ‘Caps much tougher to break down. 20 year-old Dutch defender Sem de Wit will open the season alongside the returning Jackson Farmar in the centre of Koch’s back four. Waiting to step in at centre back will be Englishman Elliot Greene, who at 6’3, will look to bring a bit of an edge to relatively delicate back four. Brett Levis makes the switch to fullback after spending his entire career up to his point as an electrifying winger. The switch should help ignite the team going forward, but how he fares on the defensive side of the ball remains to be seen.

Perhaps just as important as the back four to the team’s defensive structure are the two holding midfielders that Koch deploys in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Returner Will Seymore will look to join a partnership with either former Sounders FC2 midfielder Giuliano Frano, or Mitch Piraux, as the latter looks to bounce back from an injury shortened 2015. Seymore could be the key to the system as his size (6’0” 180lbs), makes him easily the most imposing figure in the Cap’s midfield.

3. Keeper Battles

Incumbent keeper Spencer Richey will look to hold off newcomer Sean Melvin in what looks to be one of the fiercest position battles on the pitch to open the season.  Koch has expressed a desire to find a true first choice keeper after evenly divvying up the starts between Richey and Marco Carducci.

“Initially we’ll try a couple guys but we’ve spoken about giving goalkeepers a few games in a row so they can get some sort of continuity, get confident, and grow through that,” said Koch. “I think through the first few games we’ll rotate and then we’ll figure out who we’re going to go with, play him for a few games and then give the other guys opportunities to play at a later stage.”

A 2015 draft pick of the Whitecaps, Richey had a strong rookie season, ranking in the top ten in the league in save percentage despite playing behind an often porous defense. The 6’4 Melvin joins the ‘Caps after a successful career in the NCAA at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The former Whitecaps residence prospect has the size and pedigree to assume the number one role. The wildcard in this scenario is Carducci. Currently with the first team, Carducci finds himself third on the depth chart and the Whitecaps would definitely like to find the 19 year-old more minutes. Whether that’s in the form of a loan to the USL or abroad remains to be seen.

Impact Addition:

Kyle Greig

On a team that probably has more fake ID’s than professional experience, the wherewithal of Grieg, who is a veteran of three USL seasons, will be invaluable. Most recently with Oklahoma City Energy FC, Greig has 22 goals in his 76 USL appearances, and the 6’2 striker will be a key kog for WFC2 both on and off the field. Being the oldest player on the team by some margin, Greig was an easy choice to be appointed captain.

“He’s really coming in as a mentor, and it shows through his actions,” Koch says. “He doesn’t really have to speak, you watch him in training every day, he’s a clinical finisher [...] that’s how he will lead us, both in games and in training.

Tactically, Greig will play as the lone striker in Koch’s system, and his ability to use his big body to hold up play for the talented midfielders around him will go along way to determining the ‘Caps success this year.

“We’re excited to have him, he’s a great guy,” said Koch. “ If we’re going to have an older player, a player to lead the younger player, I think he’s the perfect guy for that job.

2016 Outlook:

After an up and down inaugural season in the USL, WFC2 will look for more consistency, in their second season. Looking to build off of the improvement that was shown towards the latter half of the season, the ‘Caps hope to remain in the playoff hunt deep into the summer. If the defensive reinforcements come through and the team’s goaltending remains strong, a strong push at the playoffs is plausible. However for a young team that is development oriented, getting over the hump and into the playoffs seems a long shot at this point for a team as inexperienced as WFC2.

Prediction: 10th in West

Image: Whitecaps FC / Facebook