Vancouver Whitecaps 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

Eduardo MendezCorrespondent IIFebruary 23, 2014

Vancouver Whitecaps 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

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    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Commemorating 40 years of history will be the story to watch for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?

    In part seven of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Whitecaps this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.

    Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.

     

    Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.

Offseason Transactions

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

    Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.

     

    Players In 

    DChristian DeanMLS SuperDraft
    MAndre LewisMLS SuperDraft
    MMehdi BallouchyMLS Re-Entry Draft Stage 2
    DSteven BeitashourTrade from San Jose
    M/FSebastian FernandezLoan from Boston River
    M/FNicolas MezquidaTransfer from Boston River
    MMatias LabaTrade from Toronto FC

     

    Players Out

    DLee Young-PyoRetired
    DGreg KlazuraOption Declined
    GKJoe CannonOption Declined
    GKSimon ThomasOption Declined
    DBrad RusinOption Declined
    MJun Marques DavidsonOption Declined
    MDaigo KobayashiOption Declined
    FTommy HeinemannOption Declined
    FCorey HertzogOption Declined
    GKBrad KnightonTraded to New England
    FCamilo SanvezzoTransfer to Queretaro
    MDaigo KobayashiTraded to New England

The Story to Watch: A 40th Anniversary

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    After a regrettable offseason—one filled with embarrassing transaction after embarrassing transaction—the Vancouver Whitecaps are ready to embark on another year.

    The club's 40th to be exact.

    It's been four decades since the Whitecaps' inaugural campaign. A 2-1 loss at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes in 1974 laid the foundation for 40 years of competitive football that spread across multiple competitions and even survived a name change.

    In order to commemorate their anniversary, the Whitecaps set in motion their preliminary plans for a memorable celebration. Those plans include a history-laden webpage, an Alumni Night and a commemorative 40th-anniversary scarf.

    But the culmination of this celebration will come on May 3, when Vancouver hosts the Earthquakes at BC Place.

    The date nearly coincides with the very birth of one of Canada's most storied clubs.

    Leading the charge this landmark season is newly appointed head coach Carl Robinson.

    The former assistant accepted the position after Vancouver's initial search failed to land the highly touted Bob Bradley.

    Not being the club's first choice, however, did little to temper his excitement for the upcoming season:

    MLS's official website carried the quotes:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two seasons in Vancouver, and am looking forward to the start of the 2014 season – the club's 40th anniversary. We have an exceptional fan base, a solid core of youth and experience, and a committed ownership group. I'm really excited about the opportunity to drive this club forward.

    Moving forward remains key for the Whitecaps this year. The further they distance themselves from a horrid offseason the better.

    #since74.

     

The Number to Watch: 109

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    Kekuta Manneh played 764 minutes in 2013. His six goals averaged out to one for every 127 minutes played. 

    But that's the easy math.

    When digging deeper, 329 of Manneh's minutes came as a second-half substitution. In that role, the 19-year-old managed just two goals or one every 165 minutes. Not exactly the productivity the initial calculations indicated.

    His starting moments tell a completely different story.

    When featured from the opening whistle, Manneh scored four goals in 435 minutes. The 109 minutes per goal as a starter is your number to watch in 2014 and reflect better on the young Gambian's talents. Throw in an assist and a starting Manneh was a key contributor in four of Vancouver's last 11 goals of the season. 

    By comparison, Diego Fagundez played 2,362 of his 2,427 minutes in a starting role for the Revolution last year. The 19-year-old led all MLS players under 24 with 13 goals, but he only averaged one every 197 minutes. 

    What if Manneh had 1,927 more opportunities?

    According to the club's official website, that's exactly what Coach Robinson expects to give him in 2014:

    He puts smiles on faces in the squad and he walks around with a big smile on his face. Everyone knows he has ability. He's a major player for us this year. He's going to get a lot of time and he'll be given a lot of chances...With the talent he has, like a number of our other young players, it's important that we let them play with a free and open mind. If they do that, they're able to express their own abilities in the attacking areas of the field.

    Manneh's positioning remains a question mark for the rookie head coach. 

    Two or three different possibilities exist. Depending on the formation, Manneh could see time as a winger, as a playmaker behind the striker or as part of a two-striker system.

    But regardless of where he lines up, the key here is that he lines up. More opportunities could propel the 19-year-old to a breakout season.

     

The Player to Watch: Steven Beitashour

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    After a 13-year global soccer career, right-back Young-Pyo Lee decided to retire following the 2013 season. The 36-year-old immediately transferred to the club's soccer operations department. The search for a suitable replacement was on.

    It ended on Jan. 27.

    In a trade with the San Jose Earthquakes, the Whitecaps acquired right-back Steven Beitashour in exchange for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. The 27-year-old spent the last four seasons in San Jose, leading all MLS defenders with 16 assists since 2011.

    According to Martin MacMahon on MLS's official website, that's exactly the type of attacking prowess Beitashour hopes to bring to Vancouver in 2014:

    I like to attack. I'm very competitive, so I don't like to get beat. As a defender, you do your job first, but I'm hungry to go attack and help set up goals, get some assists...I think I can bring that to the team. I've talked to the coach about that already, and he wants me to instill that within the other players. Hopefully I can just work hard and get up and down the flanks like I have been the past few years.

    It's Beitashour's crossing ability that must transfer across the border.

    As pointed out by the statisticians at WhoScored, the former MLS All-Star is a proponent of the cross. By their calculations, Beitashour averaged nearly one accurate cross per home match. That statistic, though marginal at first glance, could ail Vancouver's inability to head the ball home.

    Last season, only five of the Whitecaps' 53 goals were scored via a header. Toronto FC (4), D.C. United (4) and the Montreal Impact (3) managed to tally fewer. With Camilo's right foot no longer on the roster, the club will have to compensate for his productivity elsewhere.

    It starts with Beitashour's crossing ability on the flank.

The Match to Watch: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    May 24, 2014.

    The celebration comes on May 3 when the Earthquakes visit BC Place, but nothing tops a local rivalry.

    Especially one as intense as this.

    Lost in the hype of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers is the fact that it was the Vancouver Whitecaps who took home the coveted Cascadia Cup in 2013. The nine points acquired over six matches were enough for the Whitecaps to capture their first bit of bragging rights since 2008.

    The cup awarded in 2013, however, was the club's first ever since joining MLS in 2011.

    As reported by Farhan Devji on Vancouver's official website, the achievement had its proper place in history according to former head coach Martin Rennie:

    Soccer clubs are built on memories like that, nights like that. Those are the types of things that fans will always remember. People who travelled to the game, people who watched it on TV, people involved in playing in it and coaching it and so on … you'll always remember nights like that. Those are the things that build the history of the club.

    That "history" now falls squarely on the shoulders of Coach Robinson.

    His first opportunity to defend the club's newfound boastfulness comes in late May when the Sounders cross the border and face a hostile crowd at BC Place.

     

    Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC

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