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It's that time of the year again. The MLS season begins on Saturday, and Jon Szekeres from 86 Forever answers some of our burning questions about the West Coasters ahead of the First Kick match at BC Place.
Well, here we are: a new season, and another First Kick on the West Coast with the Whitecaps. The team is much changed since the last we met in a mid-summer night's dream late June of last year, so what has changed in Vancouver? Jon Szekeres from SBN's Whitecaps blog 86 Forever answers some of those questions.
John Leung (JL): So, new season. How've things been with the Whitecaps since we last talked?
Jon Szekeres (JS): There is a hell of a lot of optimism coming from the Whitecaps locker room this season. The defensive core has remained intact, the mid is unproven but has plenty of potential, and we have one of the most exciting players in MLS in Darren Mattocks ready to break out this season. A lot could go wrong, but don't tell Southsiders that quite yet.
JL: Nigel Reo-Coker. Okay, what on Earth are you people thinking? What does the front office see in him?
But seriously: what are some of the expectations on the Englishman ahead of this season, and how do you think he will be used?
JS: At his best, he's a former EPL player that is only 28 years old. For most professional athletes, that's a prime age. He's undoubtedly talented and defensively responsible, something that would play well on a team that struggles when they lose a top tier defender like Demerit or Lee. He's versatile, can play either RB or Mid, and though he doesn't score goals a whole lot, he's easily one of the more creative players on the Whitecaps, something that was sorely lacking in 2012.
There have been obvious comparisons to Barry Robson, and perhaps that's well deserved. Reo-Coker burns bridges wherever he goes, and has a massive ego to boot. However, he really wanted to come to Vancouver, and Martin Rennie seems to believe in him. I would've been fine with a safer project, but the 'Caps are hoping he can resurrect his career in Van city.
JL: You mentioned in your season preview that last year, Jay DeMerit and Young-Pyo Lee had to carry much of the weight of the team. Who is expected to help carry some of the weight this year? And who should we be looking for on opening day?
JS: Honestly, that burden will once again fall on the shoulders of Lee and Demerit, and that can be a cause of concern. Lee has been promised more rest this season, and Demerit enters 2013 fighting an achilles injury. With those two needing more rest, one of the more underrated signings from 2012, Andy O'Brien, will have to step up. He's a solid player that might have to become more this season. As for players to watch, Daigo Kobayashi has looked impressive in the pre-season. The creative mid still has to make the hard transistion to the physical MLS play. Is he up for it? If he isn't, look for Matt Watson to jump in.
JL: Okay, Barry Robson was a gigantic flop, but Kenny Miller is still around. How much longer do you expect this Scottish experiment to last?
JS: [Miller] has very little time to prove himself. I've put him in the starting 11 in my season preview simply because he makes so much money. However, the 'Caps have more depth up front, and Martin Rennie won't be afraid to replace him if he struggles. Miller will have very little slack on his leash.
JL: We saw what Darren Mattocks is capable of. So which one of the new kids has the potential to shine, and who should TFC have an eye out for?
JS: If Kekutah Manneh manages to get into the lineup (and I believe he will be a favorite substitution for Martin Rennie early on) look out. He's actually faster than Darren Mattocks, and he had great finish in the pre-season. He might be a bit too young to truly 'break out' this season, but his talent level is ridiculous; he might turn some heads.
JL: What is your projected starting lineup for Saturday?
JS: I think Rennie will go with a 4-3-3, that would mean:
JL: How about a prediction?
JS: It's a tough one to call, because TFC has had the 'Caps number in recent memory. However, I think the 'Caps are deeper, and TFC should be very afraid of a determined Darren Mattocks (who claimed he could score 20 goals in a single season.) I think Mattocks gets on the board a few times in the opener, and the 'Caps win 3-1.
Our thanks to Jon Szekeres for taking the time to answer our questions!
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