As the Champions League quarterfinals with New York Red Bulls swiftly approaches, Vancouver remains in search of a top-line striker. Ever since losing Camilo Sanvezzo following his league leading 22 goals in the 2013 season, Vancouver has struggled to find a front line striker to lead their attack. Kenny Miller, Octavio Rivero, Blas Perez, Masato Kudo, Fabian Espindola and others have all been a part of the team for a time only to move elsewhere leaving the Whitecaps once again searching for a long-term solution.
In the midfield, however, Vancouver has been and remains loaded with talent. Laba, Bolanos, Manneh, Davies, Mezquida, Techera, and Reyna combine to give head coach Carl Robinson a wide range of choices and styles to select from. What is missing however, is a dedicated number 10 to help organize and direct the attack. With Manneh healthy once again it may be time to listen to the many fans who want him to have a chance playing up top. Whatever else may happen expect the Whitecaps to be solid through the middle of the field.
Defensively, Vancouver has also been hit by injury to David Edgar and the lost of both right fullbacks from last season. Can Sheanon Williams and draftee Jakob Nerwinksi step in to fill the gap on the right side?
Erik Hurtado, who played collegiately with the Santa Clara Broncos, has been with the Whitecaps since being drafted fifth overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Although currently the first choice forward by default, he has spent much of his time with Whitecaps II and on loan to Mjøndalen in Norway. A good player off the bench, he made 24 appearances for the Whitecaps in 2016 with only 12 starts and 2 goals. His only goal against RSL was in a reserve game in 2013. He played a strong 71 minutes on Thursday against Minnesota United and might be rotated out of the RSL match on Sunday in favor of the game agains Portland on Tuesday.
Giles Barnes was traded to the Whitecaps on July 30th, 2016, after the deal for Fabian Espindola went south (to Mexico). Barnes spent four-and-a-half years with the Dynamo, during which he became one of their highest paid players and made numerous appearances with the Jamaican national team. A proven goalscorer, he scored 31 goals in 113 appearances for the Dynamo, including the game winner in RSL's first 1-0 loss to the Dynamo last season. In the final ten games of the 2016 season he made 8 starts and scored 2 goals for the Whitecaps. During the off season, many rumors linked Barnes to Blackburn Rovers, but no move was made. Plagued with a nagging knee injury he has been limited this spring and appeared for only the final 25 minutes on Thursday against Minnesota United.
Kyle Greig is a 26-year-old native of Olathe, Kansas, who spent time in the USL with the Wilmington Hammerheads and OKC Energy before signing with Vancouver Whitecaps II for the 2016 season. After scoring 13 goals in 28 starts for their USL side, he was offered a contract with the parent Whitecaps for 2017. The injuries and uncertain status of Giles Barnes has allowed him to feature prominently in preseason and compete for at least backup time even if another striker is signed. He did not appear on Thursday against Minnesota and will be fresh on Sunday.
Kekuta Manneh signed a Generation Adidas contract with Major League Soccer in order to take part in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and was selected fourth overall by the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver made a trade with Toronto FC involving swapping picks and allocation money to get an earlier selection in order to draft Manneh. During his 4 seasons with the Whitecaps he has become a face of the franchise. After a torrid 2015 he had a hot start to 2016 before a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot which required surgery. Unlike Techera and others, Manneh has never played well against RSL and has yet to score a goal against them. Back to full health, he has made several appearances this spring including 65 minutes against Minnesota on Thursday before being replaced by Yordy Reyna.
Christian Bolaños is a 32-year-old Costa Rican national team player who signed a multi-year contract with Vancouver on January 20, 2016. His long career has taken him around the world, where he has consistently contributed a handful of goals a year as a regular starter. In 2016, he made 27 appearances with 23 starts for the Whitecaps while scoring 5 goals including one fantastic finish off a corner kick against Sporting KC. Recently arrived to the Whitecaps, Bolaños was a late substitute in the first 2016 game against RSL, but he played a full ninety minutes at right wing in the second match. He scored the second goal in the 4-0 victory over the USMNT in November and was named to the CONCACAF best 11 for 2016. While a possible attacking midfielder due to the 46 chances he created in 2016, Bolanos has not yet seen a great deal of playing time this spring as the team takes a look at other midfielders.
Matias Laba is the midfield destroyer of the Whitecaps. The 25-year-old Argentine originally joined MLS as a young designated player with Toronto on April 26, 2013. It was rumored that his transfer fee was around 1.5 million dollars, however, the arrival of Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto took Toronto above the league limit for DPs, and Laba was traded to Vancouver before the 2014 season. With 32 starts in each of his three seasons with the Whitecaps, he has been a team leader in minutes played. He played a full 90 minutes against Minnesota on Thursday.
Cristian Techera is a 24-year-old Uruguayan who joined the Vancouver Whitecaps on loan from River Plate Montevideo on April 9, 2015, and was signed permanently on January 4 2016. Techera made 19 starts during each of his two years with the Whitecaps, but has failed to establish a permanent presence on the field and was left unprotected in the 2017 Expansion Draft. He has notched 4 of his 9 MLS goals against RSL and always seems to play well against them. Techera played the first 65 minutes against Minnesota on Thursday and so may not see a starting role on Sunday.
Nicolás Mezquida is a 25-year old Uruguayan who first signed with Vancouver on February 5, 2014. Over three years his time and appearances have steadily increased up to 17 starts and 28 appearances in 2016 and was protected in the 2017 Expansion Draft. With the return of Manneh from injury he will need to fight for minutes in 2017. He did not appear in the Minnesota game and may feature to a greater extent on Sunday against RSL.
Marco Bustos was another homegrown signing with Vancouver in January of 2015 after spending several years in their academy. A native of Winnipeg Bustos represented Canada at the Youth level and had his first full team call-up for the Ghana friendly in October of 2015. Most of the 2015 and 2016 season was spent playing attacker midfielder for Whitecaps 2 while scoring 7 goals in each season. With Kekutah Manneh and Yordy Reyna in front of him, he will not be likely to see many first team minutes in 2016 unless he can prove to be a true number 10 at the MLS level.
Alphonso Davies joined the Whitecaps for preseason before signing with the USL Whitecaps II on February 23, 2016. He became the youngest player ever signed to a USL contract at 15 years and 3 months. After only 11 appearances with the USL squad, Davies was signed to a homegrown first team contract on July 16, 2016, which extends through the 2018 season with options for 2019 and 2020 seasons. He went on to make 8 appearances for the Whitecaps including two starts. He has seen extensive time this spring and appears to be contending for at least a spot starting position. He played the full 90 minutes against Minnesota, so may not see the field against RSL until the regular season.
Andrew Jacobson is an experienced 31-year-old midfielder, who has appeared with five teams in his seven year career in MLS before being traded to the Whitecaps in March 2016. During the 2016 season with the Whitecaps Jacobson made 26 appearances with 18 starts in the defensive portion of midfield in conjunction with Matias Laba and Russell Teibert. He played 65 minutes on Thursday prior to being replaced by Teibert and could appear again on Sunday.
Russell Teibert is a homegrown player who has been with Vancouver since 2011 and was in their residency program prior to that time. An experienced starter in defensive midfield Teibert saw his minutes decrease in 2016 with the arrival on Andrew Jacobson although he still had 8 starts and 11 appearances. He played the final 25 minutes on Thursday after replacing Jacobson and could easily see more time on Sunday.
Yordy Reyna is a 23-year-old Peruvian was transferred to the Whitecaps on January 23rd, 2017 from Red Bull Salzburg. In a year and a half with the Austrian side he made 18 appearances with 11 starts and scored 3 goals. He is being groomed to play either as a second striker or attacking midfielder and has looked good in several appearances this spring including 25 minutes as a substitute on Thursday.
Ben McKendry is a homegrown signing who has spent his two years with the Whitecaps on loan to Whitecaps 2 where he has made 41 starts. While he made the trip to Wales and has several appearances there, it is unlikely he will see any time with the Whitecaps in the Portland tournament or during the regular MLS season.
Deybi Flores was brought in on loan from Honduran club Motagua on February 24, 2015. After making 9 appearances for Vancouver in 2015 he was signed for the 2016 season but made only a single start before being loaned to first Whitecaps 2 and then back to Motagua. He remains on loan to Motagua and has not rejoined the team for 2017.
Tim Parker spent his college career at St. John's University where he made 79 appearances for the Red Storm. Selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Vancouver Whitecaps FC he spent the 2015 season dividing his time between the Whitecaps and Whitecaps II. After being called in the January 2016 USMNT camp he became a regular starter at center back with Kendall Waston when his competition, Christian Dean, broke his left foot in preseason. Parker responded by making 28 starts and playing 2551 minutes. Parker has made several preseason appearances in 2017 and served as captain in one of the matches in England. After 90 minutes on Thursday against Minnesota United it is possible we will not see Parker on Sunday.
Kendall Waston is a 29-year-old Costa Rican who has played with Vancouver since the summer of 2014 when he joined from Deportivo Saprissa after a long career in Costa Rica. Moving almost immediately into a starting center back role he has been a consistent starter, but has also been plagued by suspensions. In 2016 alone he saw two straight red cards and another ejection for two yellows. After playing 90 minutes on Thursday with Tim Parker, it is likely he will not appear on Sunday against RSL.
Christian Dean played center back for the California Bears before signing a Generation Adidas contract and being selected by Vancouver with the third overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Dean made 5 appearances with the Whitecaps and another 11 with Whitecaps II in the 2015 season, but saw very little time on the field in 2015 and 2016 due to injuries. Finally healthy and still under Generation Addidas in 2017 he has looked good in limited time during preseason, but with the major injury to David Edgar he will see time as a backup during 2017.
David Edgar was signed to a 18 month contract in May of 2016 after many years in England with Birmingham City, Burnley, Newcastle United, Burnley, and Birmingham City. The 29-year-old Canadian national team center back was brought in to stabilize the back line and fill in whenever Tim Parker or, more likely, Kendall Waston had to miss a game. After a shaky start, the new duo of Waston and Edgar seemed to click and was expected to move forward into the 2017 season. Then on January 4th, 2017, the Whitecaps announced that Edgar had undergone successful PCL, MCL, and meniscus surgery on his right knee, after being victim of a hit-and-run incident over the holidays. Edgar is expected to be sidelined until the fall leaving room once again for Tim Parker and Christian Dean.
Cole Seiler had a successful four years at Georgetown before being selected by Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft with the the 16th overall pick. He made two early starts for Vancouver to replace a suspended Waston but spent the bulk of the season with Whitecaps 2 where he made 17 starts as a center back. He has been in several preseason matches this year and may appear on Sunday with the quick turnaround.
Jordan Harvey was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 7, 2011, in exchange of allocation money after 4 years at Colorado and 2 years at the Philadelphia Union. Now 33 years old Harvey had been a fixture at left back since the 2012 season and consistently among the team leaders in minutes played and appearances. He also played a full 90 minutes on Thursday and may not be available for the Sunday match against RSL.
Jakob Nerwinski of the UConn Huskies was somewhat of a surprise when selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Already signed by Vancouver, Nerwinski has seen a lot of time in the preseason and looks to have an excellent chance at major minutes as a right back during this season. Sheanon Williams, his main competitor, is also new to the team and has not been as impressive so far in preseason. Nerwinski played the first half against Minnesota on Thursday and could easily appear again on Sunday.
Sheanon Williams was traded to the Whitecaps by the Houston Dynamo on December 14, 2016 in exchange for general allocation money as a possible replacement for Jordan Smith and Fraser Aird who were both leaving the team. The 25-yer-old right back had made 141 appearances with the Philadelphia Union and another 26 with Houston since joining MLS in 2010. He has featured in most of the spring training matches and appears to be in an open competition with Jakob Nerwinski for the starting role.
Marcel de Jong is a journeyman 30-year-old Canadian who spent time Roda JC in the Netherlands and Augsburg in Germany before signing with Sporting Kansas City for the 2015 season following an extended trial. During 2015 he made 13 appearances with 11 starts for a total of 849 minutes with Sporting, but his contract was terminated on March 1 2016 by mutual consent. A Canadian international with 50 caps he joined Julian de Guzman at Ottawa in the NASL for the Spring season but his high salary lead him to Vancouver where he signed on July 11, 2016. His first appearance as a Whitecap was in the July 14th game against RSL which they won 2-0 where he received a yellow card for a late hand ball. He will backup Harvey at left fullback in 2017.
Brett Levis originally signed with Whitecaps II in February of 2015 where he made 47 appearances during the 2-15 and 2016 USL seasons. In August of 2016 he signed a contract through 2017 with the parent Vancouver Whitecaps with options for 2018 and 2019. He made a single appearance in a match with the Portland Timbers during 2016 and was left unprotected in the 2017 Expansion Draft. He has yet to play in the 2017 preseason and should provide depth during the 2017 season
Sam Adekugbe signed a homegrown contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps on August 28, 2013. He made sporadic appearances with both the parent club and the USL team but never managed to find regular playing time. Following call ups to the Canadian national team in 2015 he was invited to train a Brighton & Hove Albion in the EFL Championship and signed a year-long loan agreement on August 23, 2016. By all indications he is very happy there and wishes to stay on after the end of his loan agreement.
David Ousted is the standout first string goalkeeper for the Whitecaps. The 32-year-old Dane who first signed with Vancouver in June of 2013 finished fifth in MLS with 110 saves and had 6 shutouts in 2016. Ousted always manages to look good against RSL and has had several great saves against them. As Ousted played a full 90 minutes against Minnesota on Thursday, we may see one or both of his backups, Paolo Tornaghi and Spencer Richey on Sunday.