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Wileman: Whitecaps kick off season with another clean sheet

Luke Wileman
3/12/2012 12:37:59 PM
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For the second year in a row Vancouver Whitecaps opened the season with a win over a Canadian opposition, beating expansion club Montreal Impact 2-0 on Saturday. But the mood in the Whitecaps locker room after the game was a stark contrast to 12 months earlier when there was jubilation in the air following a 4-2 win over Toronto FC in the club's inaugural Major League Soccer match.

This time there was a calm, focussed atmosphere amongst the Vancouver players - they had done what everyone had expected of them. They were happy that the outcome was what they had hoped for, but they know there is still much work to be done.

Much of the talk leading up to the game surrounded the Whitecaps wealth of attacking options and it was interesting to see how new Whitecaps Head Coach managed to fit in his main weapons in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sebastien Le Toux playing behind fellow Frenchman Eric Hassli.

Le Toux made an immediate impact scoring his first Vancouver goal just four minutes into his debut, and the second goal from Vancouver highlighted what this team could be capable of once they really get into their stride. 

Le Toux, Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo were all involved in a flowing move that ended with the Brazilian doubling the Whitecaps' lead. It was a joy to watch. There were a few moments like that during the match, but Rennie will hope to see that sort of fast paced attacking play become more prevalent as they continue to grow together as a team.

It's not only in attack that the Whitecaps have depth. Defending a two goal lead heading into the final quarter of the game, Rennie was able to remove two attacking players and bring on more defensive options. Jordan Harvey's arrival on the left side of midfield completely shut down Montreal's attacking options on the right, and bringing Matt Watson off the bench solidified the midfield.

After going through the whole preseason tournament in Orlando without conceding a goal in four matches, the 'Caps will be happy to kick off the year with another clean sheet although they weren't tested too much, and when Montreal did have a period of pressure the Whitecaps had a couple of shaky moments at the back. Overall, it was a competent defensive display with Jun Marques Davison protected the back four well. The veteran South Korean YP Lee once again stood out at right back.

It's important for the 'Caps to stay grounded and I'm certain their management team will ensure that happens. There were positive signs on opening day, but we will really see what they are made of when they head on the road next week to play Chivas USA. Vancouver went all season without an away win last year and will be anxious to end the drought as quickly as possible.

Impressive Rennie

After Whitecaps training at BC Place on Friday I had the chance to sit down and chat in depth with Martin Rennie for the first time. Along with Jason deVos, we chatted about Rennie's coaching philosophy, his thoughts on how he wants his team to play, and also the personnel he has brought into the club.

Rennie is very impressive when talking about the game and his beliefs on how success can be achieved. He stands out because of his in-depth analysis and knowledge, his ideas on how players should be treated and his management style which has been formed by his years in the business community.

One of the things that stood out to me was Rennie's answer when questioned about the reasons he hired Paul Ritchie, Carl Robinson and Jake DeClute as his assistant coaches. The Scot said quite simply it's because they have skills that he doesn't. All three assistants have been specifically picked to bring different qualities to his coaching staff and to compliment Rennie's abilities.

All of the former players I have spoken to who have spent time talking with Rennie have been extremely impressed and even wished they could put their boots back on and play for him. He's certainly got the Whitecaps players on board, and that could prove to be the club's biggest asset this season.

Defensive Lapses

Montreal Impact were undone by two defensive lapses on Saturday, but for long periods of the match the expansion side looked fairly solid at the back. Despite conceding on the road just four minutes into their debut, they didn't let heads drop and their best spell of the match actually came following Camilo's second goal for Vancouver when YP Lee had to clear off the line following a set-piece. 'Caps goalkeeper Joe Cannon was also called into action to prevent the Impact from scoring.

Throughout the match, Montreal had some good periods of possession but didn't do enough to trouble Vancouver. Brazilian Felipe looked good in preseason but struggled to influence the game from midfield on his MLS debut, and there was minimal service to the forward pairing of Justin Braun and Sanna Nyassi who struggled to create opportunities on goal.

From the outside, scoring goals looks to be an area where the Impact could struggle, but Head Coach Jesse Marsch told me Friday he's not too concerned by the lack of firepower and feels there are plenty of players within his squad who are capable of stepping up and finding the net.

One of the major positives in Montreal's favour in the early stage of their expansion season is the experience within their squad - eight of the Impact's starting line-up played in MLS last year. For a team new to the league, it's vital to have players who know what MLS is all about.

Montreal now returns home to face Chicago Fire in the opener at Olympic Stadium (live on TSN) and will be lifted by a crowd of over 45,000. It's important they respond well against the Fire and make home advantage count as they then head on the road for three matches at Columbus, New York and Real Salt Lake.

MLS on TSN continues on Saturday, March 17 as Montreal Impact take on Chicago Fire at Olympic Stadium. Pre-game show starts at 1:30p.m. ET

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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