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Wileman: Choosing MLS stars from Canada's three teams

Luke Wileman
11/18/2013 5:42:53 PM
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As the MLS Playoffs resume this weekend with the second leg of the Conference Semifinals, Canada's three teams will be watching on from afar. Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC failed to make the postseason while Montreal Impact fell at the first hurdle losing heavily to Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round.

This year the league's Golden Boot did head north for the first time courtesy of Camilo's 22 goals for the Whitecaps but none of Canada's teams have ever been close to being an MLS Cup contender. What if you could pick a team using players from the three Canadian MLS teams? Who would be in your starting lineup? Here's mine in a 4-3-3 formation, based on performances from the 2013 season.

Goalkeeper - Joe Bendik: This one was a close call with Montreal's Troy Perkins having a strong season and Vancouver's David Ousted a formidable presence between the posts following his mid-year move from Denmark. If I had a full season to judge Ousted, he may have been my choice but Bendik was excellent throughout the whole year for Toronto FC in his first season as the club's number one goalkeeper. He was handed the opportunity following an injury to Stefan Frei and he grabbed it with both hands. The 24-year-old Georgia born 'keeper saved TFC on countless occasions while having to deal with a constantly changing back four in front of him.

Right Back - YP Lee: At 36 years of age, YP Lee brought an illustrious career to a close in 2013, retiring from the game at the conclusion of the Whitecaps season. The South Korean international appeared at three World Cups during his career and was an extremely valuable player for Vancouver during his two years with the club. Although Lee's performances in 2013 did not meet the heights of the previous year when he was named the team's MVP, the veteran provided a steadying presence at full back. He is positionally very strong and good defending one-on-one, but it is his ability to get forward down the right, especially during home games that stood out. Lee narrowly beat out Montreal's Hassoun Camara for a spot in my fantasy starting lineup.

Central Defender - Matteo Ferrari: Ferrari was a calming presence in Montreal's defence in 2013 as he draws on his vast experience in Europe to be a big asset for the Impact in his second MLS season. He is aerially strong, very athletic and has a good positional sense. Ferrari is also a handful in the opposition penalty area as a threat in the air from set pieces.

Central Defender - Steven Caldwell: The former Scottish international was the main reason for Toronto FC's defensive improvement in 2013. A defence that set a league record for the number of goals conceded in 2012 was tightened up considerably and Caldwell's leadership was a key. He reads the game very well and is a commanding presence in the air. Had Jay DeMerit not missed a large part of the season due to injury, the Whitecaps captain would likely have been a strong contender for one of the two central defensive positions.

Left Back - Jeb Brovsky: Brovsky was defensively solid as Montreal's first choice left back and has really settled into that position well. He also likes to get forward down the left and finished the year with two goals and two assists. He played in every match until needing surgery with four games to go. Brovsky battles hard, and is also an excellent character to have in the locker room.

Midfield - Matias Laba: 2013 will be remembered as the year Toronto FC over-promised and under-delivered, but for all the signings that didn't materialize, there was one high profile addition that will prove to be a major piece of the club moving forward. 21-year-old Argentine Matias Laba grew in stature with each game he played as he settled into MLS and has the potential to be one of the best players in the league in his position. His distribution is superb. He is tenacious in breaking up play and he also showed good ability to burst forward from a holding midfield role.

Midfield - Patrice Bernier: The Canadian midfielder can be an impact player in both defensive and attacking aspects of the game. He has the qualities to win possession and then when he gets the ball, he has excellent distribution. Bernier can pull the strings in midfield, start attacks and also provide the killer pass that can lead to a goal, he finished the season with a total of eight assists for the second consecutive year. Bernier also has a perfect record from the penalty spot since joining Montreal two years ago, having scored all 10 of his spot kicks. His absence due to injury in the final weeks of the season left a hole the Impact were unable to fill. 

Midfield - Nigel Reo Coker: An experienced, fearless leader, Reo Coker had an excellent first year in Major League Soccer. He is strong in the tackle, positive with distribution and his lung-bursting runs forward can change defence into attack in the blink of an eye. When Reo Coker speaks, his team responds, and there was evidence of that on a few of occasions this year when the London born midfielder lifted the 'Caps team on his shoulders. He is also versatile; most at home as a central midfielder, he can also be effective on the right side of midfield and as cover at right back.

Forward - Kekuta Manneh: The teenager didn't get the opportunity to be a regular starter for the Whitecaps in his rookie season but showed enough during his limited appearances to prove he has the ability to be a match-winner, finishing the year with six goals. He is a raw but exceptional talent with great speed and composure in front of goal, as he showed when scoring his hat-trick at Seattle in early October. With a run of games and experienced heads around him, Manneh can blossom into one of the most dangerous attacking players in MLS. I originally had Vancouver's Kenny Miller in the lineup instead of Manneh, but at just 18 years of age, the Gambian's potential edged him ahead of the veteran Scot to give a youthful spark to the team.

Forward - Marco Di Vaio: The Italian may be getting towards the end of his career, but he made an exceptional impact for Montreal on and off the field during the season. He was in the chase for the Golden Boot until the final day of the regular season, finishing with 20 goals. Di Vaio is one of the fittest players on the team and is an excellent example for the younger players on the team. He reads the game superbly and his intelligent running creates opportunities for himself and others. He is one of the best, most clinical finishers in MLS.

Forward - Camilo: The Brazilian had the best season of his career, finishing as the league's Golden Boot winner with 22 goals and being named to the MLS All Star team. There was great variety amongst the goals he scored including two diving headers at Seattle, a free kick against Sporting Kansas City, and of course the spectacular finish against Portland Timbers. He also finished the year with six assists. At the age of 25, he has some great years ahead of him.
So there is my starting 11. There were plenty of close calls and a couple of decisions that I'm still not certain about, but there will never be a perfect answer. The lineup I have chosen would play a 4-3-3 formation but could also switch to a 4-4-2 with Kekuta Manneh and Nigel Reo-Coker playing wide in midfield.

Feel free to send me your thoughts on who should be in the 11 - @lukewileman on Twitter.

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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