DeMerit likes Whitecaps' new look heading into second season

The Canadian Press

2/23/2012 5:54:56 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Defender Jay DeMerit likes what he has seen of the new-look Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Whitecaps finished last in Major League Soccer as an expansion team in 2011 and new coach Martin Rennie wasted little time shipping out 11 players and bringing in experienced talent like defender Lee Young-Pyo and striker Sebastien Le Toux.

"Overall, it's a positive because we've added experience and quality and those things, at certain times last year, I felt we lacked," the U.S. international and former captain of English club Watford said Thursday. "As a progression from last season, it's something we needed. And it's happened."

"We've added some good experience and some young talent. Martin hopefully will step in and do a good job at centre half and Y.P. Lee speaks for himself. He's played in World Cups and has experience at every level. That can only be a fantastic addition to your squad."

The trick for Rennie now is to blend the newcomers with established players like DeMerit and forwards Camilo and Eric Hassli before the season opener March 10 in Vancouver against the league's latest expansion side, the Montreal Impact.

The two teams will get a first look at one another Friday night in their opening match of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, a pre-season tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World. It will be their first-head-to-head meeting since they were rivals in the United Soccer Leagues, a lower-division circuit, two years ago.

The Whitecaps held a light, 75-minute practice to prepare for the game on a training pitch next to intimate little soccer and football stadium where the tournament will be held.

All the talk has been about the Whitecaps' firepower up front, led by French strikers Hassli and Le Toux, who have already been dubbed the French Connection. Hassli had 10 goals last season for Vancouver and Le Toux scored 11 times for Philadelphia.

Tall striker Le Toux called it his "saddest day" when he was traded to Vancouver last month, but has since said he is enthusiastic about playing for his new club.

Camilo and Atiba Harris play on the wings, and the team also has a speedster in second overall SuperDraft pick Darren Mattocks, as well as last year's first overall selection Omar Salgado, who is currently with the American national under-20 squad.

"It makes it a lot easier to defend when you know you're going to score goals on any given day," said DeMerit. "I think we have the confidence to score a lot of goals this year because of the firepower we have.

"It's exciting for all of us."

What is overlooked is the defence, which was porous at times last season as it struggled with inexperience and injuries but boasts much more promise.

DeMerit, who was limited to 21 games last season with a groin injury, played all four games for the U.S at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The 34-year-old Lee has an even more impressive resume, including 127 caps and multiple World Cup appearances for South Korea.

Martin Bonjour, 26, was picked up from Uruguay and the six-foot-three player will likely start in the central defence, with returnee Alain Rochat at left fullback.

Another newcomer is Rennie, who was named coach last August but didn't join the team until after completing the season with the Carolina Railwhawks of the North American Soccer League.

"We maybe have a bit more height, a bit more power and a bit more strength," the 36-year-old Scot said. "We have a few more experienced players who can be leaders like Y.P. Lee and Le Toux.

"When I came in I was looking to strengthen some of those things and I feel like we have done that. Obviously, we need to prove that over the next little while."

The Whitecaps went 6-18-10 last season and did not win a game on the road, another area DeMerit hopes to improve.

"If you don't win away from home you'll never get off the bottom of the league," he said. "First and foremost, to go and get that first away win as soon as we can will be a huge step in the right direction."

The Whitecaps also announced they have made well-known sports therapist Rick Celebrini their head of sports medicine and science.

Celebrini, who played for what was then called the Vancouver 86ers in the early 1990s, has worked with NBA and NFL clubs as well as the NHL Players Association. He was also the chief therapist for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He worked as a consultant for the Whitecaps last season.