Lenarduzzi talks 'Caps with KTW
With Bob Lenarduzzi in town this week for a speaking engagement, KTW took the chance to talk Vancouver Whitecaps' soccer with the club's president. Among the topics of discussion were expectations, new manager Martin Rennie, the club's designated-player spots, a seeming overabundance of forwards and addressing the midfield position.
Finishing last in Major League Soccer's Western Conference — and tied with the New England Revolution for last in the entire league with 28 points — might have been excusable in Vancouver's first season in the big show, but that will not be the case in 2012.
"Our objective is to be competitive and to ultimately make the playoffs," Lenarduzzi said.
"We need to acknowledge that our supporters last year were really good to us in spite of the fact that it wasn't a good year. They kept coming.
"We would like nothing better than to repay that with a more solid effort on the field."
Vancouver ranked third in average league attendance last season, with 20,412 spectators per match, behind only the L.A. Galaxy, in second with 23,335, and the Seattle Sounders, in top spot with 38,496.
The 'Caps kick their season off against the expansion Montreal Impact — a traditional Blue and White rival — on March 10 at B.C. Place Stadium.
• New Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie:
The Rennie era officially began in November and the Thurso, Scotland, product has wasted no time making his mark on the Whitecaps.
He has made more than 25 roster moves since joining the club, including the acquisitions of Young-Pyo Lee, a 34-year-old defender from South Korea, Martin Bonjour, a 26-year-old centreback from Argentina, and Jun Marques Davidson, a 28-year-old Tokyo-born defensive midfielder.
Those moves indicate the new manager's intent to shore up the 'Caps back end, which was porous last season.
"That was one of our biggest problems last year," Lenarduzzi said.
"Martin is someone who, in his coaching career, at virtually all the clubs he's been at, conceded very few goals and scored a lot of goals.
"I'd be fine with that."
Vancouver allowed 55 goals last season, third-most in the league.
"[Rennie] is going to be resilient in terms of making sure that we're tough to play against," Lenarduzzi said. "We gave up way too many goals."
When Rennie managed the Carolina RailHawks last season, the North American Soccer League squad finished atop the table in the continent's second division, scoring 50 goals and allowing 26 on its way to a 17-3-8 regular-season record.
• Too many forwards?
The Whitecaps are not short on forwards.
Here is the list: Camilo Sanvezzo, Eric Hassli, Long Tan, Omar Salgado, Atiba Harris, Davide Chiumiento, Lee Nguyen and Darren Mattocks, a Jamaican-born striker whom the Caps took second overall in the MLS Superdraft earlier this month.
"Martin is quite comfortable playing either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, so there will be room for players," Lenarduzzi said.
The Whitecaps' president added the club bought out the contract of Mustapha Jarju last week.
Jarju, a 25-year-old Gambian striker, had a forgettable spell in Vancouver, failing to score in 10 appearances.
He also noted several of the Caps' forwards, including Harris, Chiumiento and Nguyen, are versatile and can play in the midfield as well.
Lenarduzzi did not rule out any changes up front before the season opener, but said they will likely happen after the pre-season, if at all.
"If, in fact, we feel like we have an excess of forwards — though I don't know if that's ever the case — we'll go through pre-season and assess beyond that."
• Designated player:
With Jarju's exodus, only one of Vancouver's three available designated-player (DP) spots is occupied.
That spot belongs to French striker Hassli, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound fan favourite who notched 10 goals in 26 appearances last season.
Signing a DP counts at least $150,000 (for players 20 or under) against the salary cap. Players between 21 and 23 will count $200,000 against the cap.
Designated players 24 and over chime in at $350,000, although clubs can sign a DP mid-season for a discounted price.
The remaining salary of the DP's contract is paid by the team.
Here is what the former NASL Soccer Bowl champion said about signing another DP:
"If it's a player that can really, really help us on the field and, as a result of that, enhance ticket sales and sponsorship, then you would look to see what you can recover from other areas of the club.
"In the case of a true DP that's an established name, if he can put bums in seats, that's a business move that you decide you do or don't want to do based on the players available.
"It will be a question of what Martin's needs are and that doesn't necessarily mean that we will be seeking out a designated player."
• Missing in the middle:
There are plenty of Whitecaps' and Vancouver Southsiders' message boards filled with questions about the lack of a strong central midfielder.
Lenarduzzi made no bold predictions but, when queried about acquiring a midfielder before Montreal comes to town in March, he hinted that might be an area that needs addressing.
"What Martin's going to do is get through pre-season and assess as we get closer to the season if we need shoring up in any one position," Lenarduzzi said.
"We're still looking to upgrade and, probably, the midfield is an area we would want to do that."