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Vancouver Courier: Whitecaps Busy in Off-Season

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Whitecaps busy in off-season

By Bob Mackin

The Vancouver Whitecaps are serious about winning the United Soccer League's First Division and their first game isn't for more than a month.

During a busy off-season, the team inked a radio deal unlike any locally since the North American Soccer League was carried by CKWX when it was a country music station. Team 1040 will carry all 28 games plus playoffs. The Whitecaps lured Orca Bay executive John Rocha to be president, which frees up Bob Lenarduzzi to focus on signing, sealing and dealing players for new coach Bob Lilley.

Lilley's fresh bunch kicks off the season April 24, but it has a five-game pre-season schedule beginning March 26.

The winter of owner Greg Kerfoot's discontent actually began last September, right after the Whitecaps proved ineffective at breaking the Seattle Sounders stingy defence in the western conference final.

A win would've given the Whitecaps the right to host the league title match against the Montreal Impact (the eventual champion)-and it would've left Kerfoot with perhaps a profit for the season.

Not that the former Crystal Decisions software tycoon needs it. It's probably more about pride. Kerfoot can often be seen at games wearing a modest Whitecaps hoodie jacket. The night the Sounders turned out the lights at Swangard, Kerfoot was seen impatiently pacing in the tunnel outside where the Whitecaps were moping and the Sounders were gloating. He was waiting to confer with Lenarduzzi and Tony Fonseca.

Fonseca was eventually moved sideways in the Whitecaps flow chart to become youth technical director. Enter Lilley, two-time A-League coach of the year with Hershey Wildcats in 1997 and the Montreal Impact in 2003.

The 38-year-old is the first American to coach the Whitecaps and first outside hiring in the history of the franchise, which began in 1987 in the Canadian Soccer League.

He wants to do it a third time in Vancouver, but he's going to do it without a number of Whitecap regulars who've been fan favourites since the days of the Eighty-Sixers (pre-2001).

Oliver Heald and Johnny Sulentic are gone. Enter midfielder Steve Klein, who played under Lilley for the Hershey Wildcats, ex-Portland Timber Jake Sagare and Said Ali, last year's PDL rookie of the year.

When the Whitecaps kick off the season against the Toronto Lynx, national team veteran and former Eighty-Sixer Mark Watson will be on the back line.

Faces aren't the only thing Lilley is changing. The style of play is up for a makeover.

Says Lilley: "The system we'll employ now will be a zonal system as opposed to a man to man system, a lot of players will share responsibilities and be dependent on each other to play a zonal system well. It should give us better balance, meaning defensively there would be fewer gaps to exploit."

Possession creates chances, but it can slow the flow of the game if not used property.

"Talent is good here," says Lilley. "Sometimes you can play opponents into the game if you let them off the hook. Dominating a game but you're content to wait for things to happen. We want to put our personality and our stamp on the game, be more focused as a unit."

The league's new single conference format means games against Puerto Rico will have the same value as the old Seattle/Vancouver rivalry. That won't stop Sounders/Whitecaps matches from being the "anything goes" highlight of the season for Whitecaps fans.

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Wow that Johnny Sulentic thing is a shocker....well too me at least. Any news as to Where Johnny will be playing this Year? Hope its not for the hated Sounders or Timbers. Whats up with Oliver Heald? If I wouldn't know any better, I'd say this guy is a head case, as he can't stick around with a club for more then 2 consecutive season. In both cases, I find it to be a total waste of Talent. To think That Sulentic was rookie of the Year, and flirted with a spot on the MNT, aswell as a shot at European Football. As far as Oliver Heald is concerned, I remember him best as a major part of that CDN olympic team which tried to qualify for sydney I believe, a team that included Kuschy and Nevio Pizzolitto. Since then have seen him have some success with both Vancouver and Seattle. Great free kick taker if I remember correctly. Hope they can catch on with Somone in the USL.

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quote:Originally posted by analyst

Richard, in this thread you say Heald doesn't have the package and in another thread you first said he is over the hill, even though he is 30, and then you said he has an attitude. Exactly why did coach Lilley cut him?

Ask Lilley, he's the only one who knows for sure.

Why does what I say matter so much to you?

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I did not raise the subject of Heald, somebody else asked why he had been cut, I put forward some suggestions. You seem to have a problem with that, why? Clearly I know no more than you do about the real reasons coach Lilley cut him this time, or do you? Your defensive posture would suggest you have some interest beyond casual curiosity, what might that be? Furthermore, that it takes a whole lot more than just football skills to hack it on a pro or national team is a self evident truth and applies to any and all players, or do you disagree?

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quote:Originally posted by Richard

Your defensive posture would suggest you have some interest beyond casual curiosity, what might that be?

I've enjoyed watching Heald for years. I was impressed that he sucked it up and tried out for the Caps this year after what happened last year. That shows good character.

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