The Vancouver Whitecaps took a big step forward in their sophomore MLS campaign by reaching the postseason for the first time in their short franchise history.
The 'Caps opened 2012 with an impressive four-game unbeaten run before finally losing for the first time to San Jose. But the positive vibes were flowing for the majority of the season as the club finished fifth in the Western Conference with 43 points to claim the final playoff berth.
The good feelings came to an end with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the knockout round, but the Whitecaps have good reason for optimism in 2013.
Speedy forward Darren Mattocks had a breakout season last term, and the 'Caps will likely go as far as the feet of Mattocks can carry them in 2013.
Mattocks, 23, was the second-overall selection in the 2012 SuperDraft and played in 21 games last season. He found the back of the net seven times and added one assist in the regular season and scored the club's lone playoff goal against Los Angeles.
Mattocks' blazing speed is a game-changer for Vancouver and gives the club a legitimate goal threat who will be counted on to shoulder the offensive burden this season.
In addition to Mattocks, fellow forwards Camilo and Omar Salgado will have to step up their contributions if the Whitecaps are to advance past the knockout round in 2013.
Salgado was made the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 SuperDraft and has not quite lived up to the expectations of a player taken that high.
At the time of his selection, he was just 17 years old, so it is possible that heaping the expectations of a No. 1 pick onto the shoulders of a teenager was a bit unfair, but he has the potential to be outstanding player with a little more seasoning and experience.
Over his first two seasons in MLS, Salgado has appeared in 21 games, with 10 starts, and bagged just one goal. The Texas native could be paired up top with Mattocks this season, which should give him the time and space necessary to find the back of the net with some regularity.
Camilo, meanwhile, has been a proven scoring commodity over his two seasons in British Columbia, as the Brazil native has netted 17 goals and added 10 assists in 60 appearances. He should be able to increase his production in 2013 with Atiba Harris having moved on to Colorado in a trade.
The forward corps should have some help from attacking midfielder Paulo Jr., who arrived via trade from Real Salt Lake. Paulo Jr. spent three seasons in Utah, where he scored four goals, but was counted on to orchestrate the attack more than be the finisher.
With Camilo, Mattocks and Salgado occupying the forward slots, Paulo Jr. should settle in nicely behind them in the attacking midfield role.
Veteran midfielders Barry Robson and John Thorrington will not be back with the club this time around, which leaves the door open for Russell Teibert, Gershon Koffie, Daigo Kobayashi and Bryce Alderson to battle for spots next to Paulo Jr.
Defensively, the Whitecaps finished 2012 with a minus-6 goal differential, which will need to be improved upon if the club hopes to continue it's upward progression.
United States international Jay Demerit anchors the backline, along with veteran defenders Alain Rochat and Jordan Harvey. Harvey is a sturdy left back, while Demerit and Rochat will play centrally, leaving the right back spot to Young-Pyo Lee, who started 33 of Vancouver's 34 games last season.
The 'Caps should make the postseason for a second consecutive term, but just how far they can go will depend on the scoring prowess of Mattocks.
2012 IN REVIEW: Vancouver opened the 2012 season with a four-game unbeaten streak and carried that momentum all the way through to the playoffs, finishing fifth in a packed Western Conference with 43 points, but fell to the Galaxy in the knockout round of the postseason.
ACQUISITIONS: Paulo Jr. (M/F), Brad Rusin (D), Kekuta Manneh (F), Daigo Kobayashi (M).
LOSSES: John Thorrington (M), Barry Robson (M), Atiba Harris (F), Michael Nanchoff (M), Martin Bonjour (D).
OUTLOOK: If Mattocks can build upon last season and continue his rise to stardom, Vancouver should sneak into the postseason in a very difficult Western Conference. Camilo and Salgado will need to help the Jamaican with the scoring load, or Vancouver could easily miss the postseason party. Fifth place in the West is an achievable target for Martin Rennie's side.