Consider this busy Tuesday as the perfect snapshot to capture a busy winter for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The two moves arrived in concert and illustrated the Whitecaps' overarching philosophy heading into the 2016 season. Blas Pérez completed his long-awaited move from FC Dallas to increase the options up front. David Ousted signed his long-awaited contract extension to tie him to the Whitecaps for a couple more years.
These moves continued the flurry of offseason transactions and underscored the motivations behind everything. One alternative arrives to strengthen the side, another key component stays in place. And the Whitecaps are poised to benefit from all of it.
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In a foundational campaign last year, the Whitecaps relied on a youthful squad to claim the Voyageurs Cup for the first time and sketch out a path toward the future. Vancouver boss Carl Robinson leaned on organization and team spirit to propel the entire project forward. His group displayed the intent and the willingness to punish opponents when they lost their shape, but inevitably succumbed to missing pieces and inability to produce that necessary sharpness in the final third.
Most of the pitfalls arrived through the natural course of building a team. The core of the side formed the league's stingiest defense during the regular season, but the evident holes -- a lack of creativity beyond captain Pedro Morales, a lack of reliable competition to Octavio Rivero up front -- kept the Whitecaps from truly challenging for a place in MLS Cup.
Carefully and diligently, the Whitecaps addressed those concerns. The fundamental pieces -- Ousted, Morales, Rivero and Kendall Waston -- are now under long-term contracts. The work carried out to protect the spine of the side paved the way to undertake alterations elsewhere.
The primary work unfolded in the attacking third. After spending most of last year relying on Kekuta Manneh, Nicolás Mezquida and Cristian Techera to unsettle teams with movement and pace, the Whitecaps landed Costa Rica midfielder Christian Bolaños to add more guile. Bolaños' ingenuity provides a safety valve if Morales struggles for fitness and supplies another reliable operator in possession. Japanese forward Masato Kudo presents a potential partner for Rivero up front, while Perez looms as a more direct option in those matches where more brute force is required to break through.
Vancouver made sacrifices to pave the way for these changes (Rosales headed to FC Dallas in the Pérez deal, while Gershon Koffie left for New England to create salary budget room), but the Whitecaps stand to benefit from them. This is a deeper, more diverse squad than in previous seasons, even with some issues still outstanding.
There are questions still to answer at right back (Canada fullback Fraser Aird is in line to replace the departed Steven Beitashour), while the onus falls on some Whitecaps Academy products to play more significant roles as the squad stretches out over the course of this season. Those realities are part of the process of operating within a restrictive salary budget system, but the flurry of moves to reinforce the side underscores the benefits of managing those burdens carefully, too.
Perhaps the most fundamental query is whether this group boasts enough top-end class to compete for titles. The triumph of Portland Timbers last season offers plenty of encouragement, but the prospect of navigating through the Western Conference gauntlet -- including the MLS Cup holders, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City -- still raises doubts about whether the Whitecaps have that extra bit of nous required to push through.
The final verdict is ahead at the end of the season, but the steps taken hint at a step forward. This group -- already one of the more promising sides in the league -- is stronger now than a season ago. The burden now falls upon this youthful group to make the leap this season and transform into a side capable of lifting the silverware at its conclusion.