Vancouver, BC (SportsNetwork.com) - Vancouver Whitecaps FC will begin their fourth season in Major League Soccer with some uncertainty, as a major hole on the front lines had to be unexpectedly patched.
Vancouver got off to a quick start with a pair of wins in their first two games during a strong first half of the season, but the club hit a tailspin down the stretch which cost it a playoff spot as well as then-manager Martin Rennie his job en route to a 13-12-9 record for seventh place in the West.
Diminutive forward Camilo Sanvezzo emerged as an offensive force for the Whitecaps as he finished with 22 goals and won the Golden Boot for the league's highest scorer.
The team looked to have found a player to build around for the future, but Camilo's tenure in the great Northwest ended strangely this offseason when the Brazilian starlet forced his way out amidst controversy and was eventually transferred to Mexican club Queretaro.
With Camilo gone, the biggest question for Vancouver this season is how the club is going to replace the Brazilian's outstanding offensive production.
The best candidates to take up Camilo's mantle at the top of the formation are Jamaican international Darren Mattocks, second-year player Kekuta Manneh, and newly-acquired youngster Matias Laba.
Mattocks was tabbed to lead the 'Caps to their second-ever playoff appearances last season, but fell out of favor with Rennie and could barely get on the field, which paved the way for Camilo's emergence.
Manneh was selected fourth overall by the Whitecaps in the 2013 SuperDraft and had an excellent rookie season, making 20 appearances with six starts and scoring six goals.
Laba, meanwhile. was acquired on loan from Toronto FC just last week and should help with the attack from the middle of the park along with Nigel Reo- Coker and Sebastian Fernandez.
Pulling the strings in the attacking midfield spot will be Canadian international Russell Teibert, who showed flashes of brilliance last season and will get an opportunity to shine on a more full-time basis this time around.
Teibert has been described as a Canadian version of U.S. international Brad Davis. He's not a pure chance creator like Darlington Nagbe or Kelyn Rowe, but he's excellent on the ball and puts himself in good positions to kick start a counter-attack.
Vancouver's biggest acquisition of the offseason comes on the back line with former San Jose Earthquake Steven Beitashour arriving via trade.
Beitashour will slide right into the starting 11 following the retirement of veteran rear guard Y.P. Lee at the end of last season. The Iran international is outstanding at overlapping down the flanks and getting forward for crosses with either foot. He's provided 16 assists over the past three seasons for the Earthquakes.
Captain Jay DeMerit is fully healthy after missing most of last season due to a torn Achilles he suffered in the first match of the season. He will anchor a solid back line next to Andy O'Brien along with Beitashour on the right and Jordan Harvey on the left.
Also new in the fold this season is head coach Carl Robinson, who previously served as an assistant coach to Rennie.
Robinson started his professional playing career in 1995 and spent seven years with Wolverhampton before bouncing around England until 2007. He made the move to MLS in 2007 and appeared in 74 games over four seasons with Toronto FC.
He was traded to the New York Red Bulls in March 2010 and spent two seasons with the club.
Robinson also made 52 appearances for the Welsh national team from 1999-2009.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two seasons in Vancouver, and am looking forward to the start of the 2014 season -- the club's 40th anniversary," Robinson said. "We have an exceptional fan base, a solid core of youth and experience, and a committed ownership group. I'm really excited about the opportunity to drive this club forward."
Robinson has said he prefers his fullbacks to jump into the attack and with Beitashour and Harvey on the outside, the club should be well-equipped to carry out the coach's wishes.
Robinson has a tall task on his hands this season trying to guide Vancouver back to the postseason without the services of Camilo, but there's enough veteran leadership on the squad that it's possible, especially of Teibert fulfils his potential and Mattocks rediscovers what made him great in 2012.
ACQUISITIONS: Steven Beitashour (D), Matias Laba (M), Sebastian Fernandez (M/F), Mehdi Ballouchy (M).
LOSSES: Y.P. Lee (D) Camilo Sanvezzo (F), Corey Hertzog (F), Daigo Kobayashi (M), Jun-Marques Davidson (M), Tommy Heinemann (F).
OUTLOOK: Replacing Camilo's offensive production will be a tall ask for sure, but the burden could be eased if Mattocks and Manneh can pick up the scoring slack. The defense is solid with Beitashour, Harvey, O'Brien and Harvey, and the midfield should be productive with Reo-Coker and Laba patrolling the center. The biggest question is going to be who will step up and score the goals for this team.