'15 Season Preview: 'Caps shoot for deep playoff run

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Vancouver Whitecaps have a proud history dating back to 1974. The club won the 1979 NASL title, but their MLS era has seen the team become a middle-of-the-pack franchise.

In contrast to the big-spending clubs like New York City FC and Toronto FC, Vancouver has taken to low-key signings and embracing youth. It will be head coach Carl Robinson's job to get the most out of that youth.

Entering their fifth season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC has made a pair of playoff appearances, but each time they have reached the postseason it ended rather quickly with a defeat in the knockout round.

Last season was no exception as the club reached the postseason, but was knocked out by FC Dallas via a questionable penalty decision, which should leave Robinson's men with plenty of motivation for 2015.

The 'Caps boast a strong defense with a nice combination of veteran savvy and youthful energy which posted a league-best 13 clean sheets last season. Jordan Harvey will line up as the left back, while former San Jose Earthquake Steven Beitashour will patrol the right back spot in his second season in the pacific northwest.

Harvey has logged 97 appearances for Vancouver since joining the club in a trade from Philadelphia Union in 2011. He can get forward and will the occasional goal or two.

Beitashour, a 2012 MLS All-Star has made 89 regular season and playoff appearances and is a vital piece of the back line. To balance the veteran presence, the central defense pairing of Diego Rodriguez and Kendall Waston has the potential to be one of the best in the Western Conference.

Pah Modou Kah came over from Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers and last season's third-overall draft selection Christian Dean will provide some nice depth along the back line.

In the midfield, the 'Caps boast a bevy of young, exciting talent, starting with attacking midfielder Pedro Morales.

Morales, 29, was signed as a designated player prior to the 2014 season, coming to MLS from La Liga side Malaga. He netted an impressive 10 goals and added 12 assists and was named the league's Newcomer of the Year for 2014.

Out wide will be former Seattle Sounder Mauro Rosales with another youngster, Kekuta Manneh on the other wing. Rosales is the elder statesman of the midfield at 34 and has a wealth of experience in Europe and South America with River Plate, Newell's Old Boys and Dutch side Ajax.

He went scoreless last season, but his expertise comes from providing assists and set-piece delivery as he racked up 11 assists last season between Vancouver and Chivas USA.

Manneh was selected fourth overall in the 2013 SuperDraft and had a nice sophomore season with four goals in 29 appearances. He's still waiting for his breakout season and it could be this term. Manneh is quick and agile, able to beat his man one-on-one. He'll look to take on a bigger role as Robinson's young team grows throughout the season.

Also in the midfield are Canadian international Russell Teibert and Matias Laba. Laba made his way to Vancouver from Canadian rivals Toronto FC last season, while Teibert has been a consistent performer for Vancouver heading into his fifth season with the club.

"We have a good team," Morales said. "Much better than last year. And we have a good opportunity this year for a good season and maybe make it further in the playoffs."

Leading the line, the 'Caps brought in a new striker in Octavio Rivero, who comes to Vancouver from O'Higgins FC in the Chilean Premier Division as a Young Designated Player.

Rivero scored 10 goals in 18 appearances, and should reach at least that number this season. He'll get plenty of service from his wingers, it's just a matter of being able to finish the chances.

The pieces are there for the 'Caps to have a breakout season and go deep into the playoffs. The only issue is the strength of the Western Conference. Even with Sporting Kansas City and Houston moving to the West, the 'Caps should be a top-four seed.

ACQUISITIONS: Octavio Rivero (F), Diego Rodriguez (D), Pah Modou Kah (D), Ben McKendry (M), Deybi Flores (M).

LOSSES: Jay DeMerit (D), Carlyle Mitchell (D), Omar Salgado (F), Sebastian Fernandez (M), Andy O'Brien (D)

OUTLOOK: After a disappointing exit in the knockout round of the postseason last year, the Whitecaps will surely be motivated to avoid that round this time around. The defense is solid enough to offset the departure of captain Jay DeMerit, who retired, and the midfield is filled with exciting talent. Erik Hurtado has proven he can put the ball in the net, but Rivero is more of an unproved commodity. If Rivero can reach 15 goals, the 'Caps could be set for a huge season. Robinson should steer his club high enough in the standings to avoid the dreaded knockout round.