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Although the Vancouver Whitecaps FC was only in its second year in the MLS, the team emerged as one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season. A year removed from a six-win season, the Whitecaps set an MLS record by going 427 minutes without allowing an opposing goal and sneaking into the Western Conference playoffs with a fifth place finish. Although they lost their one-game playoff to the eventual MLS Cup champion, Los Angeles Galaxy, the squad made great strides and could show even more growth in the coming year. With prime matches against the Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas early in the season, Whitecaps fans will find out very soon if their team is a contender for the 2013 MLS Cup.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are relative newcomers to the MLS landscape, finishing up their second season in 2012 after a six-win campaign in their inaugural season. The team was one of the biggest surprises in the MLS during 2012, capturing the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs and showing impressive growth throughout the year. However, the Whitecaps underwent an extensive makeover during the season itself, jettisoning talented players like Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux and retooling the roster from top to bottom.

The offseason was certainly an active one for the Whitecaps, as they unloaded some familiar names and brought in a bevy of new faces. The team let go a series of talented players, like goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, and completely revamped the midfielder position by letting go Tiago Ulisses, Etienne Barbara, Michael Nanchoff, John Thorrington, Atiba Harris and Barry Robson. Luckily for the Whitecaps, the squad went out and found a series of upgrades, most notably midfielders Daigo Kobayashi, Nigel Re-Coker, defender Johnny Leveron and the skilled rookie forward Erik Hurtado. With a mixture of savvy veterans and talented young players, the Whitecaps are a trendy pick as a playoff contender heading into the 2013 season.

The Vancouver Whitecaps FC roster experienced some major turnover over the course of the past offseason, but there are many strong pieces in place to create a successful future campaign. The biggest question mark for the team is at the forward position, where Darren Mattocks is the only true proven commodity with a slew of talented but inexperienced backups. The midfielders have been completely revamped with many interchangeable parts that can help the Whitecaps match up with varying lineups. Camilo, Alain Rochat and Daigo Kobayashi are expected to headline a very strong group of players.

At defense, newcomer Johnny Leveron should be a major upgrade as a fullback or center defender, and will join a solid group of players including Lee Young-Pyo, Jay DeMerit and Brad Rusin. The goalkeeper position should remain the same after the strong showing of Brad Knighton down the stretch, but he could be pressed for playing time by Joe Cannon. This squad is undoubtedly more talented than the 2012 team and now has playoff experience, but only time will tell if the Whitecaps FC has the right stuff to take a major step forward in the MLS playoffs.

The Vancouver Whitecaps FC is fresh on the MLS scene, but in reality, the Whitecaps story spans back decades and illustrates the growth of soccer throughout British Columbia, Canada. The Vancouver Whitecaps were originally members of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and became one of the league's best teams. However, when the league folded in 1984, the Whitecaps joined the newly-formed Canadian Soccer League (CSL) in 1986 and changed their name to the 86ers. The team would prove to be a powerhouse and win four-straight league championship titles.

In 1992, the CSL folded and the 86ers joined the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) and enjoyed many great years with the league. In the early 2000s, the 86ers finally changed their name back to the Whitecaps and set about becoming one of the most respected football clubs in the region. After merging with the women's Vancouver Breakers, the Whitecaps FC launched a series of youth development programs and began construction on the Whitecaps Training Centre. Now members of the USL (United Soccer Leagues) group, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC won an unprecedented amount of titles and began to weigh the interest of the MLS of potentially joining the league.

In 2009, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC was formally admitted to the MLS and became only the second Canadian team in the league's history. The team would begin play at Empire Field before moving to BC Place. The arena is one of the premier soccer venues in North America and was renovated in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Whitecaps made their huge jump to the professional ranks with another MLS first on March 19, 2011. The 'Caps met Toronto FC in the first matchup between two Canadian teams and Vancouver would be hot out of the gate with a 4-2 victory.

While the Whitecaps got off to a quick start, they couldn't maintain the pace and finished with a 6-10-18 record. This finish wasn't what they hoped for, but the team is very encouraged by the groundswell of support from the local community. Unlike other MLS franchises that have to start from scratch, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC is already interwoven in the fabric of the city's athletic community and looks like they will have no trouble getting people excited about the prospect of professional soccer in British Columbia.

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11/24/2014 3:20:46 AM on TCWEB2