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Western Conference Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

What can we expect in 2016 from the team that was the runner-up in the West in 2015?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver looked west to fill their biggest position of need when they snagged prolific Japanese goalscorer Masato Kudo. At 25 years of age, Kudo has already scored 66 goals in 185 appearances in the J-League. He scored a goal in a preseason game, but also shockingly missed a sitter. The rumor out of Vancouver is that they have asked him to hit the gym to bulk up for the bruising MLS season. It might take Kudo some time to adjust to MLS.

Striker Octavio Rivero was run into the ground by Vancouver last season, playing constantly even when not scoring. The Whitecaps brought in Kudo and Blas Perez so coach Carl Robinson could rotate Rivero, or even play a 2-forward lineup at times. The increased depth at forward should help to alleviate Vancouver's problem position.

Dynamic winger Christian Techera returns to the squad, having been bought on a permanent transfer in the offseason. Christian Bolaños, a Costa Rican 2014 FIFA World Cup veteran, arrives to shore up the rotation at winger. As a replacement for Mauro Rosales, Bolaños is 3 years younger and has more international experience. Techera, Bolaños, and Kekutah Manneh will all receive starts at winger.

Matias Laba, who is possibly the best defensive midfielder in the league, is now entering his third season with Vancouver. His typical partner in the 4-2-3-1, Gershon Koffie, has been traded to New England. Vancouver has a ready replacement in Canadian international Russell Teibert. Even two 19-year olds, Deybi Flores and Kianz Froese, have been impressive at defensive midfield in preseason action.

Pedro Morales picked up a small knock but will be ready to go on March 6th. His health might determine how the season goes for Vancouver. Since Mauro Rosales went to Dallas in a swap for Blas Perez, it seems that Robinson is without a ready replacement at the #10 and would have to alter the formation to a 4-4-2 in Morales' absence.

Vancouver returns most of its suffocating 2015 defense. Goalkeeper David Ousted, who many thought should've been named the 2015 Goalkeeper of the Year, has been locked up with a long-term contract. Right back Steven Beitashour was allowed to walk and will be replaced by either speedy Canadian Frasier Aird, who is on a one year loan from Rangers, or Costa Rican international Jordan Smith. Tim Parker, who received his first call-up to the United States national team this January, has beat out Pa Modou Kah to be paired with imposing Costa Rican international Kendall Waston at center back.

Bottom Line: Vancouver should once again have a top defense. Have they done enough to improve the offense?

Projected Strongest Lineup: