Home MLS Vancouver Whitecaps Whitecaps’ early preseason does little to clear a muddy goalkeeping picture

Whitecaps’ early preseason does little to clear a muddy goalkeeping picture

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Joe Cannon 2012

While there isn’t a coach or manager in the world who doesn’t want to see his or her team’s defence prevent as many scoring chances as it can, it might serve the Whitecaps to see their keepers’ feet put to the fire.

The Whitecaps beat the Houston Dynamo 2-1 Saturday in Casa Grande, Ariz., their second consecutive win. The Dynamo took the lead when a free kick was deflection by Bobby Boswell, giving Brad Knighton — who started last season as the back-up but finished the season as the No. 1 — no chance to make the save.

Joe Cannon, who began the 2012 campaign as the No. 1 but finished as the back-up, played a rather untroubled second half.

Simon Thomas, who got the clean sheet in Canada’s 0-0 draw with the Americans earlier in the week, didn’t play. Evan James, who arrived from the national team to try out for the Caps, got about 25 minutes of action in. Canadian fullback Jaime Peters also got a half of playing time.

While we should salute the Whitecaps goal scorers — Darren Mattocks got his fourth of the preseason off a lovely pass in tight quarters from Camilo and Corey Hertzog capitalized on a horrible back-pass miscue from a Dynamo defender for the winner — the Whitecaps’ goalkeeping situation should be a focal point of the early preseason days.

There’s no reason to think that the Whitecaps will change their course when it comes to the No. 1 man; Knighton has the job. And, Thomas, coming in as a trialist, would be the perfect back-up. He’s a domestic product and, if he makes the squad, likely wouldn’t make much more than an MLS minimum.

But Cannon as a No. 2 for another season is an issue. Last year, his guaranteed salary was just over US$166,000. He’s getting No. 1 keeper money. In the MLS salary-cap environment — no matter how much allocation a team has — paying that kind of money for a No. 2 keeper is, well, crazy. Backup keeper is a value position; it has to be occupied by an upstart who doesn’t make any sort of real dent in the budget.

It sounds cruel, but it’s basic capitalism and asset management. And, while the romantics love to go on about the notion as football being the game of the working class, at the MLS level, the cap on labour costs forces clubs to be as stringent as possible when it comes to wages. Cannon can’t be paid six digits to help the Reserves win a match against Richmond of the USL.

And this is why a half of preseason soccer that offered little for Cannon to distinguish himself is an issue. If Cannon doesn’t win back the No. 1 job, he and the Whitecaps would be best off if he could play well enough to attract the attention of a club that’s looking for a solid No. 1 keeper with MLS experience. Cannon can only make that impression by excelling in the preseason, which would require his backline to have a miserable day in front of him.

We’ll still need to see what Thomas can do in an MLS preseason match. But in one half of action against Denmark and 90 minutes against the United States, he looked solid enough. Of course, in the U.S. match, Thomas didn’t have a lot to do, either.

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