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Whitecaps sign Barbara: Who plays, and who sits?

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Etienne Barbara
When Ossie Ardiles managed Tottenham in the early 1990s, he unveiled a system which saw Spurs use five forwards. It didn’t help Spurs get close to silverware.

Now, Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie could easily do the same. With Tuesday’s signing of reigning NASL MVP Etienne Barbara, Rennie has a wealth of attacking players at his disposal. The Maltese striker — who has been injured and hasn’t been able to see any preseason action so far in 2012 — joins Sebastien Le Toux, Eric Hassli, Camilo, 2011 No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado, Atiba Harris, Davide Chiumiento, Long Tan and 2012 No. 2 overall pick Darren Mattocks in what is the most top-heavy roster in MLS.

And Designated Player Barry Robson arrives in July.

But Rennie is a proponent of a 4-4-2; it’s the system he stuck with last year as the Carolina RailHawks finished the regular season with the NASL’s best record but, alas, collapsed down the stretch and into the playoffs. It’s the system he’s preferred through the Whitecaps’ preseason matches.

Between Camilo, Le Toux and Hassli, you had 33 MLS regular-season goals last season. Chiumiento had nine assists.

If Rennie’s 2011 RailHawks are the template, he prefers to use a thunder-and-lightning approach at striker, with a quick playmaker going with a target man. And, he likes to keep the midfield as tough as nails. Anyone in NASL will tell you that the RailHawks were the most miserable opponents to face in the league last season.

So, in such an approach, can Hassli and Le Toux survive together? Is there room for Chiumiento and Camilo together in the midfield, as both can be playmakers, but neither is what you’d consider to be a tough tackler?

And, back to Barbara. His breakout season in 2011 — which saw him score 20 times in 27 games — was produced thanks to an outstanding partnership with ex-Real Salt Lake forward Pablo Campos. Campos has now left Carolina and is a San Antonio Scorpion; but can Barbara play without his muse? By the end of the season, Campos was actually the more dangerous of the two players.

“I am delighted and honoured to become a member of Whitecaps FC,” said Barbara. “I would like to thank my coaches, staff, and teammates for the faith and positive support they have shown in me. I am looking forward to getting back on the pitch and contributing to my new club. I have heard many great things about the passionate fans in Vancouver, so I look forward to seeing them and playing for them at BC Place.”

And that’s the thing, isn’t it. Barbara may be “seeing” the fans, but will he be “playing” for them?

You can sign all the strikers you want, but once the strikers and attacking midfielders are spoken for, the rest of the guys sit on the bench. So, unless Rennie has an Ardiles-like epiphany, the Whitecaps could leave more goals sitting on the bench than any other team in MLS. And that’s saying something for a team that finished dead last in the league in 2011.

RELATED:
Did Whitecaps inherit Montreal’s headache, or the NASL MVP? (CLICK)

Barbara continues his push for MLS attention with two-goal performance against Impact (RELATED)

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