VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps have spent most of the last two seasons looking for more offence, and that search will continue into 2016.
The Whitecaps were eliminated in Major League Soccer's Western Conference semifinal over the weekend after failing to score in over 180 minutes of action against the Portland Timbers in what turned out to be a 2-0 aggregate loss.
Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson met the media on Thursday to dissect the season and said that he will again focus on trying to bolster the club's attack.
"We know we need to improve in the goals area," said Robinson. "Can we do that by bringing one player in? Yeah, we possibly could."
What is more likely, however, is for Vancouver to continue mining Central and South American leagues to compliment some of the young talent up front that has shown flashes of brilliance, but also a maddening lack of poise at critical moments.
Uruguayan striker Octavio Rivero joined the club last winter and started the season with five goals in six league games before adding just five more over the next 30, including the two playoff outings.
"It's important he comes back fitter and stronger for next year," said Robinson. "Expectations in this city are brilliant. You go from being the best to being the worst in a short period of time. He's certainly not the best and he's certainly not the worst. We know he's a work in progress."
Uruguayan midfielder Cristian Techera was added on a loan deal partway through the season and contributed seven goals in his combined 24 games, while Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh added seven of his own in 34 matches.
"I think we showed maturity throughout the season, but we're still a young group so we can still go a ways there," said goalkeeper David Ousted, who tied for first in MLS with 13 shutouts. "I think it's obvious to say that we need to find goals from the guys already in the group and if the coach and the club are going to bring new players in."
All told, Vancouver scored 45 times, three more than 2014, but far fewer than the increase of 25 that Robinson set as a target. He was, however, quick to point out that 36 goals against tied for fewest in MLS and is something to build on moving forward.
"If I get another three (goals) next year then we're moving in the right direction," he said. "You've got to give yourself a platform and we've done that the last two years because we've built from the back."
One of the main reasons for the lack off offence came down to injuries, including a series of setbacks for captain and talismanic midfielder Pedro Morales that kept him out for long stretches. The club's highest paid player started just 15 games, but still contributed six goals and four assists, and Robinson said he expects the Chilean to be fit for the start of training camp in the New Year.
Vancouver finished second in the West with a franchise-record 53 points and accomplished many of its targets for the campaign, including the club's first Amway Canadian Championship and first home playoff game, but the post-season defeat still stings and will for sometime.
"It's very bitter. It's very tough to swallow right now. The disappointment hasn't really gone yet for me," said Ousted. "(But) when the smoke clears I think we'll look at the season as a season where we made history and developed with a young group."
Note: The Whitecaps announced Thursday that midfielder Matias Laba has signed a multi-year contract extension. A crucial part of Vancouver's defensive setup, the 23-year-old Argentine has an MLS-high 303 tackles over the last two seasons since arriving in a trade with Toronto.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press