Vancouver scored more goals and got more points, but the Western Conference got better. The Whitecaps played better soccer, but their growth didn't keep up with the competition.In many ways, the Vancouver Whitecaps' 2013 campaign is one of mixed feelings.
Statistically, the team improved from its 2012 season, when it did qualify for the playoffs, but because almost every other team in the Western Conference got much better this year, Vancouver found itself on the outside looking in despite scoring more goals, securing more wins and finishing with more points.
Essentially, the standards increased, and while the 'Caps got better, they didn't improve enough to keep up with a conference with improved standards.
But the team was arguably the most exciting incarnation of the club in the MLS era. The side's Golden Boot winning Brazilian, Camilo, was at the heart of much of that.
And with rookie Kekuta Manneh emerging as a genuine young star in the making with his hat trick against the Seattle Sounders near the end of the year, there's plenty to hope for in 2014.
Despite all this, head coach Martin Rennie's contract wasn't renewed, and now the club is on the hunt for his replacement.
THE ATTACK: A-
Camilo was exceptional up top for Vancouver, notching 22 goals en route to a career-best season. Many of his goals were spectacular, and he did more than just score in large quantities.
But beyond the samba star, Vancouver's forwards didn't offer enough in support. Kenny Miller was strong when healthy, notching eight goals in 19 starts, but through no fault of his own, wasn't able to contribute more due to a number of injury issues, including tendonitis in his knees which will be an ongoing issue for the player.
Kekuta Manneh was excellent when he played, but given his lowly 764 minutes, one has to wonder if he would have contributed more had Rennie given him more opportunities earlier in the season.
The players who did get chances up top often failed to take them. Darren Mattocks had a diabolical second season in the league, with just three goals from 20 appearances, and Tom Heinemann and Corey Hertzog weren't able to provide anything in the way of meaningful competition over the course of the season.
On the wings, Russell Teibert showed flashes of what's he's capable of, and now the next step for the Canadian international will be to put together a full season of work to step on to the next level.
Rookie Erik Hurtado still appears very raw but has the physical tools to become a strong player if he can sort out his obvious issues with composure.
THE MIDFIELD: C
Without doubt, midfield is the weakest link on this team by far. Daigo Kobayashi was brought in and failed to consistently provide the creativity this team has pined for since the departure of Davide Chiumiento.
Nigel Reo-Coker was one of the club's best players this season, but even he is limited when it comes to contributing offensively. Perhaps if he had a genuine playmaker to give the ball to these limitations would be less evident.
Matt Watson and Jun Marques Davidson are likeable characters, but they have always had critics who suggest they lack the necessary qualities for MLS, despite their willingness to do the nasty stuff. Davidson in particular has been heavily criticized for his one-dimensional defensive play, and his sending off against the Philadelphia Union in late July was a memorable point which seemed to trigger the team's downfall.
It was obviously just one moment in one game, but Vancouver never looked as comfortable at home following that 1-0 loss.
THE DEFENCE: B-
Well, if there were awards handed out for quantity of central defensive combinations, the Whitecaps would be getting an A+.
Injuries ravaged the backline all season, specifically in the heart of defence, where the 'Caps used nine centre back combinations.
That showed. Jordan Harvey and Lee Young-Pyo were steady without being exceptional.
Jay DeMerit was strong upon his return for the final six games after missing virtually the whole season with a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered on opening day.
Andy O'Brien suffered a series of niggling injuries and then seemingly fell out of favour upon being declared fit.
Johnny Leveron showed in spells that he has a lot of promise, but when the chips were down, Rennie appeared to trust Carlyle Mitchell.
Mitchell brought athleticism, but still needs to refine his game. Brad Rusin was steady when he played and his ability to play in midfield is a bonus.
When you have three apparent No. 1's during a season, that's an issue. Despite that occurrence, Joe Cannon, Brad Knighton and David Ousted were never really the problem with this team.
None of the three seemed like the solution, either, and all had their deficiencies.
Cannon, perhaps the best shot stopper of the three, struggled taking crosses and with his kicking.
Knighton's box management was strong, and he took crosses with ease, but lacked the ability to consistently make game-saving stops.
Ousted brought improved distribution and probably is the best overall of the three – but questions will linger over why the Whitecaps decided to make their lone midseason move at the goalkeeping position when there were greater areas in need of an upgrade (fullback depth, midfield creativity).
THE MANAGEMENT: C+
This team missed the playoffs, but not by much. Just three points would have pushed Vancouver in. So it wasn't a total failure, and there's a good core of players to work with, including a handful of promising youngsters.
The real grade for management will come with who they appoint as Rennie's successor.
Overall Grade: B-