During their time in Major League Soccer, the Vancouver Whitecaps have began their season prep in sunny Arizona. This season, the team decided to shake it up a bit, taking the squad to Carl Robinson’s home of Wales, in hopes of facing competition that was in-form rather than against competition in a similar pre-season state as their own. While playing against United Kingdom squads would certainly fit that plan, playing against U-23 squads is not the best barometer. Nevertheless, It was probably better, or at the very least just as good, as playing against USL teams or MLS teams with reserve players.
In total, the Whitecaps played three matches. They started with a 1-0 defeat to Cardiff City FC but followed that up with matching 4-0 victories over Oxford United and Bristol City FC. The team now travels back to Vancouver for a brief visit, before heading off to Portland to participate in the Timbers annual pre-season tournament.
This morning’s 4-0 victory over Bristol City FC was very impressive; again though, keep in mind that it was probably not the same caliber of an in-season MLS squad. Specifically, Kekuta Manneh had success in a #10-esque role, delivering three assists, while Alphonso Davies looked dangerous once again, scoring a brace.
The key question though is what do we take from these preseason matches? Well, on the positive side, it appears that the team is in good spirits and that many of the players came into camp in much better shape than last year. On the less positive side, despite scoring eight goals over their last two matches, the front of the attack seems as up-in-the-air as previously. Erik Hurtado started all three matches, alone, up-top, with Kyle Greig coming on in relief, in order, in the 46th, 60th, and 60th minute. Giles Barnes only saw action in the final match, although to be fair he was injured. Against Bristol City FC, Barnes played the final 30 minutes, taking off Manneh. It appears so far that the only option for the Whitecaps primary striker is the hardworking, but rarely scoring, Hurtado, with USL signing Greig playing backup.
Newest Whitecaps Yordy Reyna did not feature for the Whitecaps in Wales. Hopefully he joins the team in Portland and we get to see what he can do prior to the Caps Champions League match against New York City Red Bulls.
More positives, Manneh seems to be in good form to start the season and may be poised for a breakout year. I know it seems weird to use the term ‘breakout’ when referring to Manneh, and it is just pre-season, but Manneh seems a bit different. It seems he is ready to be a leader and control the play. If he is able to do that, we could see double-digit goals and assists.
Another positive is the play of SuperDraft selection, and more importantly right back, Jake Nerwinski. He has looked comfortable on the field and ready to make the transition. Fans are not sold on Sheanon Williams, so the positive play from Jake Nerwinski is a relief. More to come on him in another article.
While we have to be cautious about putting too much pressure on 16-year-old (nice to spice the line up with an age change) Davies, he has looked great so far. I expect him to make a big impact this season, with around 8 starts and maybe 20-25 appearances. Keeping in mind not to heap too much praise/pressure on a young kid, what are your expectations for Davies this season?
It seems that Nicolas Mezquida will continue to be a fill-in substitute for the Whitecaps in 2017, as he came on in the 60th minute against Oxford and 46th against Bristol City, which is a shame.
Finally, Kianz Froese was officially transferred to Bundesliga 2 club Fortuna Düsseldorf. This is a great move for both the Whitecaps and Froese. The Whitecaps have touted themselves as a club where young players can come and get transferred on to bigger clubs. While a Bundesliga 2 team may not seem like a bigger club, and actually may not be, it is still important as it shows that there is potential for a pipeline for homegrown players to other leagues. I expect a similar announcement this summer about Sam Adekugbe. For Froese, this is a great opportunity for him to further his career and improve. He has looked strong for Germany and may have the chance to become a regular player overseas. The transfer includes a ‘matches played’ bonus and the Caps will receive a percentage of any sell-on transfers.
With the Whitecaps returning to North America, it will mean an opportunity for fans and pundits to get a closer look at the squad, as games will not be untelevised nor starting at 4am. What will you be looking at most closely?
What is your take on the team’s UK trip? Was it successful?