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Vancouver Whitecaps Battles to Watch in Pre-Season

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There’s a lot of competition for spots

MLS match New York Red Bulls v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the things Carl Robinson has stressed that he wants in his team is competition for places. The 2018 rendition of the Whitecaps looks to have that in spades. As I see it the only players who are locks to be starters are Waston, Parker, and Reyna. With training camp about to start there are some fascinating battles for places about to take place.

Rowe V Marinovic

I think Stefan Marinovic is a much better keeper than Brian Rowe. That being said though, Rowe has been a starter in this league before and he seems to be one of goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr’s guys. If Marinovic drops a clanger or two in the opening games, something similar to what he did in the final regular season match against the Portland Timbers, it’s not out of the question that Rowe gets a chance. It’s Marinovic’s spot to lose but it’s not inconceivable that he does lose it.

3rd Centre Back

Carl Robinson has indicated that he’s considering a switch to three at the back this year. We can assume that Kendall Waston and Tim Parker are locks for such a formation. The third centre back spot, however, is rather up in the air. When I wrote my piece on three at the back I put De Jong in as the third centre back. The theory behind this being that De Jong’s ability to play the ball would compensate for Waston and Parker mostly hoofing it up the field. The other option would be to put Doneil Henry in. Henry’s career has gotten stuck in a rut but let’s not forget he was and MLS starter not all that long ago. Speaking of guys who were starters not all that long ago, Aaron Maund is still on this team! Maund was a regular starter, and a damn good one, only a couple of years ago for RSL. David Edgar is also in camp. it’s an outside chance but if he can recover from his injury then it’d be quite the story if he could go on to be an important piece of the team. It’s going to be really interesting to see which of those players stakes a claim on the starting spot in preseason.

Youngins

Myer Bevan and David Norman Jr. were both signed from WFC2. I would have considered them prime candidates to be loaned to Fresno but that hasn’t happened yet. I take this to mean that Carl Robinson expects them to play some games. For both players it’s kind of hard to see where they would fit in. Norman Jr. is behind Ghazal, Tchani, Juarez, and probably Russel Teibert as a matter of seniority. Beven is behind expensive signings Kamara and Blondell. It’s possible that they will be loaned out to Fresno after training camp but in the meantime it’ll be interesting to see if they can force their way into the team.

Strikers

It’s not clear who the first choice striker for the Whitecaps will be in 2018. For once we can say that in a good way. Anthony Blondell scored more goals in Venezuela (in a single season) than anybody else for over a decade but he’s unproven away from his home country (Can he do it on a humid Wednesday night in Sandy Utah?). Kei Kamara on the other hand is an MLS legend but at 33 his best days may be behind him (Though he’s still banging them in at a respectable rate). It will be fascinating to see which of them establishes themselves as the first choice striker.

Backup Fullbacks

After the draft the ‘Caps have three players competing for two backup fullback spots. Brett Levis, Justin Fiddes and Lucas Stauffer. Fiddes is naturally left footed but says he’s comfortable playing on either side and Stauffer seems able to play in a variety of positions as well and is naturally right footed. One would think that Fiddes would be the natural choice as the backup to Nerwinski, Levis providing depth on the left side, and Stauffer spending some time with Fresno. But in interviews after the draft Carl Robinson commented that Fiddes fits well into the system he’s planning “If Marcel [de Jong] plays as a centre back” which suggests Robbo sees him as a left wing back. But then where does this leave Brett Levis, a player who has patiently waited for his chance and been a man amongst boys in the USL. Levis is 24 and has already shown he’s to good for USL so it would be a waste to send him to Fresno in my opinion. Nevertheless the Saskatchewan native is going to have to perform well in preseason if he wants to earn his place in the team.

The Spare Parts

There are a few players for whom there is no obvious place. The most obvious two being Brek Shea and Bernie Ibini. The Whitecaps have a lot of money tied up in Shea, and are using an international spot on Ibini, so you’d hope they’d get production from them. The thing is though there’s not really a clear place in the team for either of them. Shea could play on the left side of a 4 in a 3-4-2-1 but I expect that role to be largely filled by Alphonso Davies. Ibini isn’t defensively sound enough to play on the right of a four and I’m not sure he can displace Techera or Reyna in a 4-2-3-1. With Blondell and Kamara there will be limited opportunities for these two to be used as emergency strikers. Both will have to show something pretty special in camp if they want to be a part of the squad on opening day, or even just to earn their place on the team going forward. Tony Tchani’s spot in the first team is also at risk with the signing of Juarez and with Norman Jr. hot on his heels. Tchani is on a fairly high salary so he also has to show he’s worth keeping around. With 26 players under contract the Whitecaps have two open roster spots, plus two spots which are reserved for homegrown players (as far as my untrained eye can see). So it will be interesting to see if any trialists and/or residency players come into camp and if they can earn a contract.