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Vancouver Whitecaps 2019 Season Roundup Part 1: Reflecting on the Season

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We begin our 2019 end of the season roundtable focusing on the season that was.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2019 Major League Soccer season is over, so it is time for the writers here at EightySix Forever to look back, as well as look forward. This is the first in a five-part series where we review the 2019 season, grade Marc Dos Santos Year 1, exame potential player transactions this offseason, project 2020, and make predictions about how next season will start. Today, we start with a look back at 2019.

By pretty much every metric, 2019 was a failure (don’t worry, that second statistics article is STILL coming!). The Whitecaps would have been the worst team in MLS on most metrics if it were not for Cincinnati FC’s expansion season failure. However, the first thing we wanted to ask everyone is “what positives do you take from this season”

Ian_Jones was less positive stating “That it’s over.”, but followed that up with “Look, we knew this season would be a write-off and MDS was always going to have leeway; let’s just hope that he’s learned from it before going into a full offseason…”

While Caleb_Wilkins saw the season the same negative way, he put a bit of a different spin on it, hoping “…that the poor season may force the Whitecaps’ management to reconsider the way they do things. There are tentative signs…Of course, it doesn’t matter much unless they actually pull stuff like that off, but the fact that they seem to be trying is encouraging.”

Several writers touched on learning from mistakes. Samuel_Rowan said “Dos Santos has already learned a lot from his early 2019 mistakes and isn’t likely to replicate them in 2020.” That was the key theme with our writers. We see the mistakes the Whitecaps made and hear from MDS that he recognizing the mistakes made. The question on most minds is whether MDS has the skillset to fix those mistakes. The optimism in our writers suggest that he can, but we will see next season. We will delve deeper into that potential optimism in Part 2 of our series, where we grade Marc Dos Santos first year as manager.

Despite the poor defensive record this season, the defense seems to be a place of strength. Andrew_Bahl believes that “The defense is something that this team can build around going forward…Given how inept the midfield was…the success of Doneil Henry and company was actually impressive.” As Sam notes, the “Whitecaps also have a decent young core and squad depth, what they need are game changing talents to take the place of some of their replacement-level or below talent”. That young core includes Max Crepeau and Derek Cornelius, who Andrew saw as “developing ahead of schedule” and was “optimistic about Jasser Khmiri and if Erik Godoy is retained the Caps will have four MLS starting quality CBs”. Of course, Andrew is not blind to the issues that exist in the back, noting “right back leaves something to be desired, as do Ali Adnan’s defensive capabilities

At the end of the day though, the biggest take home is that Marc Dos Santos began to do two of the “very things MDS preached from his first interview – building a culture that included an organized defense and build-up from the back…even when depth members of the squad were called upon, they were familiar with the system and what was asked of them…” (Jitsuo)

The second question we posed was “was 2019 better or worse than 2018?”

I believe Sam said it best with “Better is some ways and worse in others.” “Based on performance, 2018 [was better] but not when looking solely at its conclusion. 2018 started with promise…but the way the off-season began left behind a foul odor…we knew 2019 would be brutal…[but] the club arguably has something to build on going into 2020…” (Ian). Likewise, Caleb believes “there is more of a path forward after 2019 than there was after 2018. All of the best players are under 30 and none of them are being sold to Europe or demanding a trade because the coach they were BFFs with got fired.”

Andrew and Jitsuo were a little less positive than their colleagues. Andrew stated “2019 was undoubtedly worse, but not necessarily because it involved more losing than 2018. I think everyone expected that this season would be rough…but given the major question marks surrounding many members of the squad, an abject failure in building a midfield, and the ongoing sporting director search, the club feels farther away from a sustainable path forward.”

Meanwhile, Jitsuo had the following to say: “at some point it has to be about results…This was always meant to be a work in progress, and it proved to be a lot of work and the progress is just something we’re hoping becomes fruitful.”

While Caleb worried that he was “at the risk of being decried as a homer who only looks at spreadsheets and doesn’t know what he’s talking about” (I feel the same way sometimes), Sam echoed his vision of a path forward stating: “This season, at least everyone seemed to be pulling the rope in the same direction….this year’s team was not as good as 2018’s, but perhaps has greater overall potential when things eventually start to come together, especially play-style wise.” Maybe I am too optimistic in that I agree with my colleagues; however, I suspect MDS will have a LOT shorter leash with many fans next season than he did this season.

The final question looking back at the 2019 season was “what is the biggest strength of the current squad?”

The Vancouver Whitecaps gave up 59 goals in 2019, however, Montreal Impact (60), Colorado (63), Sporting Kansas City (67), and FC Cincinnati (75) all gave up more. LA Galaxy (and Houston Dynamo) also gave up 59 and still made the playoffs as the fifth seed in the West. It was also the second most goals given up by a Whitecaps team in their MLS era. Despite this, all of our writers pointed to the defense as the biggest strength of the current squad; especially at the centreback position. Andrew feels “it will be nice not going into a season with question marks at goalkeeper and the glut of potential CBs”. Likewise, Sam believes the centreback depth is good “especially if they hold on to Godoy”.

Ian noted that “Crepeau performed far better than expected” with Jitsuo going as far to say that the Whitecaps “have uncovered one of the great gems of the league in their Montreal born shot stopper.” Ian believes that while the Whitecaps gave up a lot of goals “sometimes it felt like it had more to do with what went on in front of the backline than the backline itself”. Statistically, Caleb backed up Ian’s opinion “The defence (ie., the back four and the goalkeeper) was very effective at limiting the opposition to low xG scoring chances. The average shot the Whitecaps conceded only had about an 8% chance of going in according to ASA’s xG model.” It seems that if the Whitecaps can “find that stability in the midfield [that] the defense will thank you for it” (Ian). In other words, “make them work less and you will reap the rewards” (Caleb).

Of course, the defense still has some question marks. Sam would “like to see the Whitecaps get a better bang-for-buck backup than Zac MacMath”, and we know that the there are questions around right back and ANY depth behind Adnan. With Adnan having two yellow card accumulation suspensions in less than a full year, whoever provides cover for Adnan WILL have to play at some point next season.

Those were our writers’ initial thoughts on the Whitecaps 2019 season. What were your thoughts though? What are your responses to our three questions? Also, stay tuned as we will have part two on Wednesday.

1. The season was a failure according to almost every metric. What positives do you take from this season?

2. Was 2019 better or worse than 2018?

3. What is the biggest strength of the current squad?