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Vancouver Whitecaps 2019 Season Roundup Part 5: Looking Ahead to 2020

We conclude our five-part series with a look ahead to 2020. Who starts, and where, for the Caps? Our writers give their opinions.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached the conclusion of our five-part 2019 Vancouver Whitecaps Season in Review. In this part, we look ahead to the 2020 season and make some predictions about what we should expect with the lineup.

Part 1: Reflecting on the Season

Part 2: Grading MDS

Part 3: Will They Stay or Will They Go

Part 4: Plans for 2019 Off-Season

We also received some feedback about our previous articles being a bit difficult to follow and that many preferred the old format in which we have the questions and provide the responses, in full, from each of the writers. We heard the feedback and so for the final segment in our review, we bring that back. Let’s get started!

Question #1: Ali Adnan’s ability to defend has always been a question mark; although I don’t feel he is as bad as some suggest. It is likely that Adnan is better suited as a wingback. What arguments do you have for and against MDS using three centerbacks in 2020?

Ian_Jones: Honestly, not a fan of the idea. Assuming Henry resigns and Godoy officially transfers in (or gets another loan spell), I’m fine with giving Godoy another look at RB with Henry/Khmiri/Cornelius in the middle and Adnan staying on the left. I maintain that Adnan’s defending suffered because he tried too hard to compensate for a struggling offense. If the attack can succeed without Adnan feeling compelled to get involved more often than he should, he’ll be far more effective and rounded on the wing.

Andrew_Bahl: The most compelling argument against is that the team didn’t exactly light the world on fire when the three-in-the-back system got trotted out in 2019. But an improved midfield would address these shortcomings and help maintain possession going forward to actually allow Adnan to do what he does best by getting him 1-v-1 against defenders in space. Two question marks I have: does Jake Nerwinski have the quality to be a wingback and do the Caps find two strikers who fit into this system, who can both create chances for themselves, link-up with the hopefully improved midfield and hold up play to allow the team to transition to attack. I’m not sure Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna are going to be the week-in and week-out answer for that job description.

Samuel_Rowan: At the moment, CB is the Whitecaps’ deepest position, so why not use that to your advantage? Khmiri, Henry and Corneilius are all athletic, and the current fullbacks are below average defenders, so I think it makes a lot of sense.

Caleb_Wilkins: I think at the moment I think the Whitecap’s best pieces fit most comfortably into either a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. That lets Adnan play with more attacking freedom and Reyna to play more centrally. That’s not to say those guys can’t be effective in other systems but I don’t think you’re getting the most you can out of them without those conditions

Jitsuo: Against? Where’s the third center back? Hopefully Godoy is back to partner with Cornelius, and perhaps Khmiri can be your third. But what happens if there are injuries? I can’t take much more of Andy Rose at center back.

I would say that Adnan is very well suited to that bombing forward, overlapping left back role, and it exposes the back if he does so. But perhaps, a better formation of something like a 4-2-3-1 frees him up to get forward while having one of the holding midfielders cover when he does so. That’s complicated, and I realise that, but I still prefer a back four to a back three.

Question #2: The Vancouver Whitecaps don’t have much depth, however, where they might have some is at centerback. Who are your starting CBs opening day 2020?

Jitsuo: Has to be Cornelius and Godoy, or Cornelius and someone to come in over the course of the winter.

Ian: If he’s healthy Khmiri, paired with Henry. Cornelius has looked decent when called-up to the national side, but his 2019 Whitecaps season was uneven. If he can find that stability at the club level, he’ll be starting regularly before the end of next season.

Andrew: Doneil Henry is as rock solid as they come and his chemistry with Derek Cornelius makes them the pretty logical CB pairing on opening day, when the roster decisions are not particularly adventurous. I also think MDS is serious about the “Erik Godoy as RB experiment” if the Argentinian sticks around, making a Henry-Cornelius duo the logical choice here.

Sam: Khmiri, Henry and Corneilius. If it’s just two, I’m going to say Khmiri and Corneilius…buy some Yukon Corneilius stock before prices go up!

Caleb: Henry and Godoy…unless there’s three centre backs in which case Godoy, Henry, and Khmiri…or if they move Godoy to right back in which case Henry and Khmiri.

Question #3: Hwang In-Beom played all over the field in 2019, but seemed to settle into a role late in the season. In 2020, where should In-Beom be positioned on the field?

Caleb: It depends on what other players are brought in. I am comfortable with In-Beom in any midfield position and I think what you get out of him doesn’t change that much based on where you put him.

Jitsuo: I’d like to see him either further forward or partnered with a true ball winner at the base of the midfield such as a Matias Laba type. I think between a combination of fatigue from several long seasons/years of football he started to become less effective midway through the campaign, I also don’t believe we saw the best out of him having to sit so deep. While I think he can operate as a 6, I still see him as a classic number 8.

Ian: Wherever he found himself towards the end of the season. I honestly liked it more when he played under the attacking three, but not deep enough to effectively be considered a DM, even if he was on the wing. He’s got the football IQ to know when to float to the middle while maintaining the responsibility of keeping width in the formation. Once the club stopped thinking of him as a player to build around and more as a talent to be utilized and leveraged, Hwang became even more effective in my opinion.

Sam: Depends what kind of midfielders are brought in. As long as they don’t make him play as a No.6, I’ll be relatively happy.

Question #4: Jake Nerwinski has not performed the best over the past two seasons. Mind you, he hasn’t been bad either. At the end of the season, Erik Godoy played a few matches there, and looked good. Is Nerwinski the starting right back next season?

Sam: If Nerwinski’s value within the league is high enough that he’s worth trading, I think the Whitecaps might move on. At the same time, I wouldn’t be a shocked if he’s brought back, I think it all depends on his market value.

Caleb: Sure, Why not? He’s nothing special but he’s fine.

Jitsuo: Yes, but I think you could use another right back, and Jake could stand to learn from or be pushed by them. Mukumbilwa isn’t there yet, but he could be in the near future. I just think it would be naïve to go forward without another right back in the squad.

Ian: Unless he has an amazing preseason, no. I’m of the mind that he can fight back against this regression he’s suffered through since the end of 2017, but if MDS is so gung-ho about proving one’s self in training, that’s where Jake will have to shine first.

Andrew: Nerwinski isn’t the ideal RB but given that the Caps have areas of more pressing need, I’m OK with rolling into 2020 with him at right back. The MLS roster rules mean that you’re going to need guys like Jake or Russell Teibert getting more minutes than you’d like. I expect if Erik Godoy stays it will probably be to get serious consideration at RB, however.

Question #5: Theo Bair was the only young player to see considerable minutes this season. In his few appearances he did well. What role should Theo Bair have in 2020?

Andrew: I still would like to get a better look at Bair in a striker role in preseason and early next season but all-in-all, the youngster surpassed my expectations this season (another positive note to take away). I don’t think he is going to experience an Alphonso Davies-esque sophomore but I do think he can fight for regular starts if he can touch up his passing ahead of next season because I think MDS sees his best position as a winger in the 4-3-3 system.

Sam: Really depends on who he’s competing with. If no one significant is brought into the forward ranks, he could be a weekly starter. But I’ll say he serves as more of a fringe starter than a week in, week out type guy.

Caleb: Bair should be an impact sub who starts in the cup and during periods of fixture congestion. Bair scored and generated chances at the rate that one would hope for from an average MLS striker. Considering he was on a terrible team and in his first year of pro soccer there is plenty of reason to believe he will grow. Even if this is all he ever turns into, a reliable backup who can play anywhere along the frontline and doesn’t count against the salary cap is still pretty valuable.

Jitsuo: I think he’s still too green to operate as a sole striker up top. I feel like he’s cut his teeth now, and he can push on from here, but I still think he needs at least one other forward to play off of. Perhaps a classic big and little partnership, where Bair can knock the odd ball down for a quicker Reyna or Montero. That said, I would really like to see him operating more centrally and not in the channels throughout the 2020 campaign.

Ian: If he hits the gym and can find a way to go full beast mode for longer stretches, he’ll make for an amazing target man. Until then, I see Bair continuing to run at players in a starting role on the wing.

We have one final question to pose to our writers. There are obviously going to be some changes to the starting XI – at least there had better be! – We wanted to predict what the Starting XI would look like next season.

Sam: Here’s my theoretical XI for next season. I think this is more on the end of what I want to see them do, rather than what’s actually going to happen, but this is what I’m going with. Obviously the profile of the midfielders they bring in could really alter how this formation looks in practice.

Jitsuo: I think you need a new right back, ideally one that can get ahead of Jake in the depth chart, unless Jake can find a new gear.

From there, I think there’s a need for a proper holding midfielder/ball winner that can distribute. Some size in front of the back line, coupled with a good passing range would be ideal - but also on a lot of team’s list of needs.

Personally, I think In-Bbeom should move back to a more traditional number 8 role, with an attacking midfielder ahead of him. All in, that would be ideally 3 starters that would need to be added this winter to supplement the squad that’s going to carry over from 2019.

Caleb: Coming to realize I’m not very certain about any of it! Players I’m unsure if they will be back/will be replaced have a question mark. Positions I think they need somebody totally new for are “???”

Andrew: I’m in a very similar boat as Caleb--I really don’t have a firm idea. I went with the 4-3-3 because it seems that is where MDS is most committed. This roster assumes Godoy, Chirinos and Henry will all be back (which I did primarily because that’s what I want) but there are still at least four glaring question marks. If any one of those guys leave, that number will certainly be higher. Am really hoping Bachirou takes care of that DM role!

AtlantisB: I figured I would add in my lineup to this discussion. I believe that Reyna and Chirinos will be on the wings, with a new signing or Montero up top. I think Montero can still be effective, but I am not sure the club is looking for him to be the go-to guy. We all agree that the midfield, less In-Beom, needs a complete overhaul. Finally, I suspect that Jake will remain at right back, if only because the club needs a cheap, ‘average’, domestic in that position. Also, with Adnan, they don’t need a lot of offense from their right back. In fact, they need him more defensively sound so that the club is not left defending with only two center backs. Speaking of CB, it is a toss up. I don’t feel that Henry has done anything to lose his place, but I feel that Khmiri and Godoy are better, so you go with the better players.

Ian: After putting this lineup together, an uneasiness washed over me when I realized how similar my lineup was to what was fielded at times in 2019. Of course, it has a very “late 2019 Whitecaps” bend to it, when the season was meaningless and the playing style was a little more free-form.

Optimally, I’d prefer Henry & Godoy in the center of the park. However, I get the feeling that Nerwinski won’t be starting at RB; if that’s the case, I’m OK with Godoy sliding into the spot, with Khmiri (if he’s healthy) or Cornelius moving to the center.

Teibert certainly isn’t leaving the team, but I can’t envision him being the regular starter at LM and can definitely see someone being brought in. Someone who can be strong on the ball and distribute. If that opens up the middle, I’d love it the DCM role to fall to a player like Stephen Eustaquio if he becomes available.

I also like Hwang In-beom to stay at RW, primarily so he can spray balls down the opposite flank to Chirinos or Bair, who I have rotating on the left side when the latter isn’t doing the same at the top with Ricketts or another new player. Again, if he’s available, it’d be great to bring in Lucas Cavallini.

All in all, I realize that my potential roster has become very, very Canadian

Those are our thoughts, but we would like to hear yours. Let us know what your lineup for opening day 2020 looks like. You can write it below or share your lineup via