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2019 Preseason Roundtable Part I

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The Vancouver Whitecaps begin their 2019 season in a few days. We asked our writers their thoughts about what has transpired since 2018 and get some of their predictions. This is Part I of a two-part series.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps are set to open their 2019 season on Saturday, at BC Place, against Minnesota United FC. They are coming into this season with 15 new faces. As a result, this year’s club could be looked at as a pseudo expansion team. The writers at Eightysix Forever sat down and discussed our thoughts on the hiring of MDS and what to expect from this year’s squad. In the second part of our Preseason Roundtable, we will get some predictions for the upcoming season. We would love to hear from you on some of the questions we have.

1. Thoughts on Marc Dos Santos hiring.

AtlantisB: While not rich in MLS history as some of the other possible names that were floated, MDS is a great choice; besides, Caps were not going to get a household name anyway.

CWilkins: I love it. Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see how it works out on the field but in terms of the philosophies I’d like the Whitecaps to adopt, it would be hard to find someone better.

Jitsuo: From everything he has said so far, he’s the man for the job. He’s gutted the playing personnel and brought in some exciting looking players. Lots of young talent, and now we get to see if the proof is in the pudding. Will it be tasty? We shall see.

Samuel_Rowan: He’s a terrific fit for the situation he was brought into. If anything, I’m surprised he took this job over other options which were surely available to him.

Andrew_Bahl: This is the first time in several years where I feel a genuine sense of optimism heading into the season. Not that there won’t be growing pains as the cohesion is built, but I think MDS is indisputably a much better tactical mind for where MLS is at these days and his signings reflect that.

IanJones: More than anything, its invigorating. Maybe its MDS saying all the right things, being the new coach and all, but it sure feels like his roster selection and game theory are at worst refreshing and at best one that can build the on-pitch uniformity that the club claimed to have last season. It’s just a shame he’s had to rebuild so much in such a little amount of time.

2. Thoughts on MDS vision and whether he can achieve it under current front office regime.

CWilkins: The MDS era will be a big test of the narratives that surrounded the Whitecaps under Carl Robinson. If MDS is able to build a winner under this front office, then all the complaints about not having the players to compete with the MLS big boys is going to look awfully silly. Honestly, I’m not sure if it can be done or not. The signings of the offseason seem like an encouraging step, but we’ll really just have to wait and see.

Jitsuo: He’s been very creative in the transfer market, likely because he had to be after cleaning house and needing to recruit 20+ players. The amount of loan signings points almost directly at the lack of backing from the front office. That said, loan signings also allow the club some measure of flexibility, and (touch wood) if a player is a bust, the club didn’t shell out a large transfer figure to find that out. Getting those players to gel will be the test of his vision now.

Samuel_Rowan: If anyone can achieve under this FO it’s someone like MDS who has a proven track record of getting the absolute best out of what is available to him. This will be a real test of whether or not the club can have success under the current ownership model.

Andrew_Bahl: This offseason left me more confident in the front office than I have in a long, long time. MDS plays a style of soccer that personally I think is most effective and from the aggressiveness that the team pursued and signed its top targets, I think there is a lot of buy-in from management. I’m optimistic that will continue into the summer (DP striker anyone?) and beyond.

IanJones: That’s historically the nature of MLS, isn’t? Being able to craft under constraints? We as fans will always bellyache about “the club” not spending enough, but it sure feels like the majority of his player signings, an extension of his vision, were done by design rather than out of desperation.

AtlantisB: Isn’t it great to finally see a vision for this club! I don’t think that the FO will ever give him the opportunity to acquire a big name, but MDS has a plan and I feel he can do that without spending a lot of money. While it helps, several teams have continued to be successful without spending a lot -Columbus, Dallas, NYRB, Kansas City, etc.

3. Player(s) most excited about.

Jitsuo: With In-beom, Godoy, Venuto, Ardaiz and Bangoura coming in, those players are all exciting news. I’m really looking forward to seeing Godoy, I think he could be such an incredible breath of fresh air at centre half for this club.

Samuel_Rowan: For me, this is all about two young players the club has brought in with loads of potential: Joaquin Ardaiz & In-beom Hwang.

Andrew_Bahl: I’m personally excited to see what Jasser Khmiri can offer. He may not be a surefire starting XI player from the beginning but people in the know in North African football think his combination of size and athleticism is the real deal. Plus, it always gets me excited to see budding talent coming from CAF leagues to MLS.

IanJones: Hwang In-beom. He looked silky smooth in this highlight package from two years ago, and it’s encouraging that we were able to secure a player who has that kind of ball control in the center of the pitch.

AtlantisB: Strangely, I am most excited to see Godoy. I love a strong defense and I feel he can anchor it and start plenty of attacks. Caps have not had that since Kah. Hopefully Godoy can be better defensively while still having Kah’s abilities to make a pass.

CWilkins: I did a whole article about this! But to sum it up the players I’m most excited for are Hwang, Montero and Ardaiz.

4. Biggest loss to replace.

Samuel_Rowan: Excluding Davies from the discussion, I would say losing Kendall Waston (if we consider what he was in his prime) will be big boots to fill. Hopefully, the new young CB core will be up to the task.

Andrew_Bahl: Kei Kamara was as reliable a striker as Vancouver has had in some time and it’s not immediately clear who will pick up the 14-goal slack that his departure has left.

IanJones: It’s unquestionably Alphonso Davies, given the pace The Phonse plays with as he’s still developing (hard to think he’s still only 18 at this point).

AtlantisB: Davies seems like the obvious choice. Since my colleagues will say him, I will go with Techera. For all the negatives that surrounded Techera, he was continually productive with goals and assists. Moreover, the Caps never lost when he had either in a match. At some point it stops becoming a coincidence.

CWilkins: There has been a lot of turnover but for the most part I think the players who have come in are better than the ones who went out. Probably the only exception to this is one the wing where the Whitecaps lost Alphonso Davies (though that also allowed them to bring in all these new players I’m so keen on).

Jitsuo: Not named Davies, right? Next to Phonzie, I’d go with Waston. While the break-up and departure was messy, at his best Kendall was one of the best centre halves in the league and in fairness, central defence is often overlooked by fans for their importance.

5. Who will surprise this season?

Andrew_Bahl: This is the season where I think we’ll see whether Jake Nerwinski can take the next step to become an above-average MLS fullback. Last year was a definite step back for the 24-year-old but I think working with MDS will help him develop in a way he was never able to under Robbo. Look for a better showing from the former UConn product this season.

IanJones: With all the roster changes, it truly could be anyone, but I’m going with Jon Erice. I get the sense that he’s going to be the keystone for the team’s transitions up the pitch. That, and with the MLS starting to feel more like a development league, there’s an odd feeling behind bringing in a thirty-year old midfielder (unless you got Galaxy-level money buying former EPLers). I’m thinking there’s expectation to lead based on experience, and that will play a huge part in developing team cohesion.

AtlantisB: I am hoping for Jake Nerwinski. I believe he can be a strong fullback. Either way, I think we will get an answer on him this season as MDS appears ready to integrate fullbacks into the attack.

CWilkins: Felipe. Last year Felipe led the Whitecaps in key passes. This means he created more chances than Davies or Reyna (though Reyna created more big chances). This only translated to two assists but most people in that range end up with 7-10 assists. There is no way that can continue for another season, he has to get some luck eventually. I expect a big year from him being deployed in a role that suits him better and hopefully with some regression to the mean.

Jitsuo: Felipe – I’m betting he wins Comeback Player of the Season.

Samuel_Rowan: I think both Godoy and Khmiri will have a real opportunity to impress. I also think the acquisition of Jon Erice has been seriously underrated, he could be a very important player for the Whitecaps this season.

6. Biggest hole(s) remaining?

IanJones: The familiar refrain: with the Strikers. We know what we’ll get from Fredy Montero, and Joaquín Ardaiz carries with him some well-known buzz from his youth, but the Forward position has been an inherent question mark for the club year over year, and with both true strikers joining the roster so late into the preseason, why would 2019 be any different?

AtlantisB: Left back. The Caps have a glaring hole at left back. Levis can’t seem to stay healthy, or finish a match, while PC showed numerous times with Orlando that he is NOT suited to be a left back.

CWilkins: I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear this but I’m not totally convinced by the left back position.

Jitsuo: Left back – there’s no real cover for the oft-injured Brett Levis, and Orlando fans were less than convinced of PC’s capability as a defender. Pretty clearly that’s a spot that needs another player.

Samuel_Rowan: Overall defensive depth is probably still a concern, at least until we see what the likes of Godoy, Khmiri and Cornelius have to offer. The Whitecaps could probably also use another veteran striker for depth, but that’s less urgent now that Montero is signed.

Andrew_Bahl: If there is any Whitecaps fan out there comfortable with Brett Levis and PC as the club’s primary LB options, please show yourself. No? That’s what I thought. For a backline that got exposed so much last season, the left side is still looking pretty weak and must certainly be a focus in the summer.

7. Biggest concern.

AtlantisB: Chemistry. Caps fans need to be patient and view this season just like you would an expansion season. A good expansion season? Sure, but these players have not played together. There is no continuity from last season. And the club didn’t exactly look dangerous in preseason.

CWilkins: My biggest concern is defending set pieces. If you discount the two goals they conceded to Nagasaki when all the young players were brought on, then the Whitecaps only actually conceded from open play once. But they have looked vulnerable, and conceded a few, when defending against dead ball situations

Jitsuo: Can this team actually find a way to work together? At the time of writing we’re two days removed from MDS and the club actually having all of the first team players together, and only six days from the opening fixture. It takes time for chemistry and understanding to be built, even with very talented players. I think we’re in for a rocky start, so hopefully the fans and front office have some patience.

Samuel_Rowan: Left Back is the most obvious area of concern, even without injuries, the overall depth at fullback leaves a lot to be desired.

Andrew_Bahl: Personally, I think this team has a high ceiling, but the preseason has also showed the limitations of a total rebuild. Building chemistry is going to be a chore and could mean that the team starts slow out of the gate, especially as it tries to replace virtually every key offensive contributor (except you Yordy). I worry the club won’t be able to dig itself out of that hole to push for the playoffs.

IanJones: Whether the massive roster turnover was the right decision. New coaches undoubtedly bring a new identity and philosophy, but it’s rare that the changes felt are so widespread, so will the wholesale immediacy be the correct move? I suppose the alternative could be the subtle, painful, and prolonged roster moves being felt at TFC.

Conclusion

Those are our thoughts on the upcoming season. What are your thoughts? Who are you most excited to watch? Are you as concerned about the left back position as we seem to be? Can the Whitecaps find chemistry quick enough so that they are not buried in the standings too early? Will Montero and Ardiaz change the fortunes of Whitecaps’ history with strikers? Let us know your thoughts on the upcoming season.