The Vancouver Whitecaps open their 2019 season on Saturday against Minnesota United FC. Prior to each match we will be connecting with one of our SB Nation counterparts to ask them some questions about the Whitecaps upcoming opponent, and provide some thoughts on strategy.
To start the season, we spoke with E Pluribus Loonum’s Eli Hoff to get some insights into the Minnesota United FC club the Vancouver Whitecaps will face on Saturday.
EightySix Forever’s Three Questions
1. Darwin Quintero was a force last season for the Loons. What is expected from him this season? What has the club done in the off-season to surround him with support, so he is not required to shoulder the entire load for Minnesota?
On the surface, not all that much. The Loons’ attack was performing at a good level as last season progressed, so it hasn’t been too much of an issue with giving Quintero attacking options. United’s addition showed a clear focus on building the back. He won’t have to try to score as many goals with an improved defense, though, so hopefully his burden will be lightened after this offseason. Nonetheless, he could very well be a player who produces fifteen goals and fifteen assists this year. With talented options around him up front, he should feel even more settled in this year to just do his thing. And maybe we’ll see him chip a few more keepers along the way...
2. The Vancouver Whitecaps are coming into this season essentially as an expansion club, shipping 21 players from last season’s roster out and introducing 15 new faces. What advice do you have for Whitecaps fans about having realistic expectations for a team that lacks chemistry? How can fans stay optimistic during those difficult growing pains?
Keeping your expectations low is a big part of it. If you’re truly content with just watching the team blend and (hopefully) improve, then the season will be fine. That’s way harder than it sounds, though, so you’re more likely going to just be looking for positives to latch onto. For United, the inaugural season was fine because it was the first one. We were just happy to be there. Last year, it was annoying to watch a poorly-assembled defense play like a, well, poorly-assembled defense. But once Quintero got rolling and the attack was firing up, it was easier and more fun. It’s a process, but a process involves progress, so be looking for that. Also, staying away from social media in the rough patches will help you stay positive. There’s nothing like a bit of Twitter toxicity to drag everyone down.
3. Minnesota paid a good price for Ike Opara, while acquiring veteran Osvaldo Alonso on waivers. How do you see these two defensive stalwarts improving the club? How has their transition/integration been so far?
They’ve been immediate additions to the starting lineup already in preseason. Some people are saying the Loons overpaid for Opara, but frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot of spending going on before, so it makes up for that. And top-tier defensive talent like him comes at a premium. But really, these are two huge moves for the United FO. They fill two (gaping) holes, so the defense should drastically improve.
Bonus: The Loons finally have a stadium to call their own. Tell us a bit about Allianz Field. How will it help Minnesota United FC be a force at home?
First and foremost, it’s every bit as beautiful as it looks in pictures. It’s small, but that will help keep it loud during home games, especially with the exterior PTFE skin helping to trap some sound. The Wonderwall (supporters section) is very steep, so fans will be right on top of the goalkeeper. Clearly, it’s nice enough to attract a USMNT game during the upcoming Gold Cup, so it really is one of the nicest grounds in North America. Though full completion hasn’t been announced, we’re at that time, so once it thaws out, it’ll be a great place to watch soccer.
E Pluribus Loonum’s Three Questions
1. Vancouver has a new coach this year in Marc dos Santos. What are you expecting to see from him and what have you already seen?
Marc Dos Santos has stated that he would transition this team from the sit-back-and-wait style of Carl Robinson to a high-press attacking club. He has already shown that he has a vision for this club and players that do not fit that are gone. It is difficult to know if it will work but MDS has certainly made sure to make this HIS team.
2. The Whitecaps are almost an entirely new team. How necessary was the overhaul? How is the roster currently shaping up?
The 2018 season did not end well for the Vancouver Whitecaps. There appeared to be a lot of discontent in the club with some major cliques forming. Was the overhaul necessary? Possibly not entirely, but I can’t really look at any decision that was made and say that the club will be hurting for it this season. The roster is shaping up well, but it has been very late. Several key players (e.g., Hwang In-beom) made their Whitecaps debut in the final preseason match, while others have yet to feature. The club has some good (potential) depth across the field with the biggest hole being left back. It will certainly be the point that teams attack, and rightfully so.
3. What is the expectation for Vancouver this season?
Expectations are always high for fans of their club. However, with all the new pieces it will be hard for the Whitecaps to be overly competitive. It is MLS so anything is possible. MDS made the goal this season to make the playoffs. If that happens, or they are competing for a playoff position in the final two matches of the season I think we can consider it a success.
Starting XI (4-3-3): MacMath, Nerwinski, Henry, Godoy, PC, Rose, Erice, Martins, Reyna, Montero, Bangoura.
Heading into the first match of the season, we have a lot of question marks surrounding what Marc Dos Santos strategy will be. From what we have seen in the preseason, expect him to go with a 4-3-3.
In their final pre-season match against LAFC last weekend, Marc Dos Santos started with the above lineup. It can be expected that the Starting XI we see for opening day will look similar. In reality it is a toss-up as to whether MacMath or Crepeau will start; our writers differ in their predictions. Another question mark is at left back. In the LAFC match Levis injured his hamstring and appears out for the Minnesota match. It was expected that PC would occupy that role instead, but he sustained a minor injury during practice this week. It is likely he is able to go, but if he is not, the left back position could be more of a problem than we suspect.
With In-boem still getting up to speed, and Russell Teibert injured, Andy Rose is likely to step-in for the midfield three, however, don’t be surprised if In-boem comes in at half time or 60 minutes. Wearing the captain’s armband will be Jon Erice, who seems like a suitable choice.
Montero has been playing in Portugal, so while he just arrived last week, he should be fine fitness wise, and is comfortable playing in MLS and Vancouver/BC Place specifically. As a result, I expect him to start alongside Yordy Reyna and Lass Bangoura. However, don’t be surprised if Reyna starts up-top and Lucas Venuto slides in with Bangoura on the wings.
There are certainly question marks surrounding this team. I don’t expect MDS to play for a draw, but given the lack of chemistry among the players, I think a draw would be a suitable outcome. There are certainly going to be a lot of bumps along the way so fans will have to be patient. I think that they/we will be patient, but a couple of wins under their belt will certainly help player cohesion and fan base happiness.
What are your thoughts on who the Starting XI will be on Saturday? Who are your starting CBs? Is it Crepeau or MacMath? Make sure to post them below and participate in our regular Starting XI and Final Score contest.