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2019 Preseason Roundtable Part II

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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 II of a two-part series.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps Bob Frid-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. In Part II of our preseason roundtable, the writers at Eightysix Forever make some predictions on where the Whitecaps will finish the season, who will be the MVP, and what statistical markers individual players will obtain. Read over our thoughts and don’t forget to give us your predictions in the comments.

Team Predictions

1. Where will the Whitecaps finish in the standings?

AtlantisB: MLS pundits do not think highly of the Caps. I know I say this with rose-colored glasses, but I hope that they can be fighting for that final playoff position come October.

CWilkins: Many people are predicting the Whitecaps have a slow start and then figure it out as the season goes on and chemistry builds. I, being the Maverick I am, predict the exact opposite. I predict a surprisingly hot start followed by a bit of a lull in the middle and hopefully getting the boost they need with a summer signing to make the playoffs. Allow me to explain my reasoning. The Whitecaps have about an easy of a start as you can ask for. Only two of their first six opponents made the playoffs in 2018 and one of them, RSL, barley squeaked in and were promptly dispatched in the first round. Secondly the pressing style that MDS has the team playing will likely be effective against teams in early season form who will also be struggling for chemistry and sharpness. The Whitecaps have had an underwhelming preseason but there are teams that are getting slaughtered in competitive games. Although the preseason hasn’t been ideal, I predict a strong start. As teams start to figure the Whitecaps out and players tire from the high pressing system, I think their form will dip and then hopefully they bring someone in during the summer to push them over the top. In terms of exact league position I will say the Whitecaps finish 5th.

Andrew_Bahl: As much as I want to plump the Caps to make the playoffs, I see them finishing in the 7-9 range in the West.

Samuel_Rowan: After finishing 8th in the Western Conference last season, I’m going to predict that the Whitecaps finish 7th in the West in 2019. Although initially this might seem disappointing, with a new manager and an almost entirely new roster, I think this season will leave fans with a lot of hope and potential for a big step forward in 2020.

IanJones: Without having a solid idea as to what their chemistry will be like, the club could theoretically finish in nearly any position, and within reason anywhere between 5th and 10th. I’m going to err on the side of positivity and say 6th, assuming they gel halfway through the summer and go on a tear.

Jitsuo: 5th in the West – I think this team can be a playoff team, but it will need to find some form after what I expect to be a very difficult March and April.

2. What trophies will the Whitecaps win?

CWilkins: They have said they will take the Voyageurs Cup seriously so I think they will win that. It probably won’t be until 2020 or 2021 that they’re serious competitors for the MLS Cup though.

Andrew_Bahl: Given that Toronto is in its most vulnerable position in recent memory, I don’t see any reason the Caps shouldn’t put a serious effort into winning the Voyageurs Cup. Especially because this team will hopefully be hitting its stride as a unit by the time the semifinals roll around, I expect them to claim the Canadian Championship.

Samuel_Rowan: With TFC in turmoil, this might be the year the Whitecaps can break through and win the Canadian Championship again. The Voyageurs Cup is the only hardware I see the Caps taking home this season.

IanJones: The Canadian Championship, for sure, though for this side I believe making the playoffs would be a significant benchmark.

Jitsuo: I’ll go with the Voyageurs Cup, as Toronto isn’t very good, so I expect it to be a toss-up between the ‘Caps and Montreal.

AtlantisB: MDS emphasized Canadian Championship. With Montreal and Toronto out-of-sorts, I think the Caps have as good of a chance as either of them to walk away with the title. Cascadia and MLS? Well, let’s hope 2020 is better.

3. Who will be named MVP?

Andrew_Bahl: I know the stat that Yordy Reyna created as many chances as Miguel Almiron has been repeated ad nauseum but, at the end of the day, it’s still true. If the Caps are going to find success, I think Reyna is going to be the creative engine that fuels it. I think reuniting with Fredy Montero will be a boost, as well. Look for Reyna to be the key cog this season.

Samuel_Rowan: Yordy Reyna

IanJones: If the club can score, but finish low in the standings, Fredy Montero. If they finish higher than 7th, Felipe. From what I’ve heard, there was a lot going on for the midfielder both personally and professionally, and I firmly believe he’ll have a significant rebound season, now that a lot of the undue pressure is behind him.

Jitsuo: John Erice. I should have mentioned him as a player I’m excited to see, but I expect him to be a very important player in 2019.

AtlantisB: He won’t win the award from the fans, but I feel like Jon Erice will be vital to this club. He will provide veteran leadership and transition the club from defense to offense.

CWilkins: Tough to say but I’d say the early favourite is Fredy Montero

4. Who will be the Starting XI come opening day?

Samuel_Rowan: MacMath, Cornelius, Henry, Nerwinski, PC, Erice, Felipe, Rose, Bangoura, Reyna, Montero.

IanJones: Crépeau; Levis, Henry, Godoy, Sutter; Erice, Felipe, Hwang; Bangoura, Reyna, Venuto.

Jitsuo: MacMath, PC, Henry, Godoy, Nerwinski, Erice, Felipe, Rose, Reyna, Bangoura, Montero.

AtlantisB: McMath, Nerwinski, Henry, Godoy, PC, Erice, Martins, Rose, Reyna, Bangoura, and Montero.

CWilkins: Crepeau; PC, Henry, Cornelius, Nerwinski; Erice, Rose, Felipe; Reyna Montero. That’s obviously not ideal because so many players joined late but on the plus side there should be a pretty tasty bench on opening day.

Andrew_Bahl: MacMath, Nerwinski Cornelius Henry Levis, Erice Hwang Felipe, Bangoura Reyna Venuto.

Individual Predictions

1. After playing only 731 minutes in 2017, Russell Teibert jumped up to 1,604 in 2018. Where do you see him finishing 2019?

IanJones: With the additions of players like Erice and Andy Rose, Teibert’s minutes will surely drop, which is incredibly unfortunate given how well he played when given less restraint in the middle.

Jitsuo: I think Teibert has fallen back down the depth chart, and missing time because of injury in preseason also doesn’t help his cause. That said – I was really, really wrong last year. Let’s arbitrarily say 892 minutes played.

AtlantisB: Back around 700 minutes. He will be fourth on the depth chart for midfield three.

CWilkins: Somewhere in between. I don’t think he’s a starter on this team, but I could see him playing a lot filling in for injured players.

Andrew_Bahl: I’m of two minds about Teibert going into this season. On one hand, I think he’s a very good fit for the style of soccer MDS wants to play. At the same time, competition for playing time in this midfield is going to be fierce. I think Rusty has a lot to offer and there will be matches to go around but I expect to barely break 1000 minutes for the season.

Samuel_Rowan: I think Teibert’s playing time will probably fall somewhere in between those two, say 1150 minutes.

2. Last season, Yordy Reyna had six goals and 11 assists. What is your prediction for this season?

Jitsuo: I think Yordy could get 10 and 10. He hit the post on a few occasions last year in a very negative attacking system. He should have more opportunities to score under MDS, and I think he’ll be a key provider in attack with his old friend Fredy Montero.

AtlantisB: He has Montero ahead of him, so he should be good with assists. With Erice and Martins behind him, and completely focused this season, look for more goals. I say 20 goals/assists total.

CWilkins: I think Reyna could hit double digits in both goals and assists. He has almost the same goals and assists on a per minute basis as Miguel Almiron and playing on a team that isn’t the least attacking team in the league (as measured by statistics via analysis evolved) will probably do wonders for him. The one possible roadblock to that is that he’ll now be playing as a winger and they tend to not score as often. Still though, I think 10g 10a is very doable.

Andrew_Bahl: As stated earlier, I’m a big believer in what Yordy Reyna has to offer this season. I think he will have a more consistent team around him and I like him pairing up again with Montero. I expect career highs in both categories this year.

Samuel_Rowan: Reyna had good chemistry with Kei Kamara last season, so I’ll be interested to see how he plays alongside the likes of Montero and Ardaiz. I’m going to predict a slight improvement, 8 goals and 12 assists.

IanJones: Roughly the same, but with less goals. Let’s call it 4 & 13.

3. In 2017, Jake Nerwinski had five assists in only 19 matches (1,707 minutes). In 2018, he played in 26 matches (2,212 minutes) but only recorded one assist. What is your prediction for this season?

AtlantisB: If Nerwinski wants to be the starting right back next season he needs to get at least three to five assists this season.

CWilkins: Despite his drop in production, Nerwinski basically created the same amount of chances and put in the same amount of crosses as he did in 2017. So, his production is heavily tied to luck. If the players on the end of his crosses are putting in goals then he’ll get a lot. If they don’t then he won’t. That may sound obvious but it’s true. In terms of actual numbers, I’ll split the difference and say he gets three.

Andrew_Bahl: Again, I am on the record as predicting improvement from Nerwinski this season. I think he is a good fit for what MDS wants in a wingback (lots of energy and fitness to cover territory and good defensive capabilities). I expect his assist totals will improve as well and it was no coincidence Fredy Montero was in town in 2017. Give me four assists for Jake.

Samuel_Rowan: I think MDS should be able to help get Nerwinski back to something near his rookie pace, I’ll predict five assists this season.

IanJones: That his minutes will drop, now that he’s competing for a spot with a viable right back. Nerwinski may have to prove himself all over again this year.

Jitsuo: In 2018 Jake’s role became more defensively focused, and he didn’t appear to get forward with as much freedom as he did in 2017. He did however play a number of good crosses that his teammates couldn’t convert. I don’t think his ability to supply a good ball has dwindled, and I would expect him to be back around his five assists from 2017.

4. The last time Fredy Montero suited up for the Whitecaps he had 13 goals and six assists. What will his goal total be for this season?

CWilkins: It’s hard not to imagine Montero besting his total in a system that doesn’t revolve around aimlessly lumping the ball into the box and hoping for the best. I’m going to predict at least 15 goals.

Andrew_Bahl: I think Montero will be productive in his second stint in Vancouver but I simply think he will get fewer minutes (between age and Joaquin Ardaiz). Ten goals and three assists is my prediction for Montero.

Samuel_Rowan: The MLS has only gotten better since Montero’s departure, but the Colombian striker is as consistent as they come. I’ll predict a slight decrease in production, 10 goals and 6 assists.

IanJones: Assuming that his playing style fits with the attacking philosophy of MDS, which by all accounts it should, I’m thinking Fredy could possibly knock home 16 this season. I get the sense that his assist total will go up, as well.

Jitsuo: I think (hope) the goals will be spread around more in 2019, and for that reason, I’m going to peg Fredy for less goals than in 2017 and say he hits double figures. Let’s call it 11 goals in 2019. As for the assists, I expect him to be combining with on-rushing wingers and the midfield as they make late runs into the box, so I would expect him to actually have more assists this year (assuming he beats out Ardaiz for the starting berth). I’ll call it 8 assists for Fredy in 2019.

AtlantisB: 13 was a high for him in MLS. He has better support than in 2017, but this team will struggle. I think 10-12 goals.

5. The Whitecaps have four promising prospects -Theo Bair, Michael Baldisimo, Simon Colyn, and David Norman Jr. Which will play the most minutes this season? What will that minute total be?

Andrew_Bahl: I expect all these guys to get serious minutes this season and all have a lot of talent to offer. But there are many more guys fighting for minutes in the midfield than at striker for the time being so I think Blair will get a few more looks than the other guys naturally. I think a few hundred minutes is a fair ceiling to expect.

Samuel_Rowan: I’m going to say Bair (maybe 500 minutes?), but only because that’s the position with the least depth standing in his way. I also think David Norman Jr might be poised to make the jump to the MLS level.

IanJones: I keep hearing how much of a beast Theo Bair is and I would love to see it on the pitch, but I get the feeling it’ll be Simon Colyn we’ll see more often this season, riding off that “last game of the season” appearance he made in 2018.

Jitsuo: Of those four, I expect David Norman Jr. to get the most minutes, though most of those will be off the bench behind Erice. I would think he could see somewhere between 500 and 600 minutes throughout the campaign.

AtlantisB: Simon Colyn seems to be the favourite right now, and it appears justified. He will get most of his minutes in Canadian Championship, but 300 minutes in MLS seems doable.

CWilkins: A lot of this is going to depend on who gets injured. But just in a vacuum I’d say Colyn as he’s looked very good in preseason and his more advanced position may make MDS a little more confident in putting him in.

6. There is a battle in net for the Whitecaps with neither Crepeau or MacMath appearing to be the clear-cut starter. By the end of the season, who plays more matches? What will the 34-game split be?

Samuel_Rowan: I’m going to say that MacMath gets the bulk of the starts early in the year, but that Crepeau emerges as the starter by season’s end: 18 for Crepeau, 16 for MacMath.

IanJones: Off pre-season performance, it’ll be Crépeau, but MacMath is a solid MLS veteran, so the totals may be close, somewhere close to a 60/40 split. In that case, 20-to-14 between Crépeau and MacMath.

Jitsuo: I expect Zac MacMath to be the starter this weekend, purely based on his level of experience in MLS. Max Crepeau has shown some of his quality though in preseason, and as has been noted, looks like he’s more comfortable with the ball at his feet. I still favour MacMath to improve in the MDS system, and think he’ll get the bulk of the games barring injury or embarrassing performances. Let’s call it 30 games to MacMath and the remaining 4 plus cup games to Crepeau.

AtlantisB: I think it will be around 50/50 in the first half, but look for an 80/20 split for Crepeau in the second half.

CWilkins: The two of them are very close but it seems like Crepeau is slightly ahead. I’m going to say the split is 22/12 in favour of Crepeau

Andrew_Bahl: Honestly I don’t know that anyone (MDS included) has any ideas how this is going to play out. Long term I like MacMath a little better than Crepeau but I expect both to get chances at the beginning of the season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see MDS ride the hot hand at any given point in the season. A 22-12 split in MacMath’s favor is my prediction but I fully expect to be wrong.

Conclusion

There you have our predictions. The Whitecaps may squeak into the playoffs but will likely be on the outside looking in; Vancouver could steal the Canadian Championship away; success seems dependent on Reyna and Montero, with Reyna being poised for a double-double (10 goals and 10 assists); and we have no idea who will be the main keeper for the Whitecaps this season. What do you think of our predictions? Do you agree/disagree with them? What are some of your predictions for the upcoming season? Let us know below.