Following the international break, the Vancouver Whitecaps continued to ramp up training heading towards a home date against the first place Seattle Sounders on Saturday. With new signing Ali Adnan being incorporated into the team, Marc Dos Santos gave his charges a workout on the BC Place field where they worked to build off the positives from their first three games of the season.
Despite coming up empty handed to start the 2019 campaign, the ‘Caps have managed to find the back of the net four times, while losing each of their opening three matches by a single goal respectively. Controversy aside, the atmosphere around the squad, and the words coming out continue to harp on moving forward and building a culture of success and ambition.
In some ways, it’s similar to what Vancouver soccer fans witnessed first hand this past weekend, as the Canadian Men’s team hosted French Guyana at BC Place, where they came away with a resounding 4-1 victory, sealing qualification for the top flight of the CONCACAF Nations League, and continuing the national team’s positive run towards this year’s Gold Cup.
Speaking to Derek Cornelius about his work with the national team, he said that “I think we’re feeling good, we’ve been working at how we want to play, what our identity is all of 2018 and we’re really just building on it heading into 2019 and to the Gold Cup.”
The national team has begun to build an identity as a dangerous attacking team, anchored by a steady defence under manager John Herdman. So much so, that Saturday marked the first time that the team has conceded a competitive goal, which in itself, was an all too avoidable moment in the match.
On the flip side for Cornelius and the Whitecaps, the club have conceded six times to start the campaign, and with a potent Seattle offense coming to town, he said that “we’re trying to just stay more compact and not allow the spaces in between us, not allow them to get into the gaps in between us. Obviously, the tidy ups on our end individually and cleaning up mistakes that have been leading to the goals. Generally, I think it’s just trying to stay one as a unit and clean up the small things.”
Some of those problems have stemmed from what appears to be the biggest hole in the line-up, in the lack of an adept left back. With Dos Santos preferring a 4-3-3 formation, the left side of defence has been regularly exposed, with Cornelius, PC and Scott Sutter asked to play out of position in that spot while Brett Levis recovers from injury.
This week though, the ‘Caps welcomed their newest addition to the squad in Iraqi international left back Ali Adnan, who joins the club on a short term loan until the end of June. Adnan brings with him an impressive resume, with a combined 121 club appearances between the Italian Serie A and the Turkish Süper Lig, and another 49 appearances for the Iraqi National team. He also comes with his own plaudits, as he was named to the Best XI at the 2019 Asian Cup just two months ago.
Head coach Marc Dos Santos told reporters that “when it was brought to our attention that it would be a possibility, we right away started the process” of trying to bring Adnan to Vancouver. While the signing does come with some concern both for its brevity, and, that Adnan has been frozen out by Udinese following some confusion about him representing Iraq in the Asian Cup, and subsequently, has not played a competitive match since - Adnan comes to Vancouver with huge upside.
Dos Santos said “of course we know the risks, it’s a player that the last time he played was in the Asian cup, and it’s not like a player that’s been playing from the end of January regularly, but at the end of the day, opportunities like that you have to take them…, so, I think that we have a very, very good left back that was available.”
“Ali’s a natural left back, Derek is a centre back that was adapted to a left back position. PC and Brett are in between wingers and left backs, so very good players to play in a back three, but Ali is more suited to that natural, back four type of left back. He still likes to join the attack, [he’s] very good in set play situations, not only offensively but helping defensively. When he gets game rhythm – so hopefully we’ll see it on Saturday, but he’s not with game rhythm yet – but when he gets into a game rhythm mode, he has a lot of volume in his game, and we’re lucky to have him joining our squad.”
Derek Cornelius said much the same about Adnan and that, “he’s looked good, he’s looked really good. He’s come in with a smile on his face, he seems happy to be here and he seems like a solid defender with experience over seas, so yeah we’re happy to have him.”
The man himself took some time out to speak to media, and his infectious smile carried over from the training pitch with him. Adnan told reporters that “I’m so happy here, in this team in this City. I’m going to work hard in this moment because we have a game on Saturday. You know it’s not easy you come from Serie A and you come from Udinese, one of the big teams in Italy, and you come to play here in Vancouver, at also a big team, MLS is now an important league in the world, so I’m so happy to be here in this league, [and] I hope to do all my best and keep working.”
Adnan described his new surroundings as “like my family, because from the first day it’s like I know the players for many years” and that “this is the most important [thing] for the players, and when he’s feeling good, I think he will play good. Because if you’re feeling good, after, everything is coming easy.”
The Whitecaps will certainly be hoping that the good feeling carries through the weekend, with Saturday evening’s 7:00PM kick-off fast approaching.