With the Gold Cup as well as other international competitions swirling in the background, the Vancouver Whitecaps were back at training on Thursday morning at the National Development Centre in what was, admittedly, a very light session.
“They looked like guys coming back after five days off” Marc Dos Santos said following the training session. “You know everything is slow, there are things that take a little bit of time, but i’m used to it.”
Although the session may not have been long, or terribly high in intensity, two things were quite clear from the players’ side of things: they were thankful for the days off after an incredibly frenetic month of May, but they were also happy to be back amongst their teammates and eager to prepare for the challenge of the second half of the season which lies ahead.
While some, like Jake Nerwinski, simply took time to put their feet up at home, others decided to take a trip: “Yeah, me and my family, Lucas [Venuto], PC and his family, went to Hawaii” said Brazilian midfielder Felipe, who was sporting an impressive tan. “It’s important, especially mentally, to get away from football for a while and spend like four or five days with the family. We had a lot of fun with the kids, we enjoyed the sun, but now it’s back to work - we’re refreshed and ready to go.”
Even head coach Marc Dos Santos managed to spend some quality time away from the game: “Honestly, the majority of my hours was a break.” said the gaffer, “I went back home. Because my family is still away, when I’m with them, the majority of my time is for them. The only thing that I’ve been more in contact with the club about is with Greg and Joe about the transfer window. So of course we had discussions - watching players, talking about some situations. But we were also able to disconnect and take some time off.”
Speaking of the transfer window, Dos Santos is still preaching patience in regards to the Ali Adnan situation, although it does sound like there’s a deal to be done if Udinese doesn’t see the Iraqi wing-back in their long term plans:
“The last update on Ali is when the right day is going to come, we’ll know if he’s going to continue with the club or not.” said Dos Santos “But of course, like I said at the beginning, it’s something that we don’t have total control of, because the player does not belong to us...when it’s the right time you are going to get the information. It’s not something where there is an update every day, it’s quite a “go” or “not go”, so we’re waiting to see if it’s going to be a go.”
For Ali Adnan, the remainder of his season with the Whitecaps is still unclear. But for eight-year MLS veteran Felipe, he knows exactly what to expect - a league where anything can happen in the second half: “Now it’s the second part of MLS, and that’s where it counts because MLS is a crazy championship and anything can happen - especially in the second half...if you look at past years, you know, Portland, Seattle, other teams, what they did. We’re ready to make a big statement in the second part of the season.”
Felipe also touched on just how much further ahead the team is now as opposed to the start of training camp: “I think we grew a lot. The team came together, we found a good balance. The team is coming to understand what it takes to win in this league. Many didn’t know anything about this league and how it works [coming into the season]. It’s one thing when you’re looking at it from the outside, not playing, not travelling. Another thing is to come from different environments, it takes time to adapt.”
Jake Nerwinski added his thoughts on the teams progression since the beginning of the year as well: “I think everybody can see that we have progressed immensely since the first three games. We started off a bit rough, but I think the last six or seven games, we’ve really shown what we can do and what we’re about.”
The Whitecaps, currently sitting 9th in the Western Conference with four wins, six draws and six losses for a total of eighteen points on the season, know that the second half will be crucial for determining whether or not their season is viewed as a success overall. At this point, grading the teams first half performance would prove to be a difficult task, and I’d have to give them a “TBD”, or maybe an “I” for incomplete.
On one hand, they’ve done well to produce the results they have over the last month or so (a stretch in which they had three wins, four draws and only one loss). Yet on the other hand, this is a team which is still plagued by many of the same issues as seasons past. The Whitecaps still lack a dominating midfield presence, are often overrun in possession, and fail to play critical balls into key areas. Meanwhile, the teams attacking & wide players still lack the ability to finish their chances in abundance and have been far too inconsistent to determine whether or not they deserve long-term spells with the club.
That being said, if the Whitecaps are going to build on their recent successes, getting the second half of the season started on the right foot, and managing the potential absence of four Canadian internationals (for at least Jun 22nd, if not beyond), is going to be crucial.
Jake Nerwinski spoke on the process of building towards the next match. “We have two good, hard weeks to build.” said Nerwinski “We’re going to work on our tactics, we’re going to work on our fitness, we’re going to work on being ready for the game.”
Coach Marc Dos Santos also indicated that he may have to look at altering his tactics in light of the Gold Cup absences, with one of the possibilities being the return to a back four as opposed to the back three formation the gaffer has favoured in recent matches. This might also effect the midfield and maybe we’ll see a new shape, or a young face from the academy ranks grace the starting XI.
Speaking of youngsters, the Vancouver Whitecaps Development Squad, along with a select few members of the First Team, made their way to Korea earlier this week and enjoyed their first training session in Asia on Thursday.
I asked Dos Santos about what he was hoping the young squad would bring back from the trip and received what I thought was a rather prickly, but also very impressive response:
“It’s a great experience but we can’t forget that they’re not very young, you know. When the players are in their 20’s, 19, 20, 21, we expect to see a certain level of commitment and performance. So that’s one of the things that we want to see. Vanney is with Nick [Dasovic] on the trip. So we sent somebody from the first team staff to be with the development squad to take a close look at those players. Of course, the level of competition is going to be very intense. The two games [against Daejeon Citizen FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings] are going to be I think, very competitive and great experience for them. Hopefully, we’ll get get good reports and know where some of these players stand for the future of the team.”
To make a long story short, If I was on the trip to Korea, I’d be sure to bring my best in those two “friendlies”, because Marc Dos Santos is always watching, and is unwilling to allow “youth” to serve as an excuse for poor performances.
Alright, that’s all from this (very) abbreviated week at training. If you had to give the Whitecaps a mid-season grade for their perfomances up to this date, what would it be? Are you optimistic for the second half? Let me know in the comments.