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Coffee with the Caps, Monday February 24

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MLS: Preseason-Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Minnesota United USA TODAY Sports

Good Monday morning folks—I have to say Monday is a lot easier with the carrot of MLS coming at the end of this week (with a side dish of CCL in the middle).

Our season roundtable previews are all posted, we’re in preparation for the first match coverage duties of the year—all is well over here at 86F HQ.

The Caps closed out their preseason with a 2-1 win over Minnesota United on Saturday, using a late Fredy Montero goal to overturn a 1-0 halftime deficit. The next time the Caps take the pitch? It’ll be for real.

We’ll have plenty of previews for Saturday’s match against Sporting Kansas City but for now, here are three things I’ll be looking for in the early matches. This ignores some of the more obvious storylines (Cavallini, wtf is happening at midfield, etc.) but we have to be creative here.

Can Max Crepeau take the next step?

So everyone with a pulse knows that the club is pinning its hopes on Crepeau between the sticks after a superlative year last season thrust him from a time-share with Zac MacMath to one of the brightest young keepers in the league.

The question becomes then whether Crepeau will continue his rise. Rewarded with a contract extension in July, Max was an undisputed bargain. He finished in the top five in adjusted save percentage at a salary far lower than his more experienced colleagues. He did all of this on a Whitecaps team that often set him up in front of a firing squad—his poise and quality made it easy to forget this was his first time taking charge in goal for an MLS team full time.

But the best goalkeepers in MLS (Stefan Frei, Luis Robles, etc.) have a hallmark in their careers: consistency. Sure, it helps to play on better teams. But the great keepers are able to maintain a high level of form year-in and year-out. It will be interesting whether Max can build on a strong first year in Vancouver.

Elsewhere, I’ll be interested to see who is backing him up and whether Thomas Hasal can break into that role by year’s end. Homegrown keepers have a tendency to stall out in their development in Vancouver—it’ll be interesting to see if that continues with Hasal.

Will the defense remain solid?

It was not necessarily a banner preseason for the backline, with Derek Cornelius and Jasser Khmiri both looking more than a little rusty at times between giving away some penalties and falling asleep on goals. This is to be expected and reinforcements are on the way.

But in the early part of the season it’ll be interesting to see who is manning the backline—Ranko Veselinović is not yet fit and Khmiri is still getting his legs under him in MLS. Cornelius, meanwhile, will be entering his first MLS season without compatriot Doneil Henry across from him—a rarity after a whole season for club and country in which he had this safety blanket. All the while, the Caps start the season off with two of the best attacks in the league (NYCFC and LA Galaxy), as well as two improved offenses (Colorado Rapids and Sporting KC) that will be trying to pull one over on the Caps. The attack is still very much an unknown quantity so it may fall to the backline to keep them in games early on.

#CornerCaps?

Or #setpieceCaps? It was a bumper preseason for scoring from set pieces, owed primarily to a series of fabulous free kicks from Ali Adnan. This is not something, obviously, that is sustainable (though it would be fun if it did) but for a team who is trying to move up the league table in terms of scoring set pieces are going to be key.

This is especially true because Henry, the number one target on corners and many free kick opportunities, is out the door. The arrival of Cavallini is a boon and largely fills this void but the team will need to do more to improve upon its 8 set piece goals last season—good for 17th in the league. Ali Adnan feeling it on free kicks will help but you have to think this team spent a good amount of time on set piece plays during preseason to try and nab some goals to help steal some results. Again, it is the little things like this that can help the team steal some results while the attack sorts itself out.

Shameless Self Promotion

The Caps dealt for an international spot over the weekend and we run down what it might mean [insert all the eyeball emojis]

Best of the Rest

The Fredy Montero goal on Saturday has given everybody a lift, per JJ Adams of The Province

Between the Sticks asks if we should, maybe, kinda be optimistic about the outlook for our attack?

The season may be upon us but that isn’t stopping transfer dealings—NYCFC are reportedly closing in on Uruguyan youth talent Nicolas Acevedo

Speaking of transfers, the start of the K League has been delayed due to coronavirus. An unfortunate sign of the times we live in but it could help the Caps’ pursuit of Lee Dong-gyeong

Bernie Ibini has signed up with Carl Robinson’s Newcastle Jets and I’m shocked, shocked I tell you