The Vancouver Whitecaps were back training at the National Development Centre on Tuesday morning, and after a successful pre-season trip to Portland, which included an “unofficial” tournament win, spirits were high on the pitch.
Although the club’s off-season acquisitions perhaps did not have the same level of splash that some fans expected, the difference in the mentality of the club already seems noticeable. Now this is certainly much easier to say when a team hasn’t really faced any adversity. But even in the pre-season, the Whitecaps showed themselves as a team that was ready to compete and go to battle for each other, with the incidents against MUFC’s Ozzie Alonso serving as an obvious example.
Head Coach Marc Dos Santos spoke to the improved mentality, and the seriousness with which the players approached their preseason business trip: “The important thing is that we set the tone of what we want to be about” said Dos Santos “ What I liked about the pre-season was that there wasn’t one game that felt like we were in pre-season mode. All of the matches, we went into them with the mentality that it meant a lot to us.”
Despite their pre-season successes, the Whitecaps were forced to play in Portland without two of their most notable offseason additions. With both Leonard Owusu and Ranko Veselinovic having been stuck for a while now in immigration purgatory, two key pieces of Dos Santos’ retooled squad are still a while away from seeing game action. Despite this, Dos Santos did have some positive news to share related to Owusu’s status: “Owusu arrives today provided there are no further issues. He’s on a flight right now. So he arrives today, and he should be with us tomorrow...Ranko did his biometrics and everything’s going in the right direction. We’re waiting for the visa, hopefully next week he’s going to be with us.”
This is good news for a Whitecaps team that is still in desperate need of midfield depth, and although Owusu will be joining the team shortly, it doesn’t sound like either Owusu or Veselinovic will be in the manager’s plans for the first few weeks of the season: “No chance guys.” said Dos Santos when asked if Owusu might be in his plans for this weekend. “Imagine if with the guys working the way they are, Owusu arrives and goes straight into the eighteen. I’d be telling the guys who did five weeks of preseason fighting here that it didn’t matter - no chance. Even for LA Galaxy, it will be very tough.”
Another Whitecaps centre-piece that has yet to see the pitch much this season is Erik Godoy. After playing on loan last season, and finally being secured from his former Argentinian club this off-season, the stout defender has been doing individual work as he continues to rehab a right calf issue. Although Dos Santos seemed optimistic about Godoy’s status long term, it seems clear that the club doesn’t want to rush into anything, especially with their current depth at the position.
“That one is a tricky one.” Said Dos Santos regarding Godoy. “He could possibly come to the field now, but we really want to make sure that the calf is reinforced in the right way, so he can play the full season with us and not have a setback along the way. We’re being very cautious and careful right now.”
Although the Whitecaps have not added any players of late, they did make a trade during their time in Portland, acquiring an international roster spot from the Timbers, for a sum of 165,000$.
When asked what the club planned to do with the spot, Dos Santos responded rather comically, all the while not making any promises about an impending move, other than the fact that they plan on using both their currently vacant international roster spots at some point: “We didn’t buy an international roster spot to sell it for less than we payed. We have a plan, and we’re just waiting to see what are the best options.”
Returning from Portland, the Whitecaps also found themsleves two players lighter, as trialists Amer Didic and Aboubakar Sissoko were sent home at the end of the trip. Dos Santos explained that both had impressed in their time with the club, but that ultimately other roster considerations got in the way of them earning a contract.
“I feel that they did very well.” Said Dos Santos of the trialists. “Aboubakar was very solid with us, good in the locker room, did everything we asked. The same with Didic. With Didic, it didn’t make sense for us to stick with him considering our depth. Especially without having a reserve team in a competitive environment...And yes, we’re going to follow them. Aboubakar was more related to Metcalfe, who is four years younger and plays the same position. But the reason those two stayed with us as long as they did is because they showed very good signs.”
Another roster consideration for the Whitecaps heading into the season is what they intend to do with many of their homegrown players as the roster compliance deadline approaches. With at least two players needing to be moved out on loan in the not so distant future, Dos Santos explained what he looks for in a loan destination: “We’re looking for a destination where the environment at training is good, where I know the coach or where I know the coach works well and with passion, and also where the chances of playing are very high.”
Finally, the club announced shortly after training that Tosaint Ricketts had agreed to a contract extension through the 2021 season. While the move does seem a bit curious for an older player that relies primarily on pace for his opportunities, it seems obvious the Dos Santos values Ricketts as much for his leadership and off-field contributions as anything else, much in the same vein as Andy Rose. Both Rose and Ricketts seems like prime candidates to move into coaching after their playing careers come to an end, and it will be interesting to see what kind of role those two end up playing this year.
When asked about his new deal, Tosaint explained both his joy and surprise to be staying in Vancouver for the next two seasons: “It was a surprise honestly. You know I’ve just been working hard on the field and off the field, trying to lead when I can, and try to just impact the environment in a positive way to help be that catalyst for growth on the team, and within the organization, and you know to be rewarded was a surprise, and I’m so happy.”
That’s all from Tuesday at training, stay tuned for more pre-match coverage as the Whitecaps get ready to welcome Sporting KC this Saturday night.