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Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 MLS Season Preview

The 2020 Major League Soccer season is upon us. We review how the Vancouver Whitecaps finished the 2019 season, the changes they made in the offseason, and preview the 2020 season. 

Lucas Cavallini in the Whitecaps 2020 MLS jersey
Vancouver Whitecaps

With the 2020 Major League Soccer season starting on Saturday, it is time for us to preview the Vancouver Whitecaps upcoming season. It could be a challenging season for Marc Dos Santos and the Whitecaps, which begins at home Saturday at 7:30pm PST, against Western Conference foe Sporting Kansas City at BC Place.

How did they finish in 2019?

Things did not work out well for Marc Dos Santos in his first season at the helm of the Vancouver Whitecaps. The club finished with eight wins, 16 losses, and 10 draws, for 34 points (or one point per game). This left them in last place of the Western Conference, and only ahead of expansion club FC Cincinnati in the final MLS standings for 2019. It wasn’t a good year.

Biggest change from last year

MDS needed to address his very poor midfield…and he did not. While there was a need to improve the midfield, to improve the link between the defense and offense, MDS seemed to think that the best way to accomplish this was to acquire Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini from Club Puebla, for a Whitecaps-record transfer fee. This acquisition was not a surprise as there was rumors that the Caps were trying to acquire his services last summer, only to be rebuffed because of Cavallini’s newborn child. However, it seems that Cavallini was now ready to come home. Will he make a difference? Certainly! He scored in each of the final four preseason matches, with several impressive goals in those four. But, the problem was not scoring for the Whitecaps. At least not directly. The Caps have players who can put it into the back of the net. They just don’t have anyone to provide the service. Cavallini will be able to get some goals without the service, but there will need to be a supporting cast on this team, which currently seems void of any reliable playmakers.

The one storyline we will be following

At some point in the next year, it is likely that both designated players Ali Adnan and Hwang In-Beom will depart from the club. The only question is when. There is speculation that either or both could be gone this summer, with a transfer to Europe inevitable. However, it is possible that the club can convince them to stay until the end of the season. While both are set to depart, it seems Hwang In-Beom is likely to leave first. With the midfield as thin as it is now, losing In-Beom mid-season could be disastrous.

Who’s out

Joaquin Ardaiz (End of Season) – Loan completed

Lass Bangoura (End of Season) – Loan completed

Michaell Chirinos (End of Season) Loan completed

Scott Sutter (End of Season) – Option declined

Brett Levis (End of Season) – Option declined

Victor ‘PC’ Giro (End of Season) – Option declined

Anthony Blondell (End of Season) – Transfer to Chilean club CD Huachipato

Doneil Henry (November 20th, 2019) – Transfer to K League 1 club Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Zac MacMath (December 17th, 2019) – Traded to MLS club Real Salt Lake

Jon Erice (January 15th, 2020) – Terminate contract

Who’s in

Lucas Cavallini (December 16th, 2019) – Transfer from Liga MX club Club Puebla

Ryan Raposo (January 9th, 2020) – MLS SuperDraft

Cristian Gutierrez (January 16th, 2020) – Free Transfer from Chilean Primera Division club Colo-Colo

Cristian Dajome (January 17th, 2020) – Transfer from Colombian club Bogota FC

Leonard Owuusu (January 21st, 2020) – Transfer from Israeli Premier League club FC Ashidod

Erik Godoy (January 22nd, 2020) – Permanent Transfer from Superliga Argentina club Club Atletico Colon

David Milinkovic (January 27th, 2020) – One-year Loan from English Championship club Hull City

Bryan Meredith (January 29th, 2020) – Trade from MLS club Inter Miami CF

Ranko Veselinovic (February 9th, 2020) – One-year Loan from Serbian SuperLiga club FK Vojvodina

The new jersey

Prepare for ‘The Wave’ - A reflection on the city. “Flanked by snow-capped peaks. Shaped by white-capped waves. We take our name from Vancouver’s natural beauty and the water that surrounds us” (Vancouver Whitecaps)

A front view of the Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 MLS jersey
Vancouver Whitecaps
Derek Cornelius showing off the rear of the Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 MLS jersey
Vancouver Whitecaps

On the nape of the neck is the city motto “By Sea Land and Air We Prosper”

The nape of the Vancouver Whitecaps 2020 MLS jersey, displaying the city’s motto
Vancouver Whitecaps

The coach

Marc Dos Santos begins his second season in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps. While the coach remains the same, there are some important new people surrounding him. Vancouver has their first Sporting Director in Axel Schuster and a new CEO in Mark Pannes. Coupled with the development of a scouting department, the club looks to be headed in the right direction from a organizational standpoint.

Projected XI

Expectations for 2020

The expectations in Vancouver are not high, but also not low. With Marc Dos Santos not addressing his massive hole in midfield, the club is not expected to contend for a playoff spot. However, this will likely lead to a lot of frustration from fans and some calls for MDS to be removed. It is unlikely that MDS will be replaced before the end of the season, but there is a lot of pressure on him to succeed, with little personnel to achieve that success. Final standings: 9th in the Western Conference.

What did we learn last season about this team?

In 2018 it was unclear what the Vancouver Whitecaps identity was. Heading into 2019, MDS created a vision of what he wanted the identity to be. In my opinion, there can be an argument as to whether that vision was met. In some ways it was, but in a lot of other ways we saw the same, or maybe even worse, as what we saw under Carl Robinson. With that in mind, what was not necessarily learned but certainly driven home was that the Whitecaps needed to address the foundation of the club’s operation because no matter who they brought in to manage this club, if the front office was not in order nothing was going to materialize on the pitch.

From the outside it certainly seems that the front office realized the disconnect between the vision and the performance as the club finally has a full-time scouting team, a sporting director, and a new CEO. These are all positive signs that will hopefully translate to a better product on the field. Will that happen this year? Unlikely, but hopefully it moves them into the direction they need to be for 2021.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

Despite giving up a LOT of goals last season, the Vancouver Whitecaps have a strong defense. Despite losing their center back stalwart Doneil Henry in the off-season, center back is likely their deepest position. They have two very high caliber players in Jasser Khmiri (hopefully) and Erik Godoy. They also have surprise standout last season Derek Cornelius. Then, a week ago, they picked up intriguing Serbian Ranko Veselinovic.

Like the defense, while the offense did not score a lot of goals, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good, but they have players with a proven track record of scoring (Reyna and Montero), a journeyman who has proven he can pop in the odd goal (Tosaint Ricketts), and an up and coming academy player (Theo Bair). Add to that the addition of Lucas Cavallini and the Whitecaps have enough fire-power to be middle of the pack.

The problem the Whitecaps faced last season, and did NOTHING noticeable (except for somewhat-unknown Leonard Owusu) to address it during the off-season, is the midfield. Beyond In-Beom Hwang, the Whitecaps have nothing to be excited about in midfield. Russell Teibert has proven himself to be a worthy ‘soldier’ for the blue and white, he has never struck me as your go-to in the midfield.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have a solid defense and a capable attack. The biggest concern for MDS in 2020 is figuring out how to link those two. Without that linkage the Caps will be heavily out-possessed again this season and the defense will end up being sieve.

How much will this roster change after the season starts?

Just prior to their final preseason match, the Whitecaps picked up an international roster spot from Portland Timbers. This was odd as it gave the Caps 11 INT spots with only nine international players. The Caps paid a pretty penny for the roster spot, so we should expect both extra spots to be occupied some time shortly. Hopefully with some midfield help.