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Coffee with the Caps, Monday June 8

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at LA Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Good Monday morning Caps fans. It is officially summer now, as the warm air blowing in through my open windows proves, and I hope you all got some time in the great outdoors over the weekend.

Now that you’re back at your computer you should head over to Caleb Wilkins’ great data driven look at how the Caps might be organized ahead of returning to play. Now that a deal for the Orlando tournament has been hammered out to start a date TBD we can actually start thinking about actual, honest-to-God, in real life soccer might look like. What a concept!

Caleb’s belief is that the Caps are neither extraordinarily well positioned nor at an extraordinary disadvantage for what the post-COVID-19 MLS play will look like. The Caps get dinged a bit for their style of play, which fares a bit better over a longer regular season than a three game group stage. He argues, however, that their pre-lockdown performances (as small a sample size as that might be) could give some reason for optimism.

I’m not out here to contradict Caleb’s thoughtful analysis but did want to add one angle he didn’t touch on: the ability to experiment in a relatively low stakes environment.

It isn’t really a secret that Vancouver is in the midst (again) of reimagining itself. Conventional wisdom has dictated that the squad actually benefited from the lockdown and subsequent training sessions because it allowed newcomers like Janio Bikel to finally get up-to-speed.

But there are certainly outstanding questions still. What center back pairing is going to be the most effective? What position should we be playing Erik Godoy at? How do Janio Bikel and Leonard Owusu fit in at midfield? Where do Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna slot in best and how many minutes should they get? Do any of the young players merit significant minutes this season a la Theo Bair? What kind of role should Bair himself have?

While the three group stage games do count towards the MLS standings, it isn’t as if the Orlando tournament will be business as usual. Between the neutral venue, coronavirus anxiety and the fact that some top players, such as LAFC’s Carlos Vela, might not participate we have good conditions for a team like Vancouver to take some risks and see if they can address some of these unanswered questions.

Remember that rules now allow up to five subs in any match, meaning that the Caps can go for an almost pre-season level of rotation if they so choose. I’m not advocating they necessarily treat this like a pre-season tournament but it stands to reason that these two additional subs would increase the likelihood that MDS might roll the dice in younger players who might otherwise see less of a role.

Bair and Ryan Raposo would be two guys likely to benefit from the rule change. While Raposo came on to good effect against LA Galaxy, Bair has yet to see any minutes at all this season and was even dropped from the matchday 18 entirely for the LA trip. Both guys lack a clear roll in MDS’ current system but yet both clearly have value and would warrant a more extended look in Orlando.

Georges Mukumbilwa and Patrick Metcalfe are examples of two guys who might get a late game look in Orlando. Both made the bench in matches this season but were unlikely to feature barring injury. Now, with five subs, MDS might be more willing to give them some minutes in garbage time, as Bair and other youngsters have in the past to jump start their Vancouver careers.

Projecting the Orlando tournament and what happens when the league finally returns to play is a tall task. Will teams go all in or will they treat it more like a pre-season tournament which, in some sense, it is. Seeing how MDS and Co. choose to use it will be interesting but one would hope that this could be a chance to see if the team’s top young players are ready for prime time.

Now onto some links...

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