Good Monday morning Caps fans, and happy March. Spring is right around the corner and we’ll be back to MLS action before you know it (and I’ll have more to digest in these columns!).
For now, we have the beginning of training camp looming, in what will be a strange preseason. The Caps will be spending their only meaningful time around Vancouver this season and because of that it is unclear what their preseason schedule actually will look like.
One would assume there will likely be friendlies but potential opponents and dates are ... unclear. Who the team will be playing in Utah to start the regular season is also up in the air. Like basically everything else in the last year, we have more questions than answers.
And I have plenty of questions about the Caps roster as well. Some of those (will we get a DP number 10?) are obvious. But here are a few other things kicking around in my mind as we get the season underway.
Who will replace Fredy Montero’s minutes?
Fredy Montero ain’t coming back, barring a pretty dramatic reversal of where things appear to stand with the Colombian. That isn’t a shock — he presumably wants to still be a starter and the Caps have doubled down on what was an already crowded group of forwards.
The question becomes if Marc dos Santos opts to deploy some sort of two-striker formation, who benefits? Is it Theo Bair, who was largely absent last season and whose future in Vancouver is now starting to be in question — and who will not get to state his case as strongly in camp due to international duty. Would David Egbo be able to impress enough in preseason, adjust to the rigors of MLS play and be able to play alongside Lucas Cavallini, a player whom he is a lot alike in many respects. And Tosaint Ricketts is still on the roster but seems unlikely to provide what the Caps need in the starting XI.
The truth is the Caps don’t have anyone with the same kind of skillset as Montero, meaning it is possible MDS scraps the old tactical formation and elects to roll with Cava alone up top. But until a creative midfielder comes aboard, the team may need a bit more attacking verve. Who steps up to fill that void is a question with no obvious answer at the moment.
Sophomore slump or surge?
The fact that the Caps have a core group of guys coming back for a second season is ... unusual given the turnover in recent years. Some of them (Cristian Dajome, Janio Bikel) have their starting position on lock. Others were all over the place in their inaugural season (Leonard Owusu, Ranko Veselinovic), leaving legitimate questions about their long-term future in Vancouver.
Some (looking intently at Owusu) need to have their role better defined and preseason will likely help with giving us an idea of what MDS will ask of the Ghanian who seems to scream jack of all trades, master of none. Others (Cristian Guitierrez) have a golden chance to earn more minutes and that will start with training camp. It’ll be interesting to see who has buckled down over the offseason in terms of fitness to earn their way into MDS’ good graces.
Will investment in fullback positions pay off?
This is a bit of an obvious quandry given that the Bruno Gaspar rumors went from “who is this guy?” to “done deal” in a matter of days.
But if the Caps wind up exercising their purchase option on Gaspar, they will have the most expensive left back in league history and one of the most expensive right backs in MLS.
I don’t think this is as much of a bad thing as some others do — fullbacks are undeniably important in the modern game and while a lot of MLS teams leave something to be desired at the position I don’t mind the Caps making it a position of strength.
But the question now becomes how MDS uses his new signing most effectively. Nerwinski could move the ball up the pitch and it appears that Gaspar will be even more effective in this sense (Jake never matched the number of key passes that Gaspar has put up in his Olympiacos tenure).
We already know what Adnan’s marching orders are like (Gaspar appears to be a much more capable defender) but it makes no sense to spend big on a right back to have them play as conservatively as Nerwinski did. Still, the team will not be able to have both of their fullbacks bombing forward, meaning MDS will have some choices to make in terms of giving Gaspar marching orders and I’ll be curious to see what those look like.
A full preseason will be important for Gaspar as well because he hasn’t been playing consistently for Sporting — it would be nice to have him fully fit for opening day. Gaspar will not have international duty to attend to until African Cup of Nations qualifiers over the summer, giving him some chance to gel with fellow Lusophone Janio Bikel and get an idea of how MDS wants to use him.
Shameless Self Promotion
Caleb Wilkins has an update on the youth pipeline, most notably how Simon Colyn is faring in Italy as of late.
He also dives into what the Caps’ roster is looking like as of now and how a DP 10 may or may not impact things.
Best of the Rest
The Province has the news on Gaspar’s signing, which sounds like it is effectively done and dusted (minus visa formalities)
Carl Valentine on racism in football — both during his playing days and currently
Sacramento Republic had their main investor pull out of their expansion plans, putting their hopes of an MLS team on indefinite hold.
Some potential candidates to replace Thierry Henry in Montreal
The U.S. Soccer Federation officially repealed the ridiculous policy banning kneeling during the national anthem