Spring is in full swing, and while the situation in British Columbia becomes more complicated by the moment, it seems (unlike last year), that the Vancouver Whitecaps have picked a perfect time to head south.
The Whitecaps begin their pre-season later today, and the regular season is only a few weeks away. Needless to say, things are getting serious. With that in mind, I’m going to empty my notebook with any and all of the musings I had from the Vancouver Whitecaps’ final week of training camp in Vancouver.
On the Move
I don’t want to talk too much about the COVID situation and the team’s move to Utah, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that this move will be very different than the two temporary homes the Whitecaps set up in 2020.
In both Orlando and Portland, the team and staff were almost exclusively confined to a couple floors of a hotel: in Orlando this was at a resort, and in Portland, this was downtown in the midst of protests as prominent as any throughout the country.
Utah will look very different. The Whitecaps are primarily set up in a group of new apartment buildings arranged by the club, but players had the option of finding their own accommodations as well (obviously under certain restrictions and guidelines). Crucially, some players and staff have brought their families along as well.
In terms of quality of life, it sounds like the setup in Utah will be a lot closer to what “normal” life would look like in Vancouver. In fact, with the rising vaccination numbers in Utah, as well as the likelihood that the Whitecaps bubble will be vaccinated while in the US, life might be easier in Utah than it would have been here.
This past Wednesday marked Deiber Caicedo’s first day at training camp. With any and all visa issues sorted, and quarantine periods dutifully observed, he wasted no time in making an impression on the training pitch.
Having the opportunity to see him in person, what really stood out to me was Deiber’s explosiveness, especially as it pertains to short-area quickness and change of direction. He might not just blow by defenders with his long speed (like Alphonso Davies), but he’s more than capable of slipping through defenders’ fingers with his collection of faints, stutters and stepovers.
His finishing ability also impressed. Some of the scouting reports on Caicedo described him as a raw talent in terms of his technique and finishing, but he showed no signs of weakness in this area during his opening sessions. His technique was solid and he seemed to emphasize placement over power, which is far more effective than many players realize.
It was only a couple sessions, but I’m already enthused about the possibilities of a front three of Dajome, Cavallini and Caicedo.
It might have been out of necessity rather than choice, but the Vancouver Whitecaps had a youth movement this training camp. With so many Canadians away on international duty, pretty much every academy prospect available had the opportunity to train with the first team this preseason.
For some players, it was an opportunity to show they’re ready for a higher level, but for others, it was trial by fire. I specifically recall a sequence in Wednesday’s training session where both Janio Bikel and Leo Owusu made crushing tackles on academy midfielders within seconds of each other. After that, the youngsters looked a little less keen for 50/50’s the rest of that scrimmage, it was a true “welcome to the pros” moment.
It wasn’t all struggles though. He’s on a first team contract, but Gianfranco Facchineri is still just 18, and he looked very comfortable during this past week of sessions. After impressing last year during a stint with Atlético Ottawa, he might be poised to play a depth role for Vancouver this year - especially with Jasser Khmiri out on loan.
Other players of note were Kamron Habibullah and Keishean Francois, both of whom will be with the Whitecaps in Utah. Habibullah comes with a significant amount of hype around him, and is likely to secure a first team contract soon, while Francois was the pleasant surprise of camp for me. He’s just 17 and joined the Whitecaps academy in 2019, but nonetheless looked pretty comfortable amongst the first teamers and played in a variety of wide positions during the sessions. He’s definitely the kind of Whitecaps player which would benefit from the proposed MLS U23 league, or a CPL loan, in the years to come.
“I Want to See my Lawyer”
Despite the criticism, the Whitecaps are insistent that they don’t need better immigration lawyers. In fact, they say that they’re using the exact same legal team as Toronto FC. So why has the club run into so much trouble when trying to bring players into the country?
For one, it’s been the countries they’re coming from. While players from Colombia have been challenging, someone like Janio Bikel, who has a Portuguese passport, only took a couple of days at the beginning of last season. Oftentimes, the Whitecaps simply haven’t picked countries with easy immigration processes - is that something they should be considering? Maybe. But ultimately you have to find the right players for your squad, even if they come from a country where the process is a bit longer.
What complicates the matter further is the need for both a Canadian and US working visa, especially in COVID times. Caio Alexandre for example, who is from Brazil, presents a massive challenge as his home country is currently being ravaged by the P1 Variant. Bruno Gaspar is Portuguese, just like Bikel, but obviously the process has become more complicated since early 2020. Both Javain Brown and David Egbo have had to make the swap from student to working visas: which appears to be far more complicated than one might expect (Egbo is still yet to arrive in Utah). Depending on the country and circumstances, sometimes Canadian and US immigration offices take different stances on countries of origin, which makes things even more difficult.
I’m not saying that the Whitecaps get a free pass here, but it’s worth keeping in mind there are a lot of factors at play. Yes, it’s going to be frustrating for the Whitecaps not to have all of their offseason acquisitions available for opening day, but if it’s any solace, the Whitecaps aren’t in this alone, other teams have been experiencing similar issues.
‘‘My head may pop off my body." - Brian Schmetzer is clearly losing patience with Raul Ruidiaz’s extended paperwork issues https://t.co/c5TvqYxnIc— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) April 1, 2021
Both Sides of the Coin
It would have been nice if the Canadian U23’s had made the Olympics, but in some ways, I’m pretty pleased with the end result of the qualifying tournament. Not qualifying means that Theo Bair, Patrick Metcalfe, Michael Baldisimo and Ryan Raposo can enjoy full seasons of club football.
For Bair and Baldi, that means more playing time with VWFC, while for Raposo and Metcalfe, it very much depends on how the club feels about their depth at those spots. I’d be in favour of both heading out on loan, as this would likely be best for their personal development, but with a constrained schedule as well as World Cup Qualifying absences, the club might be very keen to keep those two around.
All you have to do is listen back to Marc Dos Santos’ answer about whether or not Jake Nerwinski was a backup to get a sense of how he feels about the importance of depth this season (hint, he thinks it’s really important). Dos Santos is not keen to get burned by his lack of depth (like the club did last year), even if that’s maybe not the best thing for some of these youngsters looking for consistent minutes.
Both of Vancouver’s starting calibre centrebacks at camp looked less than 100%, so it’s definitely something to watch out for in the preseason matchups.
With Erik Godoy, he was a full participant in training last Tuesday, but only appeared in the gym on Wednesday, and was nowhere to be found, at least as I saw, on Thursday. When I inquired, I was told that Godoy was dealing with a slight issue, but that the medical staff wasn’t too concerned about it. Normally, this wouldn’t sound too many alarm bells, but Godoy has dealt with lingering muscular issues as long as he’s been in Vancouver, so I can’t help but fear that it’s something which might persist throughout the opening stages of the season.
As for Ranko Veselinovic, he was more active on the training ground, but was not a full participant in all the training sessions, often breaking away from the group for conditioning runs when the others set up for scrimmages or 8 v. 8 work. He did look lively on Thursday as he worked through some 1 v. 1 drills against academy players, but if I’m being honest, he never really looked like he was going at full clip.
Form matters, especially to hit the ground running at the start of the regular season, so I’d be shocked if Derek Cornelius isn’t a starter on opening day. (Update: with Cornelius’ Olympic Qualifiers injury looking at lot worse than initially expected, I’m amending this take).
As mentioned before, CB depth is looking a bit thin without Jasser Khmiri on the roster, so if either of them ends up missing time, Facchineri could be called upon sooner rather than later.
That wraps up my thoughts from the last week of training camp in Vancouver. If you have any comments or questions, be sure to leave them below! Be sure to check out our Pre-Season Roundtable YouTube Series as well!