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Coffee with the Caps, Monday February 21

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MLS-Vancouver Whitecaps-Columbus Crew Soccer Action Photo by Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images

Good Monday morning Caps fans, hope you all are ready for the season to start because, like it or not, we are less than a week out.

The Caps earned a win Saturday but also earned a loss. No, this isn’t the answer to a brain teaser but rather a reflection of the first annual intersquad scrimmage at BC Place, taking a page out of American college football teams in using such an event to drum up excitement.

It seemed like pretty good turnout for a friendly, which is hopefully a positive reflection of the better vibes that are surrounding the team this year. Caps’ fans can often be a rather pessimistic bunch by nature but there is genuine reason for good vibes heading into this season, more so than in years past.

Of course, that is, until we lose 3-0 on opening day and everyone loses their collective minds.

With all that being said, I have a trio of bold (or at least lukewarm) predictions for the Caps ahead of their season. I will probably be comically wrong on most of these but, hey, might as well go on the record now on the off change I get one right.

  1. Caio Alexandre will be on the shortlist for the club’s most valuable player award come season’s end

In a season with a lot more ups than downs, no one had a rougher go of it in 2021 than Alexandre, given his rocky injury record. In 2022, he has had visa issues that apparently only got resolved earlier this weekend.

But the promise of a player who was widely hailed as a major coup of a signing from Botafogo remains. A glance at his Football Reference charts show a guy who was clearly trying to still adjust to MLS (and was the victim of an offense that lacked Ryan Gauld and Brian White). But some areas clearly standout: progressive passes, passes into the final third, progressive carries, tackles, pressures. In all of these, Alexandre was playing at an elite (or at least above league-average) level.

His most similar player, again according to FB Ref? Kellyn Acosta, who was so vital in Colorado Rapids’ success last year.

This skillset is encouraging on several levels. One, it fits in perfectly with what Vanni Sartini wants out of a central midfielder and Alexandre’s high energy output will instantly be a boost. Second, his creativity will be a release valve on Gauld, making it so the Scot does not have to be the lone creative engine for the team and giving opposing defenses something else to clue in on.

This may not completely show up in the goals and assists tally at year end. But I think Caio will be one of the most important players on the squad, a place befitting the expectations when he was signed a year ago.

2. I have a bad feeling about the central defense

This is one of those gut feelings where I don’t have a ton of data to back me up. In theory, the CB room should be more sorted and on much better footing. Tristan Blackmon should be an excellent pickup and Jake Nerwinski has been deputized as a solid right CB in a 3-at-the-back system. Ranko Veselinovic showed a trajectory of improvement and Flo Jungwirth was a shrewd pickup. And, hey, if Erik Godoy can stay healthy, he is the best of them all, right?

But, if you want to be one of those pessimistic fans I talked about earlier, you could look at things this way. Ranko’s development stalls out as a league-average CB or he gets sold. Godoy is hurt again or gets sold. Jungwirth begins to show his age in a way he did not last season and regresses. And Nerwinski proves to be an uneven option at the position.

Obviously, if the Caps move on a centerback they will look to bring someone else in, perhaps even of the Florian Jungwirth, buy low, sell high philosophy. And I could easily see everyone at that position taking a step forward this season and my worries being unfounded.

But in the system the Caps employ, you need everyone to be on the same page and you need good depth. And I worry, with a young keeper in net full time now, both of those points could present problems for the Caps this season.

3. Supporter sentiment around Russell Teibert will remain consistently positive all season long

This might be the hottest take of them all. Rusty is perhaps the biggest lightening rod for criticism of all the players on the roster. He certainly has been the posterboy for “the Caps don’t spend enough/have high enough ambitions/etc.” narrative that some like to push.

But there he was, thriving in Vanni Sartini’s system and turning into an actual, honest-to-God offensive threat. It was the first time since 2013 in which he tallied a goal and multiple assists in the same season. And his crossing and passing grew noticeably better and tighter as the season wore on, not just the much maligned back passes that more conservative systems seemed to pull out of Rusty.

In truth, part of the reason Teibert will likely be more popular is because he will likely see fewer minutes, with the return of Alexandre and the resurgence of Leo Owusu potentially crowding him out. Still, this is the duality of Teibert: just when you expect him to be a depth player, he roars back and seizes his place in the starting XI.

But there was perhaps no player who was more transformed by Sartini than Teibert. Based off the end of his 2021 alone, you could argue he has earned his place in the lineup against Columbus. And if he can continue to be a better two-way player, I suspect most all fans will be happy to see him in that position going forward.

There are my hot takes for 2022. If you have some of your own, drop them in the comments and try and make my opinions look positively mild.

In the meantime, onto some links ...

Best of the Rest

If you are a real hardcore fan and want to know more about League1 BC, where the Caps will have an academy team competing, well, here you go

The latest The Third Sub podcast episode, which will help get you ready for Saturday

A look at what Seb Berhalter brings to the table at midfield

The most important player for the Caps this season will in no way, shape or form surprise you

As more news about Andy Polo’s domestic violence allegations surface, the Timbers keep looking worse and worse