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Looking at the Data and Simply Laughing: The Vancouver Whitecaps After Ten Games

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I moved to New Zealand a couple of months ago. It took me a while to find work (finding employment is hard as an immigrant, who knew?) so I had a lot of free time. I watched every episode of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series in the space of about a week and a half. Every season on that show, a very stressed team principle gets on camera and desperately tries to make sense of how-after all that time and money-they have managed to build a bad car. The Vancouver Whitecaps are 10 games into the MLS season with a record of 2W-2D-6L. It’s about time to have the soccer equivalent of those team principle interviews.

I am going to ask you to hold two ideas in your head that seam to contradict each other.

  1. The Vancouver Whitecaps have been astonishingly unlucky and their record is not a reflection of the true quality of the team.
  2. The Vancouver Whitecaps are not that good.

I think understanding both of these things is key to understanding where the team is at right now. This article is an attempt to synthesize them.

Headline Numbers

Let’s start at the macro level. Beginning with point one-bad luck. The Whitecaps have the second biggest negative difference between their expected goal differential and their actual goal differential. Only F.C Cincinnati have been unluckier based on the quality of chances they and their opponent have created. Vancouver has created 12.19 expected goals and only scored 10. They have given up 15.52 xG but have managed to concede a whopping 20 goals. This is to say nothing of the bad luck involved in things like Ryan Gauld’s effectiveness being limited by concussion issues, Caio Alexandre finally getting his visa sorted out and then immediately breaking his hand, and Maxime Crepeau deciding he wanted out just days before training camp started.

But, inescapably, we have to come to point 2-they’re not that good. Even if they were experiencing neutral luck, and were performing exactly in line with their xG, they would be 10th in the West instead of 14th. Prorated over a whole season, this alternate universe where xG is 100% in line with reality, would see the Whitecaps finish outside the playoffs by six or seven points. Not great!

Their attack is a little better than their defence. They are 18th out of 28 in xG for and 24th out of 28 in xG against. But neither total is all that impressive. Overall the Whitecaps are are 21st out of 28 teams in expected goal difference. I think that’s a pretty good snapshot of the overall quality of the team.

Now let’s zoom in a bit more on each position and see how we ended up in this situation.


Look, it’s not exactly going well. Of goalkeepers who have played at least five matches worth of minutes, Thomas Hasal is 24th in goals saved above/below expected. Now, I have to point out that there are 28 teams in the league so Hasal is not even the worst starter in the league. But it’s a pretty big comedown from Maxime Crepeau who was saving the Whitecaps points almost every single week. Of course, if your team requires your goalkeeper to save them points to be successful then you have a bad team. But even still, sometimes you just need a save.

Hasal is not costing the ‘Caps points because he is making huge and obvious errors. But almost every single dangerous shot against is going in. The bigger problem is still that there are way too many dangerous shots but dangerous shots are going to happen sometimes so it would be better to have somebody who could stop some (sophisticated analysis, I know).

One thing that has stood out to me about Hasal is that his performances are very volatile. There have been games where he has genuinely made a big positive difference (the game against NYCFC and the most recent one against Toronto stand out). But there have been more games where he gets lit up. To explore this observation a little more I broke down his goals saved above/below expected in each individual game. As you can see, there are some highs. But the lows are quite a bit lower.

Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

Up and down performances are to be expected of a younger player. I would say his peaks are a sign that he still has potential. I would say, taking a long-term view, Hasal is on track to have a pretty good career. But in the short term, you don’t know what you’re going to get, and that’s not conducive to winning games right now.

Hasal is, of course, injured for the next five weeks. This leaves with Cody Cropper. Cropper has been alright in his performances thus far but historically speaking he has been pretty bad. In MLS he has averaged 0.5 more goals than expected against per game. That is very bad.


The Whitecaps’ defensive shape has caught a lot of flack this season. True, the spacing between the wingbacks has been a big issue. But that has not been helped by the fact that they currently have three starting level centre-backs and a maximum of two of them have been fit at any given time.

To illustrate what I’m getting at, let’s take a look at ASA’s goals added (or G+ metric). If you’re not familiar with it, here is their explanation. G+ is not always perfect, there are certain player profiles I (total dumb ass, hasn’t taken a math class in over half a decade) feel it doesn’t always capture the value of, but generally, it’s good at telling good players from bad players. My understanding of it is that it is weighted such that 0.00 is an average starter. So even if a player is in the low negative numbers, they’re still a pretty decent player overall (the way they explained it on a podcast once was “if a player is at 0 then he’s still better than 5 or 6 players on the field). Here is the G+ per 96 minutes of the 5 players who have played significant centre-back minutes for the Whitecaps and how they rank compared to centre-backs in the league who have played at least 300 minutes (of which there have been 87).

G+ of Vancouver Whitecaps Centre-Backs

Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre backs (out of 87)
Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre backs (out of 87)
Ranko Veselinovic 0.01 45
Tristan Blackmon -0.01 59
Jake Nerwinski -0.05 71
Florian Jungwirth -0.19 87
Erik Godoy 0.09 NA
Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

As we can see, Veselinovic and Blackmon are both about average for a starting MLS centre-back. Erik Godoy has not played very many minutes yet due to his glass calves but he has been excellent in the time he has played. But those three players are yet to play together. Instead, we have always had at least one of Nerwinski and Jungwirth. Boy, it is not going well for them! There are a few reasons for their struggles but a big one is that they are getting cooked when defending 1v1. Both are in the bottom 10 centre-backs for G+ from interrupting. If you’re finding all these abstract numbers hard to visualize, here is a little taste of what it looks like in practice.

Now, it is true that they’re not getting a lot of shielding from the midfield. A lot of the time they are left isolated against quick and skilled attacking players, which is hard for any defender. But, I have to bring it back to my “sometimes you need a save” point from the goalkeeper section. Even if Andres Cubas comes in and is the best ball-winning midfielder in MLS, defensive breakdowns are still going to happen sometimes. When that does happen, unless their three best centre-backs are perfectly healthy, the Whitecaps always have at least one player in their back three (or quasi back three) who simply can’t be relied upon to deal with that type of situation.

Now I do have to cut the ‘Caps a little bit of slack here. Jungwirth was very good last season. Although decline is always a risk for players over the age of 30, going from arguably on par with Godoy to the worst regularly playing centre-back in the league is quite a surprising drop-off. Nerwinski honestly isn’t terrible if he’s #5 on the depth chart but so far he has played approximately 2/3rds of the available minutes and he’s just not good enough to be used that much. But just because I don’t particularly blame the Whitecaps for getting into this situation that does not mean I absolve them of having to do anything about it. Now that they are in this situation they must act to resolve it. It might be difficult to move either of these players within the season but both are on expiring contracts. The Whitecaps absolutely cannot bring both of them back. Ideally, you would replace both with players who are younger, better, and cheaper (N.B the cheaper thing is not me playing into the thriftiness of the Whitecaps owners. Nerwinski make a combined 827K. You could do so much more with that cap space than two centre-backs who aren’t good enough to start regularly).

Fullbacks? Wing Backs? Let’s Just Call them “Wide Players”

The Whitecaps’ wide players have caught a lot of flack this year. Mainly because of backlash to the 3/5 at the back defensive shape. Interestingly though, G+ feels those players are doing pretty well.

G+ Of Whitecaps Fullbacks

Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre backs (out of 74)
Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre backs (out of 74)
Ryan Raposo 0.11 3
Cristian Dájome 0.04 17
Cristian Gutierrez 0.02 28
Javain Brown 0 34
Marcus Godinho -0.04 NA
Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

One thing that stands out about this group, in a positive way, is how effective they are at getting the ball into the box. One stat the Whitecaps are weirdly high in is passes into the penalty area. Despite the point we made in part one about the Whitecaps not being that good, they have the 8th most passes into the penalty area of any team in the league according to fbref. When you dig a little deeper and look at who is contributing those passes, a lot of them are those wide players.

If Ryan Gauld can stay healthy and Lucas Cavallini can continue to find his feet then you might have the makings of something really good here.

But, defensively, things have not been quite as wonderful. Javain Brown underwent an astonishing drop-off in his defensive play from his rookie season. I mean just look at this:

Javain Brown’s Rookie Season Via Fbref
Javain Brown’s Sophmore Season Via Fbref

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect Brown was dealing with an injury to start the season because he has looked more like his old self in recent games.

There have also been a lot of issues with positioning for the wide players (this will not be news to anyone). One thing that stands out to me is that each of the 4 wide players with over 300 minutes has a high number of pressures but a very low successful pressure percentage. This means there is a lot of chasing after the ball but not a lot of winning the ball back. This is partly down to there not being a lot of great ball-winners at the back or in the midfield (bring on Cubas!) but it also betrays a certain level of dysfunction in how the team plays. You end up with the wingbacks pressuring the ball but they aren’t pressuring the opposition into any kind of trap, they’re just chasing.

Furthermore, there are a lot of times when the wingbacks get caught forward. Since the Whitecaps play with only two in the centre of midfield, there is already a lot of space right in front of the back three. So if a wingback also gets caught forward then it doesn’t take much for an opposing player to be isolated against a Whitecaps centre back (which, as we discussed earlier, is very bad). Take, for example, San Jose’s 3rd goal in Vancouver’s most recent game. The play begins with all the Whitecaps pressed forward. San Jose’s keeper plays the ball into midfield. Michael Baldisimo is not able to close the ball down because he is almost having to cover the entire right half of the midfield by himself. Ryan Raposo is making a valiant effort to get back into position but he is pushed too far forward. Jamiro Monteiro can play a through ball to Cade Cowell who is 1v1 against Jungwirth. This is still a salvageable situation. It’s two Earthquakes against three Whitecaps. But Jungwirth can’t get a tackle in on Cowell, and neither of Godoy or Nerwinski covers themselves in glory either, and suddenly you have an easy San Jose goal.

Pushing the wingbacks forward has benefits, like all those passes into the penalty area. But, naturally, it has drawbacks. If you have centre-backs who can be relied on to defend 1v1 then you might be able to deal with this tradeoff. But right now the Whitecaps don’t have that. Overall I think they’re in a decent spot when it comes to their wide players but they might be better suited to the 4-2-2-2 shape and they are not a good fit with the centre-backs the Whitecaps are currently working with.


Yeah, I think you all know what’s coming.

G+ of Vancouver Whitecaps Centre Mids

Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre midfielders (out of 87)
Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing centre midfielders (out of 87)
Sebastian Berhalter -0.02 46
Russell Teibert -0.12 84
Leonard Owusu -0.05 NA
Michael Baldisimo -0.07 NA
Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

Sebastian Berhalter is doing pretty well. It’s his first season as a regular starter, he’s 20, and his team is below average. So I think being a slightly below average starter is a pretty good sign for his long term potential. Keep it up, Sebastian!

But the only other centre mid to play over 300 minutes is letting the side down. Vanni Sartini might have managed to coax some league average midfield play out of Russell Teibert last season but the clock has struck midnight and he has turned back into a pumpkin. A pumpkin that can’t pass!

Russell Teibert 2022 Passing Via Fbref

Or dribble

Russell Teibert 2022 Possession via Fbref

or create chances

Russell Teibert 2022 Goal and Shot Creation

or defend.

Russell Teibert 2022 Defence

There are no two ways about it. His play in 2022 has been terrible in almost every conceivable way. He simply has not been able to keep up with his opposition and is a huge liability for the team (a liability that makes 437k a year and is under contract until 2023). I am not going to waste valuable Wyscout minutes on this, I assume you are familiar with the situation if you are reading this article. If any members of the Whitecaps organization happen to be reading my plea is this: Try literally anyone else. There is nowhere to go but up.

Sadly, the other players who have played a handful of minutes have not been great either. Leonard Owusu has dealt with injuries and has been uninspiring when he gets on the pitch. Michael Baldisimo is not very well suited to a role that emphasizes more up and down running and fewer big switches from deep areas. However, it should be noted, that Baldisimo still leads the team in progressive passes per 90 minutes. So even though he isn’t a great fit for his current role he is still showing some signs of his quality. It might be worth loaning him to a team that needs his skills more in their starting lineup.

Now, it should be said, we are yet to see a single minute of the two players who ought to be starting with everyone fit. Andres Cubas, as we have discussed previously on this website, should be good and mitigate a lot of the problems the team is having currently. Caio Alexandre has had rotten luck with injury. I have seen growing anti-Caio sentiment online, calling him a waste of money, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. When he has been healthy, he has been really good. It’s possible that just slapping those two guys into the centre of midfield will fix a lot of things (similar to when Minnesota United signed Gregus and Alonso in 2019). Any team is going to be worse with their two starting centre mids not playing, which is an example of the bad luck the Whitecaps have had to contend with. But, the depth beneath those two guys has not exactly risen to the occasion. That’s a problem.


I actually find myself with quite a lot of positive things to say about the attack. Starting with the attacking midfielders (of which there are only two):

G+ of Vancouver Whitecaps Attacking Midfielders

Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing attcking midfielders and wingers (out of 85) xG+xA Rank amongst regularly playing attcking midfielders and wingers (out of 85)
Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing attcking midfielders and wingers (out of 85) xG+xA Rank amongst regularly playing attcking midfielders and wingers (out of 85)
Ryan Gauld 0.12 6 0.35 44
Pedro Vite -0.1 74 0.22 73
Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

Ryan Gauld’s xG+xA has dropped significantly from last season but G+ suggests he is still having a very strong positive effect. A quick investigation seems to show that the drop-off is due to Gauld not generating as many chances from corners and free kicks. It seems to be that he is just taking set-pieces less often, but it’s something to watch out for in future games. Another factor has been Gauld’s struggles with concussions. He certainly hasn’t looked his best but he’s still having a positive impact and I think that says good things about what he will be able to do as the season progresses.

Pedro Vite has not quite hit the high heights that were hoped for him (I suspect the numbers are treating him a bit harshly because half of his appearances have been in deeper midfield positions) but he has shown flashes. At this stage in his career that’s probably enough. He has been a bit inconsistent in the small number of minutes he has played but that is to be expected for a young player.

Looking at the strikers we have a couple of pleasant surprises and one less pleasant surprise.

G+ of Vancouver Whitecaps Strikers

Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing strikers (out of 49) xG+xA Rank amongst regularly playing Striker (out of 49)
Player Goals Added Above Average Starter Rank amongst regularly playing strikers (out of 49) xG+xA Rank amongst regularly playing Striker (out of 49)
Lucas Cavallini 0.05 13 0.49 18
Deiber Caicedo -0.05 32 0.43 24
Brian White -0.03 28 0.25 44
Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

Lucas Cavallini and Deiber Caicedo are both, in their own way, doing rather well. Keep in mind both had pretty bad starts to the season so their overall numbers don’t quite reflect their excellent form in the last couple of games. If we look at just the last five games (not a super scientific sample size but stay with me) Cavallini has averaged 0.74 xG+xA per game while Caicedo is at 0.56.

Most baffling of all, to me at least, is that Cavallini’s whole schtick where he goes wherever he wants is actually kind of working.

Lucas Cavallini 2022 Passing Via Fbref
Lucas Cavallini 2022 Possession via fbref

True, his actual success rates for his passes and dribbles are still quite low. But he’s now getting enough touches that if he just keeps trying things eventually some of it is going to work out. It might not always look pretty but this man is in the 83rd percentile for xA on a bottom half team so I can’t really hate on it.

Caicedo, I think, has benefited from the recent switch to a 4-2-2-2. Just because he looks better with players closer to him that he can link up with. He hasn’t been rewarded with that many actual goal contributions but he has seen a healthy increase in his underlying numbers. If the team can get its act together a bit more then I think an even bigger breakout could be on the horizon.

But Brian White is not hitting the heights he was able to hit last season. In a way, this is not that unsurprising because a lot of his play was predicated on his partnership with Ryan Gauld. Gauld has been injured, or not quite at his best when he has played. So it stands to reason that White would decline somewhat. Still, though, there are a few indicators that things aren’t quite right. His xG/shot is way down, meaning he isn’t getting the ball in those high danger areas as consistently. This might all even out as the squad gets fitter and things improve but it’s definitely something to watch out for.

Vanni Sartini:

With the team in last place, Sartini has naturally caught a bit of heat. I don’t love everything he does, I think he has a tendency to overcomplicate things. But despite several key players missing significant time, the team’s underlying data is actually slightly better than it was during last season’s final 14 games. I think it would be tremendously stupid to hire a coach and then fire him when the underlying play has not actually changed much. You can quibble about if giving him the job in the first place was the stupid thing or if firing him was the stupid thing but doing both is definitely stupid.

Axel Schuster:

Axel Schuster is now in his 3rd season as sporting director. Here is a look at the Whitecaps’ season over season expected goal difference per game.

Data Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

The story of the Whitecaps in MLS is pretty clear in this snapshot. In the early-mid 2010s, they were a pretty solid team who were at least playing their opposition close. But as we moved to the late 2010s they started getting left behind. After Alphonso Davies left the team totally bottomed out. But under Schuster, the team has been clawing its way, slowly but surely, back towards relevancy. However this season that improvement has stalled out a bit. As we have discussed, injuries and bad fortune have played their role in this. But I think Schuster has to take some criticism for being insufficiently ruthless in constructing the squad. Schuster has put a lot of emphasis on keeping together the group that was able to be successful towards the end of last season. But as we have demonstrated pretty conclusively here, that group was heavily reliant on their goalkeeper bailing them out, and if any of them get injured then the players taking their place can’t cope.

Compare the Whitecaps to a team like LAFC (the current best team in the Western Conference). For less than the wages of Jungwirth and Nerwinski, LAFC has Mamadou Fall (arguably the best centre-back in the league) and Jesus Murillo. Should they falter, LAFC can draw on Canadian international Doneil Henry. In midfield, LAFC hasn’t had a single player with over 300 minutes which is a negative in G+. Where Vancouver fills their bottom of roster spots with guys like Marcus Godinho and Tosaint Ricketts-LAFC is squeezing value out of every roster spot with players like Kwado Opoku and the aforementioned Fall. The upshot of this is that LAFC can survive a key player being injured. Cristian Arango, who scored 14 goals in 17 games last year, has missed a fair amount of time with injury this year. Yet LAFC has stormed to first place in the West anyway.

Schuster has done a pretty good job of improving the team up to this point so I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (I’m sure he’s very grateful). But if the growth he has achieved so far is going to continue to the point the team is going to actually be good then he can’t be sticking with players who are middling talents in the name of the group dynamics.