Right, so the first match of the 2023 season was vastly disappointing for the Vancouver Whitecaps. The preseason made it look like there was a rock-solid core behind the team that made little signings over the period, with not much needing to be shifted defensively and tactically to make something out of the upcoming year. Unfortunately, either through hubris or playing out of his depth, Vanni Sartini decided to make the peculiar decision of not rethinking his attacking strategy until RSL had already scored two goals, leaving the Whitecaps trailing until the end of the game. It was a disappointing start, but hopefully things can be built off from here.
San Jose, luckily, suffered the same result against Atlanta United, where a Jeremy Ebobisse goal was cancelled by two stellar Thiago Almada goals that can be described as player of the week worthy. San Jose have basically pulled a Whitecaps themselves and only signed three major players of note in defensive midfield, centre back, and goalkeeper. Eerily similar to the Whitecaps, it looks like these teams will be punching in the same weight class this season. As such, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Whitecaps can beat a team like themselves or they will struggle against mid-table opposition once again.
The most frustrating thing about the Whitecaps game is that they and the fans felt as if it was a game they could have won. They outshot and outpossessed their opposition, even though barely, but their finishing let them down. Cordova feels like a band-aid on a gaping wound, as although his underlying numbers seem generally fine, there isn’t as much fanfare and optimism as there was when Cavallini joined the club. (Frustrations aside, he could still put the ball in the back of the net when he wasn’t getting carded.) Sartini needs to completely rethink how the attack works, as Brian White looks like he is not going to reach the form he had two season ago.
San Jose also struggled in their game, albeit against much tougher competition in a much tougher ground. Taking on Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz isn’t an easy feat, and they were outplayed by the Five Stripes through and through. They were sloppy on possession and their midfield left a lot to be desired. Their defense, save for an injury time collapse, was solid for the full 90, and might be a testament to their astute signings in the offseason, and this will make the Whitecaps’ job a lot harder. As good as Gauld is, he is no Thiago Almada, and thus the team will need to come together to be able to put in a performance that threatens a newly formed back line.
The midfield won’t be a problem with Cubas always looking like a star, but forward is where the problems lie. With White’s limitations being found out, maybe a two striker system could be beneficial, drawing the heat off of White and allowing him and Laborda to create space and score the goals they have been known to score in the past. This wholesale change of system is unlike Vanni, who’s playstyle remains mostly the same after changing players and formation, but could throw off teams that are expecting a specific type of play from the Whitecaps, especially those with not many tools to target them such as San Jose.
For my prediction, I do still think it is a step too far, and the travel to San Jose could cause the Whitecaps some trouble, so I see a 1-0 loss in their future.
How do you think the Whitecaps will fare? Sound off in the comments below.