If you are a real sicko, like me, you are probably eagerly anticipating seeing a newly beefed-up WFC2 squad in action this season. So I have decided to take a quick look at some of the players I am most excited to see and go over what would constitute a successful season for them.
Time is a flat circle. When I first started writing for Eighty Six Forever we were all excitedly watching Gloire Amanda play for WFC2 and now, six years later, we are once again excited to see how he is going to do. In the meantime, Amanda put up some ludicrous numbers in NCAA and signed a contract with an Austrian Bundesliga team. But injuries have prevented his professional career from getting started in earnest. Amanda is 24 and it is very likely that at times this season, he will be playing against defenders who are in high school. So he needs to absolutely dominate the league if he wants to earn an MLS contract. The bare minimum, in my view, is four goal contributions for every five games. This is based on the performances of other early 20s strikers in MLSNP last season. The path to success is very narrow for Amanda but his performances in the NCAA suggest it’s a path he could be able to walk.
Vancouver’s second first-round draft pick in 2023 is in a very similar position to Amanda. At 23, he is a little old for the league (the average age in MLSNP is 21.9) and has to be dominant from the jump if he wants to earn an MLS contract. He has a little more runway than Amanda, being a year younger and having less professional experience. But I would also hope to see him around the four goals in every five mark to consider him for a first-team deal.
Lowell Wright, who is a striker, did not score any goals in 2022. True, he was on a bad CPL team for most of that time, but that’s not great! Still, Wright’s physical profile and the fact that he has been “pretty good for only being 16/17/18” for the past few years make him interesting. Wright needs to get some numbers on the board in 2023 if he is going to reach the heights that others (not me, to be clear) believe his capable of. The best U20 striker last season was Jacen Russel-Rowe who averaged 1.43 non-penalty goal contributions per game...That might be asking a bit much. But the second-best U20 striker was Jose Mulato who averaged 0.8 goal non-penalty goal contributions per 90 (0.65 expected). I think that’s a reasonable benchmark for Wright to aim for if he is going to be on track to reach his potential.
The first signing from the Yukon branch of Vancouver’s academy, Hanson had an incredibly high goals/90 last season. But a quick look under the hood shows that he was over-performing his xG by quite a bit. Still, I think the fact that he traveled with the first team to training camp in Spain and actually saw the field says a lot about how positively he is seen within the organization. Hanson does not have very many professional minutes so getting on the field regularly will be a major component of a successful season for him. At 19 he will be competing with Wright for a place in the prospect pecking order. But, due to Hanson’s lesser pedigree and professional experience, I think we can set the bar for success slightly lower for him. I would be reasonably impressed if he was at around 0.5 goal contributions per game sustainably.
A former CPL wonder kid is back in Canada after a good but a not great stint in the reserves of Croatian side HNK Rijeka. I was a fan of Coupland during his time in the CPL and even identified him as a player for the ‘Caps to track on this very website. I am assuming it’s a loan with an option to buy, so Coupland is really going to have to blow everyone’s socks off for the Whitecaps to keep him. But his goalscoring record relative to his age is quite strong so I am excited to see what he can do. The best U20 attacking midfielder, in terms of goal contributions, last season was Hope Kodzo Avayevu who was at 0.77 per game. I think if Coupland can do something similar to that I would be keen to keep him around.
At one point Habibullah was spoken about in whispered tones as the next Alphonso Davies. But football is a fickle game and, one less than impressive CPL loan later, Habibullah is looking to reignite the flame of his career. He is only 19 but if he wants to reach the superstar levels that were predicted for him he really needs to start turning it on. Like Coupland, he should be pushing to be one of the top attacking midfield players in the league if he wants to be on track.
I think Herdman is one of the most slept-on players in Vancouver’s system. He was perhaps Vancouver’s best-performing U-20 player last season, albeit with a bit of a weird profile. Herdman is a centre-midfield player who scores a lot of goals and is a good destroyer but had really poor passing numbers. His game is all about joining the attack and creating overloads in the box. It was kind of hard to see how he would fit into a double pivot. But Vancouver has switched to a midfield three and one of those players, Julian Gressel, is out of contract and pretty openly toying with the idea of trying his luck in Germany. So the stars are really aligning for Herdman, who won’t turn 19 until August if he can continue to grow. If he can be the league’s highest-scoring centre-midfield player (he was already pretty close to this on an xG/96 basis last season) and show some kind of passing ability then I think he could crack the MLS squad.
A lot of people were keen for the Whitecaps to draft Johnston (yes, he is Alistair’s younger brother). He was ultimately taken by New York City but they opted not to sign him. Now, look, I have not watched any NCAA soccer in my entire life. All I have to go on is notoriously iffy Wyscout data. But on the basis of that it’s sort of hard to identify something Johnston is good at. He’s almost exactly the league’s average age. So I’m left in the slightly awkward situation of saying it will be a successful season if he can show that he is good at something and do it at a leading level in MLSNP then he could make a case for a first-team football. But this is also true of literally every player on the team. So, stay tuned I guess.
Campagna was once declared the next Nesta by Marc Dos Santos. So far, he has not really been that. Campagna’s passing numbers are strong but everything else is limited. Now, he is only 18 and centre-backs take a bit longer to develop so there is no need to panic. I think if he can be above average this season and show improvement in his 1v1 defending we can feel pretty good about where his development is headed.
I had Linder in the “well he’s young” tier last season. This is for players who did not perform that well but whose age meant there was no reason to panic. By G+ he was the best player in this tier so I am interested to see if he can take the step to be #ActuallyGood.
Dasovic played a small number of minutes in MLSNP last season. I was pretty high on him based on watching sideline angle streams of Whitecaps reserve friendlies against F.C. Tigers (nobody is a bigger sicko than me). So I am really interested to see if he can establish himself as a regular starter.
I know very little about this player except that he was in the MLS Next All-Star team for the U-17 level and that earned him a handful of minutes with WFC2 last season. But this is enough information to get me interested. He was part of the starting group in WFC2’s friendly against Vancouver F.C. so I think he’s probably going straight into the team.
Is Isaac Boehmer good? I have watched him many times and I still don’t feel I have a firm answer to this question. Last year he was not that good for WFC2. But an injury crisis thrust him into MLS action and he was pretty good for the first team. What are you supposed to make of that? Hopefully, this season will be clarifying. Really at this point, he should be one of the best keepers in the league
The Whitecaps seem to consider Anchor the crown jewel of their young goalkeeping corps. This will be his first full season as a pro, after occasionally being thrust into action by various crises last season. Anchor is still really young so I think as long as he’s positive on goals saved above expected you are looking at a pretty successful season.