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SBI 2021 MLS Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

Marc dos Santos will have his sights set on leading the Vancouver Whitecaps to the playoffs for the first time since being hired. The Canadian side last qualified for the MLS postseason in 2017, making it all the way to the conference semifinals before being eliminated by the Seattle Sounders.

The Whitecaps are coming off a disappointing season, slumping to a ninth-place finish. Dos Santos’s men progressed past the group stages at the MLS is Back tournament against all the odds, but eventually lost in a penalty shootout against Sporting Kansas City in the Round of 16.

The Canadian side has taken aggressively to the transfer market this season, bolstering their roster with a number of intriguing moves. Caio Alexandre will slot in seamlessly in the middle of the park, while Bruno Gaspar arrives as one of Portugal’s most highly-rated attacking fullbacks.

Bruno Gaspar will initially join on loan with the Whitecaps possessing an option to make the move a permanent one. Déiber Caicedo’s arrival wraps up a lively offseason for the Canadian side, with the right-winger joining from Deportivo Cali. Caicedo has represented Colombia at the youth levels and is expected to provide speed and unpredictability from out wide.

“I want to grow. I know the Whitecaps are a team that lets young players play,” Caicedo said shortly after making the move. “I want to move forward in my career and this is a great opportunity for me to play.”I certainly view the league, MLS, as growing a lot, sending a lot of players to Europe. And ultimately, that is somewhere I want to get to in the future.”

Marc Dos Santos enters his third season in charge in Vancouver with the same objective in mind. The Canadian manager regularly stated he would like his side to be more aggressive both in and out of possession and play out from the back with confidence. This was on display in the Whitecaps’ 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire in preseason.

“The tying goal against Chicago was a play that comes from us playing out of the back,” Dos Santos said. “We need to vary that part of our game. We don’t have to always play out of the back, we have to recognize when there is pressure or not, and we have to recognize when the opponent is very high on the field or when the opponent backs off.”

Here is a closer look at 2021 Vancouver Whitecaps:


2021 Vancouver Whitecaps Season Preview

2020 finish: 9-014 (9th in Western Conference, missed the playoffs)

Key Additions: Alexandre Caio, Déiber Caicedo, Bruno Gaspar.

Key Departures: Fredy Montero


Newcomer to watch: Caio Alexandre

Caio Alexandre was acquired from Botafogo this offseason to bolster the midfield and inject some much-needed creativity in the final third. The Whitecaps often lacked inspiration when attacking last season, with only Real Salt Lake scoring fewer goals than the Canadian side in the Western Conference. Caio Alexandre featured prominently for a struggling Botafogo side last year, registering four goals in 34 appearances.

The Brazilian’s arrival addresses a clear need in the midfield and should help the side progress possession efficiently. Caio Alexandre is your classic box-to-box midfielder and will be hoping to play a crucial role on both sides of the ball.

Caio Alexandre excels when tasked with driving the ball forward quickly and will look to form an immediate partnership with Lucas Cavallini up front. His $4.4 million fee – the second-highest transfer fee the club has ever paid – indicates Vancouver’s top brass have high hopes for the 22-year-old.


Pressure is on: Lucas Cavallini

When the Whitecaps secured Cavallini for a club-record fee, the Canadian international was expected to bring the firepower. Cavallini’s first season in Major League Soccer did not exactly go as planned, with the towering forward regularly cutting out a frustrated figure up top.

The Toronto native plays his game with an edge, picking up six yellow cards and one red card in 18 MLS appearances. If the Whitecaps are to make the post-season for the first time since 2017, Cavallini will need to return to his best form.

The former Puebla forward closed the season off with an impressive record, finding the back of the net six times in his last 13 games. Cavallini will need to translate much of that momentum into the new year and deliver on his price-tag.


Outlook

The Vancouver Whitecaps go into the new season hoping for a clean slate. The Canadian side has struggled over the last couple of seasons, failing to make the playoffs under Marc dos Santos. As the old adage goes, however, the third time might just be the charm.

The Whitecaps were all too guilty last season of dropping unnecessary points from winning positions and switching off at crucial moments. In fact, Dos Santos’s men did not draw once throughout the entirety of last year – indicating the all-or-nothing nature of the Whitecaps. This is something that the 43-year-old tactician is quickly looking to address.

“We want to be a team that recognizes very well the moments of pressure and we are aggressively doing it,” Dos Santos said. “And I think in a lot of moments we were able to do a good job with that.’

The Canadian side made some shrewd moves on the transfer window and will be hoping its fresh faces put them over the edge. The Whitecaps have an interesting blend of youth and experience across their roster, with Cavallini, Maxime Crepeau, and Ali Adnan all capable of offering veteran leadership. The former was nearing top form towards the tail end of last season and will largely be tasked with leading the line.

Theo Bair and Micahel Baldissimo are two young talents that will be eager to take the next step in their development. The latter burst onto the scene at the MLS is Back Tournament and has since established himself as a regular in the midfield under Dos Santos. The 20-year-old boasts a wide passing range and should be afforded ample opportunities to stake his claim for regular minutes.

Cristian Dajome finds himself in a similar position to Baldissimo. The Colombian international impressed when called upon in his debut season in MLS but needs to add end-product to his game. Dajome excels at taking on his man one-vs-one but often lacked the killer ball to unlock defenses.

“Cristian (Dajome) is a player that is very comfortable playing any place in the attack, but he has a very good mindset for the team,” Dos Santos said. “He is not selfish when it is time to press, he presses. He participates a lot, and he is a very good player to have in our roster, for sure.”

Factor in the arrivals of Caicedo, Caio Alexandre, and Bruno Gaspar, and the Whitecaps are a significantly improved side compared to last season. Cavallini, The club’s record-signing, struggled to get going after making the switch and will only benefit from having a full MLS season under his belt.

Make no mistake about it, the Whitecaps have all the makings to light up the goalscoring charts next season. Caicedo, Dajome, and Cavallini make for a dynamic front three, but as was the case last year – the Whitecaps’ success will come down to their ability to keep goals out. Dos Santos’s men struggled to contain the opposition, conceding 44 goals in just 23 games.

Erik Godoy will shoulder much of the defensive responsibility, but the Canadian side can take solace in the fact that they arguably have one of MLS’s most impressive one-two punch at fullback with Bruno Gaspar and Ali Adnan.

The Whitecaps kick off their season on April 18 against the Portland Timbers at the Rio Tinto Stadium. As Dos Santos enters year three in charge in Vancouver, the mission is clear as ever: Lead a rejuvenated Whitecaps side back to the postseason. Whether the Montreal native will succeed, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: The Whitecaps have retooled and will be raring to go.


Vancouver Whitecaps Roster

Goalkeepers: Isaac Boehmer, Maxime Crepeau, Thomas Hasal, Evan Newton.

Defenders: Ali Adnan, Javain Brown, Derek Cornelius, Gianfranco Facchineri, Bruno Gaspar, Erik Godoy, Cristian Gutierrez, Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinovic.

Midfielders: Caio Alexandre, Michael Baldisimo, Janio Bikel, Patrick Metcalfe, Leonard Owusu, Damiano Pecile, Andy Rose, Russell Teibert.

Forwards: Theo Bair, Deiber Caicedo, Lucas Cavallini, Cristian Dajome, David Egbo, Ryan Raposo, Tosaint Ricketts

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