Whitecaps: The 2019 debacle

Written for MLSMultiplex.com

The Vancouver Whitecaps have had a debacle in the 2019 season thus far. Here, I break down the causes for their calamitous campaign.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have had a trying season this year. Under new head coach Marc Dos Santos, the western Canadian club has only managed four wins through their 22 matches. In the offseason, the team was completely overhauled, more so than any team in league history. The thing that makes the Whitecaps different? They’re not an expansion team, so all of the new faces coming in at once was unprecedented.

Both on and off the field, the Whitecaps have had many problems this year. The club has been entangled in a scandal with women who formerly played for the team and were mistreated by their coach, while on the field, the product has been far from exciting. Here, I will focus on the on-field product, which has reared its ugly head and has the Whitecaps on pace for the worst season of their MLS tenure.

Vancouver struggled even before the season started. The preseason, which was in Hawaii, drew the ire of new manager dos Santos who, at the time, said “We had 15 and 16-year-old kids, we were in Hawaii. It wasn’t good if we have to hold ourselves to high standards. The beach was good in the afternoon, but all the rest was not so good. And the preseason has to be focused on soccer, not the beach. I was very upset about that.”

Contributing to that vacation feeling was the fact that much of the team was yet to be put together by the time training camp rolled around. This led to the Hawaii trip featuring an abundance of academy products, none of whom were in Dos Santos’ plans for the season.

It was not until days before the season began did the Whitecaps secure their supposed most important player, veteran MLS striker Fredy Montero. He was one of the players to join the team late, and that has not helped the campaign in any way. With the team coming together in the early parts of the season, the Whitecaps were effectively using the opening weeks of the MLS season as their pre-season. Not exactly the plan for success.

The middle of the season was where things began to click. The addition of Iraqi left-back Ali Adnan reinvigorated the side and the Whitecaps strung together a number of positive performances. While they were not able to get wins per se, Vancouver were competitive in games and showing aspects of a promising MLS side.

Then LAFC happened. A 6-1 loss to the league leaders highlighted the many faults that lie within the 2019 Whitecaps. Following that debacle, the Vancouver Whitecaps began their landslide down the standings and the flaws only grew clearer as it became apparent that the Whitecaps are just not good enough to compete in MLS.

There are many factors which have contributed to the Whitecaps’ downfall this season, but to me, the two which have been clearest are the lack of two things: goal-scoring and ambition, both of which stem from a bigger problem: the lack of spending.

First of is the goal scoring. The aforementioned Montero returned to Vancouver after spending 2017 with the team. He was expected to click well with the coach as he was coming from Portugal and Dos Santos’ is of Portuguese descent. The Colombian striker was also supposed to offer his depths of MLS experience to a team which lacked that. Neither have come to fruition.

The striker has been a shell of his former self. He has scored twice from open play. And the veteran role he was supposed to play has not been there either. Montero has looked aggravated on the field and has also appeared lazy in his efforts. His role model figure has not been a good look for the young, up-and-coming players, possibly shining a toxic hue upon other members of the team.

Although Montero has certainly held the Whitecaps back from putting balls in the back of the net, it is not him alone. The other strikers, Theo Bair, Joaquin Ardaiz and Lucas Venuto, have all been lacklustre. The only forward who has put in acceptable performances has been Yordy Reyna, and he is not talented enough to drag a team out of the bottom of MLS.

Other than Reyna, only two of the Whitecaps forwards have scored goals, and the expensive youngster Ardaiz is not one of them. The forward group has been preposterously abysmal this season, making everyone wonder why the club let go of reliable striker Kei Kamara after his 14-goal campaign. Of course, there is the possibility that even Kamara may not have been able to find success in this team as the midfield has been one of the least creative I have ever seen. However, the midfield is a topic for another time.

With the negative results piling up, the lack of ambition began to set in. When players lose games, they can lose confidence in their coach and begin to play selfishly. At this point in the season, that is exactly what has happened. When watching any game recently, you notice the selfishness of some players. They don’t trust the system they are playing in and the teammates that are executing that system. Even worse, some players have simply given up. There is no ambition in the team anymore at this point, and a losing campaign is only set to get worse.

The underlying problem in all of this is a lack of spending, or may I say, a lack of smart spending. This is a team that just splashed out to sign MLS’ most expensive left-back. While other teams are throwing cash at true game changers, the Whitecaps consistently fail to do so. The Whitecaps, while being one of the leagues penny-pitching teams, have failed to find any bang for their buck, having overspent on far too many average players.

Spending to win has become the theme in MLS, just as in the rest of the world, but it is still possible to win by spending smartly. Nevertheless, if you don’t do both, you will find yourself in the depths of the standings, exactly like the Whitecaps do today.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have had a miserable 2019. 2020 will be better, primarily because it cannot get much worse. However, there are still 10 games to go in 2019 and I truly do not know if this team will win another match.

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