Back in the NASL, A-League and USL eras the Vancouver Whitecaps were the better team in Cascadia. What they did on the field was impressive, leading the charge of Cascadia’s climb from the shadows of New York. The MLS era has not been quite as good for the ‘Caps. They are now struggling through a third roster reboot in just 8 years. Saturday’s match against Seattle Sounders is an opportunity for their first win after a nearly complete roster overhaul this offseason. For Brian Schmetzer’s Rave Green it is an opportunity to retake first, to extend a winning streak and declare dominance.
Caleb from Eighty Six Forever answers Three Questions.
SaH: With more than a dozen new players and new coach Marc Dos Santos the identity of the Whitecaps is in flux. What type of team are they now? Will that still be changing during the season?
86er: The Whitecaps are aiming for a system based on Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli. It hasn’t quite materialized so far, at least partly due to the players lacking chemistry with each other. There are some encouraging signs. The ‘Caps are no longer last place in MLS in possession and total passes as they were last year, for example. The problem is that they are really struggling in the attacking third. They’re great at getting there but so far they’ve struggled to break teams down.
SaH: Last time Fredy Montero was there he was a key scorer on a team that used him as a target forward. Is his role under Dos Santos more suited to Montero’s skills?
86er: In theory, yes. In practice, not yet. As I mentioned above, the Whitecaps have been terrible in the final third and as a result Montero has looked every bit as isolated as he did in 2017. I am hopeful that will change but who knows.
SaH: Vancouver recently signed my favorite Iraqi player. What will Ali Adnan mean to them?
86er: Hopefully quite a lot. Left back has been an obvious weak spot in the ‘Caps and Adnan was probably the best left back available to them thanks to a bizarre tiff with the management of Atalanta where he was previously on loan. Getting players forward in support of the front three has also been a problem so hopefully Adnan will help with that as well. He’s only on a four-month loan, after which he can be registered in Serie A again but hopefully he does well and decides to stay after being charmed by Vancouver.
86er: Seattle has three wins on the bounce. Are they as good as their record suggests?
SaH: I think they are better. The offense is legitimately this good. It should threaten any goal defended by any MLS team. But the defense has started shaky. That’s unusual for the organization and for Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders should end the season as a goals against leader again, with a reasonable amount of health. There are two CBs that could appear in Best XI conversations, Cristian Roldan should as a defensive mid and Stefan Frei is the second coming of Nick Rimando in that Frei will always be in the conversation for keeper of the year.
86er: From an outside perspective it seems as though the good form is down to the quality of Ruidiaz and Lodiero. Is that all there is to it or have other major changes been made in the way Seattle plays compared to last season when they struggled out of the gate?
SaH: Wide play is better this year than it has been in the past. On the left that’s Brad Smith and Victor Rodriguez using a mix of over/underlapping runs with tight passes. On the right it is Jordan Morris combining his strength and speed to dive into the box as a shadow forward or make blazing runs on counters and run right by defenders. It’s a structure that can succeed in many channels and forces defenses to communicate while overloaded.
86er: How did you stay sane during the slow start last year? Asking for a friend.
SaH: It’s about focusing on individual players and individual moments, as well as the community that exists around the team. Those things should be enjoyable no matter what the record is and how bad the team looks throughout the 90. Find those bits of joy and know that even if you start poorly this year, and next year, you’d still have to do it three straight in order to match the Sounders.