EDITORIAL – For the Vancouver Whitecaps defence, gone are the days of Kendall Waston flying through the skies of BC Place, of Jordan Harvey being Mr. Reliable at left back, and of Tim Parker being Vancouver’s favorite red head since Travis Lulay and the Sedins.
Times have changed for the Whitecaps’ backline, and I can’t say it’s been an easy transition. While the new season draws closer, it also brings a blank slate with it. It’s a fresh start for those that need it. And, for Vancouver, that is very much needed.
Recent defensive history
In 2016, Whitecaps fans were treated to Waston really coming into his own after playing a full season. He went on to be selected to the MLS All-Star Game that year. He also found a defensive partner in Parker.
Harvey and Marcel De jong rounded out the back four. Despite looking good on paper, on the field was a different story. The team went on to have the second-most goals allowed in the Western Conference, paired with the fifth-worst goal differential in the league.
Then, 2017 was a step in the right direction, with little to no changes at the back. Vancouver improved to having the fifth-fewest goals allowed in the conference, and made a run to the West semifinals.
However, a bit of smoke and mirrors could have been in play, with Vancouver still having the third-most goals allowed by a playoff team. The second was Portland, who had enough offense to lead them to topping the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the third was San Jose, who lost 5-0 to the Whitecaps in the playoffs.
Any progress made in 2017 was unraveled in the following campaign, with former head coach Carl Robinson chopping and changing the lineups constantly. Meanwhile, their first round draft pick, Jake Nerwinski, found a lot of playing time in his second full year, and no genuine replacement was found for Harvey or Parker.
The team went on to concede 67 goals, which was good enough for third-most in the west. Real Salt Lake grabbed sixth in the standings, conceding nine less goals than Vancouver, but only two points higher. With the sale of captain Waston in the offseason, a massive overhaul was needed.
In 2019, Doneil Henry and Erik Godoy took over the reins at center back, with Nerwinski winning the battle against Scott Sutter for starting right back. Following along the same path as 2018, no genuine left back proved to be a regular starter. However, that changed when the purchase of Ali Adnan brought hope to Vancouver fans. That hope was quickly dashed after the Whitecaps boasted the second-worst goal difference in the MLS, as well as a last in the conference finish.
What’s different now?
Despite the lack luster season last year, 2020 has a lot of optimism surrounding the club. That starts with the redeveloped back line. Max Crepeau cemented himself in the starting role between the sticks, and quickly won over the Vancouver faithful.
Depth has been added to the roster, especially at the center back position, so coach Marc Dos Santos now has some room to experiment. An emphasis has been put on having attacking full backs, something that Robinson almost refused to even mention. Numerous signings and camp invitees have played well in preseason so far. And, they look pretty swanky in their new navy blue kit.
- Christian Gutierrez is a left back who was brought in from Columbian side Colo-Colo. He is young but has plenty of experience, and will provide an alternative to Adnan.
- Godoy was on loan with Vancouver last year. However, the center back fit very well within the side, and his success brought him in on a three-year deal from Club Atlético Colón.
- Gianfranco Facchineri became the 20th player that was given a Whitecaps Homegrown contract. The youngster will be able to develop as he sits behind a couple of names on the depth chart at center back.
- Another young but developed player is Ranko Veselinović. He joins the club from FK Vojvodina in Serbia. The 20-year-old captained his side and has represented Serbia at numerous youth tournaments.
- Amer Didic isn’t on the roster, but was invited to the camp from Dos Santos. The Canadian international established himself with a very strong 2019 campaign for FC Edmonton. So far, he’s seen a lot of playing time this preseason. He was the only player to play all 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew.
Has enough been done?
While all of these signings show indicators of both immediate impact as well as building for the future, it is simply too early to tell just how this line up will play together. On paper, the overhaul looks pretty solid. This off season was key for the development and improvement of the on-field performance. However, then again, the Whitecaps have looked deceiving before. Vancouver’s rebuild is not complete, nor has this offseason guaranteed success. However, it has been a step in the right direction for the Vancouver Whitecaps defence.