ANALYSIS – As the Whitecaps prepare for an exciting new MLS season, filled with pre-season schedules and swirling transfer rumours, let’s look back at the 2022 Vancouver Whitecaps season and see what was the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how the ‘Caps can improve on the stumbling block that was last season.
The 2022 Vancouver Whitecaps Season: Unfulfilled Potential
Team MVP – Ryan Gauld
If one could describe last season in one word, perhaps the best word would be inconsistent. However, throughout the inconsistency, one player seemed to shine more often than others, and that was the Scottish talisman, Ryan Gauld.
Even though the ‘Caps weren’t firing on all cylinders for most of the season, when they did, more often than not it was thanks to Gauld. He finished the season with 13 G/A in 28 games. He was second in both goals and assists for the team and averaged the highest match rating with 7.47 (according to Fotmob) out of the entire squad.
Gauld was lively in short bursts and could come up with that little bit of magic to change the game. His best performances were saved for the late MLS season, where he was an integral part of the late three-game surge to give the ‘Caps a fighting chance for playoffs, scoring two and averaging an 8.3 rating. The late inclusion of Pedro Vite allowed him more space and freedom on the wing and showcased the dazzling ability that beckoned him the moniker of “Mini Messi” all those years ago.
Given the ‘Caps low scoring season, Gauld proved to still be a gem in the team, and if the team can give him a striker that he can play off of and provide for, it’s sure to be an even better season for the Scottish star.
Game of the Year
The one shining moment of the season for the Whitecaps was, of course, their Canadian Championship victory over Toronto FC last summer at BC Place. They started the game brightly, scoring a Gauld corner in the 18-minute thanks to Brian White. They then were steadfast in their defence, holding firm as Toronto attacked in waves and battered at their walls. Ryan Raposo particularly shined, bobbing up and down the left wing and providing some nice crosses that almost resulted in a goal in the 28-minute.
The second half followed much of the first half, with head coach Vanni Sartini comfortable with defending the narrow lead and hoping for a quick counter. However, in the 75-minute, a moment of magic from Federico Bernardeschi gave Toronto their equalizer through Lukas MacNaughton.
Neither side could break the deadlock, and so after 90 minutes, it went straight to pens. Both sides converted their first two, only for Toronto’s very own Jonathan Osorio to miss his penalty, giving way for Tristan Blackmon to convert the fifth and final penalty and win the ‘Caps the championship.
Special mention also goes to the ‘Caps’ dominant 3-0 home win versus LA Galaxy, especially after losing 5-2 a month prior in the reverse fixture.
— x – Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 27, 2022
With all the changing formations and tactics throughout the second half of the season, many fans were wondering when something was going to click and finally have the ‘Caps playing like they did the year before (or better).
In truth, it wasn’t so much the change of formation or tactics, but rather personnel. During the three-game hot streak that gave the ‘Caps the fighting chance for playoffs, what really changed the game was the inclusion of the young 20-year-old Ecuadorian, Pedro Vite.
He slotted in beside Gauld and added a third threat to the team that previous occupiers of the same position, like Alessandro Schöpf, could not. Agile, nifty, and intelligent, he was exactly what the ‘Caps needed to threaten the opposition’s goal more. He connected the play well in transition and allowed Gauld to push wide and be able to play his best football on the wing.
A testament to the difference he made in the team can be seen in the incredible team goal that he finished off in the 2-1 win vs Seattle at home. Gauld was able to play off the left and carve the space needed to send a decisive cross in for Vite to tap home.
If Sartini is to find the best formation and tactics for the team come 2023, then he will certainly make sure to include Vite in his plans given his impact right at the end of the 2022 season.
This is both the best Vancouver goal of the season and almost certainly our Face of the Week from Brian Schmetzer. pic.twitter.com/mSklMAjx9X
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) September 18, 2022
Life did not start off well for the 2022 Vancouver Whitecaps season. They had their worst-ever start to an MLS season, going 1-1-6. This included a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Columbus on the opening weekend, where Jake Nerwinski got the first red card of the season. Their only victory in this terrible run of games was a hotly-contested and narrow 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at home.
The results reflected not so much the work rate or determination of the team since they had strong showings, but rather the individual mistakes and lackluster conversion of big opportunities into tangible results. They slowly began to pick up some form after beating Toronto FC at home, but they never fully recovered and it was this bad start that truly hindered their playoff hopes, especially considering how close they got in their final push.
Lack of Identity
Perhaps one of the biggest issues of the year was the lack of true identity in the team. It seemed like the way Sartini wanted to play, in a more fluid and wide 3-4-2-1, called for certain qualities that the ‘Caps simply didn’t have.
The wingbacks were not as dynamic in attack and in defence (until Julian Gressel came in) as the system asked for. The attack wasn’t as clinical as it needed to be given how attack-oriented the system was set out to be. The defense was more accident-prone than it was allowed to be, especially since they lacked cover from a proper DM until halfway through the season when Andrés Cubas came in.
And come mid-season, when things weren’t working out with the 3-4-2-1/3-5-2, Sartini started to experiment and tried to find the winning formula with various formations like the 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-2, leading to varied results.
Overall, it was a season of figuring out an identity, and this lack of concrete style of play perhaps was a necessary evil to get it right for 2023, but it sure did cost them dearly in 2022.
Our journey ends here in Minnesota.
— x – Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 9, 2022
The Vancouver Whitecaps 2022 Season: A Write-Off for the Future?
While the MLS season did not live up to the potential that was hoped given the 2021 season’s performance, the ‘Caps did end up winning some silverware in the Canadian Championship, and showed glimpses of the quality in short runs in MLS.
The 2023 season will be one that will determine if this past 2022 season was just a stumbling block before success, or if it’s the beginning of a downward trend.