ANALYSIS – 2023 marks a new opportunity for the Vancouver Whitecaps to try to build on from their 2022 success of winning the Canadian Championship, and apply it to the 2023 MLS season.
Last season they failed to make the playoffs, which was bitterly disappointing given their qualification for it the season before. Overall, their MLS season could be summed up as the Whitecaps simply being too inconsistent. They need to find an identity and stability from back to front to be able to make a challenge for the playoffs and beyond.
Given this, here are three things that the Vancouver Whitecaps NEED to do before the start of the 2023 MLS season.
Three Things Whitecaps NEED Before The 2023 MLS Season
1. To Find An Identity
In the first season that head coach, Vanni Sartini, came in, he set out a formation and style of play that seemed to work really well for the ‘Caps. He set out a 3-4-1-2 that allowed the ‘Caps to be both fluid in attack, and in defense. This identity allowed them to make it to the playoffs, losing only to a dominant Sporting Kansas City away from home.
Going into 2022, it was hoped that they would build on that and push on to do better. They did in some regard, winning the Canadian Championship versus Toronto FC. But for MLS, it felt that they only went backward.
Much of that was down to Sartini not being able to find a proper identity for a depleted Whitecaps side. After losing key figures like ‘keeper Maxime Crépeau, centre-backs Érik Godoy and Derek Cornelius, Sartini tried to keep the same identity as the season before. However, after enduring their worst-ever start to the season, Sartini then decided to throw out the script and try out different formations left and right to fix what was going wrong.
This obviously led to inconsistent performances as players were employed in various positions with different roles, which prevented them from finding a rhythm both as a team and individually. It seemed like much of the season’s highlights and lowlights were around either individual brilliance or individual errors. And when you are both one of the worst defensive and lowest-scoring teams in the league, it shows the lack of structure and cohesion in the team’s layout.
So for 2023, the Whitecaps need to find an identity that works with the players that they have, and with the players that they are bringing in. Sartini is a fastidious coach; he spends long hours fine-tuning tactics and coming up with complex strategies. The hope is that he does not go too complicated or too loose with what he comes up with that it risks a repeat from last season.
What the 2022 season meant for the Whitecaps.
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) October 11, 2022
2. Smart Recruitment
After losing key defensive figures at the end of the 2021 season, one would have hoped that the board would have addressed these issues for the upcoming 2022 season. In truth, that wasn’t really the case.
Sure, the Whitecaps brought in a solid defender in Tristan Blackmon to replace the outgoing Godoy, but they let Cornelius go as well and didn’t improve necessarily in the backline beyond that. To be a competitive MLS side, you need someone excellent in the heart of that defence; like Jakob Glesnes for Philadelphia or Alex Callens for NYCFC. A rock-solid base that you can rely on. The ‘Caps didn’t really have that, beyond Ranko Veselinović stepping up at times.
They also let Maxime Crépeau go, who would have lifted the MLS Cup had he not sustained a nasty injury in the midst of the final. The replacement of the young Thomas Hasal showed confidence in youth, but he is still young and needed to adjust to the league. Bringing in an experienced goalkeeper that can compete with and mentor Hasal would do wonders both for his and the team’s season.
Lastly, the forward line. Bringing in Canadian talent back home in Lucas Cavallini seemed fantastic on paper. However, given his high wages and lack of real output (only scoring 9 goals in all comps), it now looks like another piece of wonky business from the ‘Caps, especially considering he left for nothing.
It wasn’t all bad for recruitment in 2022, though. The signings of Julian Gressel and Andrés Cubas seemed to lift the team a bit, but coming mid-season made it difficult for them to properly settle given the mess of tactics. I’m sure they will have an important role to play this coming season in a proper system.
So, for 2023, the ‘Caps need to be smart about their recruitment and address the holes that were left from the season prior. They already started doing this by signing Mathías Laborda; a good, young centre-back from Uruguay. Now all they need is a replacement for Cavallini; someone who is of a “different profile” according to Alex Schuster (in an interview with AFTN), and further support up top, like another winger or attack-minded midfielder. Perhaps even another defender now that Jake Nerwinski has left as well.
They don’t all need to be big, flashy acquisitions. They just need to work with the system they will adopt, and provide results.
Inbox ✉️! #VWFC have signed Mathías Laborda on a free transfer from Nacional.
Laborda has agreed to a contract through 2025, with a club option for 2026. Done deal 🤝 pic.twitter.com/YUfq9XtuG2
— Manuel Veth (@ManuelVeth) January 9, 2023
3. To Adopt a Strong Mentality
One of the issues with the ‘Caps last season was that when things got bad, it seemed like the team would flounder. Even when they were playing well, if they made one costly mistake that put them behind, they would rarely look like they could turn it around.
A lot of this had to do with the issues aforementioned, with the lack of identity and personnel, but it still showed that the team lacked the belief in themselves to turn things around and fight until the death. Even if they were winning, like versus Minnesota United at home in July, when they would concede, the momentum would shift and the other team would go on and win it by two or three goals.
As mentioned, at times last season, it seemed a game of individuals, both in the highs and the lows, but a true team needs to work together and trust each other to become a cohesive, robust unit. Sartini will have to instill that belief and confidence in the team early on if they are to avoid a bad start. But of course, bad patches will come, and when those bad patches come, they will need to stay strong, stay united, and ride it out until they catch the break to turn it around.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 9, 2022
A Decisive Season
2023 marks a decisive season not only for Sartini, who will struggle to keep his job if he repeats the same mistakes as last season in the league but for the entire project. A lot of these players are young, talented, and with a lot of potential. But their contracts don’t run forever. The Whitecaps need to harness this properly, and hope it produces a proper play-off challenge, or else risk the project fracturing, and being left with little to show for it by the end.
Only time will tell.