Vancouver Whitecaps Coachella Invitational Preview Part Two

Vancouver Whitecaps FC's Ranko Veselinovic Celebrates Ryan Gauld's Goal at BC Place

PREVIEW- Yesterday’s preview looked at the pre-season preparation of the first three of five opponents that the Vancouver Whitecaps will face in the Coachella Valley Invitational. This will then be the second part of that article and will look at the remaining two teams that the Whitecaps will face, finishing with some expectations for the Whitecaps given their own pre-season.

Vancouver Whitecaps Coachella Valley Invitational Preview Part Two

Embed from Getty Images

Coachella Valley Invitational Preview #4: St Louis City SC – Feb 12th

Game Preview Against St. Louis City SC

With how much of a mixed bag a debut campaign can be for a new franchise, it’s hard to gauge how St Louis City SC has really done prior to their first-ever MLS test. You can either have a debut season like Atlanta United, where you immediately make it to the playoffs and challenge to win it all, or you have a debut season like FC Cinncinati, in which it all sort of falls flat by the end.

They did have a little bit of a trial run last year, by playing a second team (CITY2) in the MLS Next Pro league. The reserve side did exceptionally well, coming first in the Western Conference with a record of 16W-3L, and finishing runners-up in the playoffs after losing 4-1 to Columbus Crew 2.

This bodes well for the development of the club, demonstrating the strength of their youth set-up, but the MLS is a different beast altogether. It all comes down to the coach, the squad, and the plan in place for 2023.

In terms of coaching, they went for someone with MLS experience over a grand pedigree in former South African international Bradley Carnell. Carnell’s only coaching experience has been as an assistant coach for the NYRB for four years, including a short stint as interim manager in 2020 after the firing of Chris Armas.

Carnell, however, is a student of Ralf Rangnick, having played for him in his playing days. This means the style of play is set: high-octane, vertical, and direct football founded on gegenpressing or also counter-pressing. He will most likely try to emulate tactics that were so famed by Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League with Liverpool. Whether that can be successful in a team that has little cohesion, no history and everything to prove is another story.

St. Louis City SC Acquisitions

To his credit, he has had the club bring in some recruitments from Germany who may be familiar with this Gegenpress style of play. The star name in the team is Swiss international and ex-Borussia Dortmund’s keeper Roman Bürki. Bürki came to Dortmund right after Klopp left in 2015, but will no doubt be familiar with the tactics that Carnell will want to employ.

Other acquisitions from Germany include Swedish centre-back Joakim Nilsson from Arminia Bielefeld (who is currently recovering from knee surgery), DP German midfielder Eduard Löwen from Hertha Berlin, Czech attacking midfielder Tomáš Ostrák from FC. Köln, and lastly, DP striker Joao Klauss from Hoffenheim.

Other noteworthy additions are Nicholas Gioacchini from Orlando, Tim Parker from Houston, Indiana Vassilev from Aston Villa in England, and Rasmus Alm from IF Elfsborg in Sweden.

Overall, this season might be a bit of a gamble from St. Louis. To play this kind of intense, attacking football requires a lot of time, fitness, understanding and talent. Failing to do so can be catastrophic. This might well result in either Carnell being hailed as a genius and a MLS Coach of the Year contender, or a sacking before summer.

Coachella Valley Invitational Preview #5: Minnesota United FC – Feb 18th

Game Preview Against Minnesota United

Out of all of the Whitecaps’ opponents for this Coachella invitational tournament, Minnesota probably had the best season last year. They finished sixth in the West, and made the playoffs, but narrowly lost out on penalties to FC Dallas.

However, like the Whitecaps, last season didn’t really show any growth from the previous season. Minnesota lost out in the first round again, like the last few times. They relied heavily on Argentinian attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso to get them wins yet again, with no real help throughout the majority of the season. They did alright in goals per game (1.4) and goals against per game (1.5), but they managed only 5 clean sheets in the whole campaign (as per Fotmob).

Much to do with that was Canadian ‘keeper Dayne St. Clair, who began the season fantastically and single-handedly kept them in early contention for the playoffs. He then fell away drastically in the second half of the season, and with it, any chance of improving from seasons past.

Minnesota United Acquisitions and Departures

So far this off-season, Minnesota has had a rather quiet time. They signed Canadian international Doneil Henry as well as U.S. duel-national Zarek Valentin on frees. Two experienced defenders will do well to aid in their quest to get double-digit clean sheets this season, but it may not be enough.

They also signed young prospects in Brazilian center-back Mikael Marqués from AFC Eskilstuna in Sweden and Cameron Dunbar from LA Galaxy. Throw in MLS veteran ‘keeper Clint Irwin and young SuperDraft pick Ryan Jiba, and it’s not a terrible off-season so far for Minnesota. But it still just doesn’t spark hope of grand improvement.

Major departures were Tyler Miller to D.C. United on a free (which was surprising, to say the least) and Romain Métanire, who was released after a lengthy injury spell. They were linked to Gue-sung Cho, the 25-year-old South Korean international striker who scored twice for Korea in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, earlier in the window, but interest seems to have cooled.

Now their efforts have switched to fellow South Korean international forward Hwang Ui-Jo, who plays in Greece for Olympiacos, on loan from Nottingham Forest of England. It was rumoured that Minnesota had bid from him a few weeks back, but there have been no real updates since.

Overall, if Minnesota can get this deal for Hwang Ui-Jo over the line, then perhaps their fortunes will change in 2023. But if they do not, then it might be the same story all over again for the Loons.

Whitecaps Pre-Season So Far

READ MORE: Vancouver Whitecaps’ Coachella Invitational Preview

Looking at the rest of the Whitecap’s Coachella Invitational opponent’s pre-season, it can be a bit hard to gauge where the Whitecaps really lie. They had a major signing in Mathías Laborda, the Uruguayan centre-half from homeland side Nacional. They also got young Canadian centre-back Karifa Yao in the Re-Entry Draft and Generation Adidas player JC Ngando from the SuperDraft.

While the two center-back signings show promise for depth and stability in the back, there are still question marks about the attack. With Cavallini’s departure, will the Whitecaps get a DP striker before their home opener? Or will they have to wait for the mid-season window and risk a poor start once more?

‘Caps have plenty of depth in the midfield (especially with the returning Alessandro Schöpf and winger-turned-centre-midfielder Julian Gressel) but lack real bite in the attack. Will they have to rely on the individual brilliance of Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite again to get across the line? Only time will tell.

But for now, Whitecaps fans lie anxiously in wait, hoping and praying that the club will do those one or two more pieces of business that show the ambition to get back on track and challenge for the playoffs.