PREVIEW – With the regular season starting in just under a week, the Vancouver Whitecaps have finally announced their latest and most likely last signing of the off-season in Sergio Córdova. This final addition to the squad looks to be a final piece in the puzzle for Head Coach Vanni Sartini ahead of the 2023 season, as he tries to push the Whitecaps to the promised land of the playoffs and beyond after last season’s disappointment.
GK – Cody Cropper (Free Agent)
RB – Marcus Godinho (Korona Kielce)
CB – Derek Cornelius (Malmö FF)
CB – Florian Jungwirth (Retired)
FB – Jake Nerwinski (St. Louis SC)
DM – Leonard Owusu (Free Agent)
DM – Michael Baldisimo (San Jose Earthquakes)
CM – Janio Bikel (Khimki)
ST – Tosaint Ricketts (Retired)
ST – Lucas Cavallini (Tijuana Xolos)
GK – Yohei Takaoka (Yokohama F. Marinos)
CB – Mathías Laborda (Nacional)
CB – Karifa Yao (CF Montreal)
CM – JC Ngando (MLS Superdraft)
ST – Sergio Córdova (FC Augsburg)
Young Players to Watch:
LB – Ali Ahmed (22)
CM – JC Ngando (23)
ST – Simon Becher (23)
CF – Pedro Vite (20)
Vancouver Whitecaps 2023 Season Preview: Finally Their Year?
Strength in Depth for Whitecaps
It finally seems like the Whitecaps have decent players across all positions. Not only that but decent backups as well. Even with the fact that they have moved on nearly an entire starting XI of players.
They have strengthened one of their biggest weaknesses last year in their defense, by adding 23-year-old centre-back Mathías Laborda to the team, as well as 26-year-old goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka. Takaoka was named in the J-League’s Best XI last season, and Laborda comes off a championship-winning season for Nacional back in Uruguay. Both of these signings seem to be massive upgrades.
In the midfield, it’s more of a tactical shift that allows better depth. Vanni Sartini has hinted at playing a three-man midfield in a Christmas Tree 4-3-2-1 instead of a flat four in a 3-4-1-2, and he employed such a midfield in all five of the games that the Whitecaps participated in at the Coachella Invitational. The starting three of Andres Cubas, Alessandro Schöpf, and Julian Gressel are quite solid, impressing in the Whitecaps’ undefeated pre-season tournament. If Sartini can get the best out of all three of their profiles, with Cubas as a destroyer, Schöpf as a box-to-box, and Gressel as that wide-playmaker who can whip balls in like no other, then that might just be a winning midfield.
In attack, the tactical shift has allowed the front three to become more narrow, and thus allow players like Pedro Vite and Ryan Gauld to be more like centre-forwards rather than out-and-out wingers. Vite thrived in this role, acting as an advanced playmaker and late-runner into the box. Gauld can take more width on the left side and pull the strings from both the middle and the wing, which was where he played best at the tail end of last season.
Lastly, the signing of 25-year-old Sergio Córdova allows for a better focal point for the attack. The Venezuelan striker seemed to find his feet at the end of 2022 with RSL, scoring seven goals in his last 12 matches, and he’ll look to keep that momentum going in 2023.
"He is a proven goalscorer in our league, brings size and strength, as well as tenacity in the final third. We’re excited to welcome Sergio Córdova to Vancouver and our club.” 🌊#VWFC | @scordova22 pic.twitter.com/6Zo9ChEJRH
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) February 20, 2023
Young Player to Watch
There should be no surprise who the young player to watch is at the Whitecaps. While Simon Becher and Ali Hamed, alongside new Generation Adidas player JC Ngando might make cases for themselves in their first senior season, the young player that will most likely have the biggest impact is the 20-year-old Ecuadorian forward.
His form at the end of last season was impressive; much of the reason why the Whitecaps managed to push their play-off hopes until Decision Day was because of his performances in the three-match win streak in late September/early October. He got two goals and one assist in those three matches and was a breath of fresh air in the attack. He allowed Gauld to shift more as a wide-playmaker, and play that central role himself.
With his position likely to be that advanced playmaker just behind Sergio Córdova, he’ll be looking to link up with the big striker to score some more goals and create some more assists. The space to roam on the wing and in the middle will allow him to have more freedom, and to pop up in those little pockets that he is so good at finding. Don’t be surprised if we see him with double-digit G+A numbers by the end of the season.
Lovely assist by Pedro Vite. Seeing more and more from the Vancouver Whitecaps’ talented U22 Initiative signing lately. pic.twitter.com/Y7fL02xoIX
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) October 2, 2022
Conclusion and Predictions for the Vancouver Whitecaps 2023 Season
Overall, the Whitecaps might have one of their strongest squads since the Carl Robinson era in the mid-2010s. They have technically talented figures like Ryan Gauld, Pedro Vite, and Julian Gressel. Players like Schöpf and Cubas have adjusted to the league and can now play their natural game. They’ve got a very strong starting defensive line with their new additions. The only potential worry is the quality off the bench if either Ranko Vesilinović or Mathías Laborda gets injured. And with Sergio Córdova coming off the season of his career last year, it might spell success up front as well.
One might have to say it quietly, but the Whitecaps have a case for being a favourite to not only make the playoffs this season but potentially go where they have never gone before and reach a conference semi-final or final. If their key signings from this off-season and last summer can click, there is no telling what heights they can reach.
Season Prediction: Fifth in the Western Conference, Knocked out at the Conference Semi-Final stage.
Fans can catch all the action of the Whitecaps season-opener at BC Place against Real Salt Lake on Apple TV+ with the all-new MLS Season Pass, at 7:30 pm PST/10:30 pm EST.