After Canadian prodigy Alphonso Davies was sold to Bayern Munich, Head Coach Carl Robinson was sacked, an end of season media day which multiple players shared their grievances sighting a toxic team atmosphere in 2018, revealed that the Vancouver Whitecaps were in a state of disarray. It was clear to ownership and the front office that to repair the damage would require not only a new head coach but, it would also require the club to move in a new direction then the path they were currently on. This required the roster to be gutted out and rebuilt to create a culture.
Vancouver would sign Marc Dos Santos as the next Head Coach tasked in guiding the team on the pitch in this new era. Ownership and Dos Santos very well knew that this rebuild was going to “get ugly” as was reported by mlssoccer.com. They would set in a three-year plan in place evaluating the needs of the team at every transfer window to determine what players were needed to bring in. The end goal would be the club could eventually compete for championships on a regular basis. The on-field results in 2019 and 2020 have shown little to no signs of progression instead regression.
Overhauling a roster for any professional ports team is a challenge. It hardly warrants immediate results in the short term. Rarely do teams find success in rebuilds and its difficult for teams that lack the success to see a change in fortune. To understand the Whitecaps rebuilding effort you have to start back at the preseason of 2019.
Throughout the course of the 2019 preseason, Dos Santos would bring in new players to form the spine of the core group of starters. It was a plethora of fresh faces such as Jon Erice, Lass Bangoura, Maxime Crepeau, Joaquin Ardaiz, Lucas Venuto, and Andy Rose. As the Winter Transfer Window closed, the club signed South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom and brought back striker Fredy Montero on a free transfer, signing the two using Designated Player Spots. The last big signing was acquiring Iraqi fullback Ali Adnan in early March on loan before signing him on a permanent transfer to the third and final Designated Player Spot in the summer.
It’s March 2 2019 the first match of the regular season at home in BC Place against Minnesota United. Dos Santos deploys the club in a 4-3-3 formation. Despite scoring the first goal of the match thanks to centreback Erik Godoy’s header off a set piece in the 6th minute, Vancouver falls short losing 3-2. They proceed to lose their next two straight matches on the road before returning to BC Place at the end of March to get their first point of the season, a draw against their in-form Cascadian rivals, the Seattle Sounders in a 0-0 draw. After one month of regular season Vancouver had a record of 0W-1D-3L.
The following month gets off on the wrong foot against the LA Galaxy at home on April 5. Having won a penalty kick early in the match, Adnan butchers a “Panenka” attempt and the Galaxy go on to win 2-0 leaving many wondering if his attempt to chip the goalkeeper cost his team the game. Relief finally comes two weeks later when luck favors the Whitecaps who beat LAFC 1-0 giving them their first of only four losses all regular season. The club and supporters have little time to revel in their victory as far much more progress is needed to be made.
The Whitecaps start the month of May off winning back to back matches against Colorado and Portland. It is the only time all season they will do it. As the losses and draws continue to surmount over the season, the strain of poor results is felt by Marc Dos Santos. He changes the formation up going from a 4-3-3 to 4-3-2-1 formation.
To add to the frustration of the rebuild is players leaving the club when management and ownership have lost confidence and agree to mutually part ways. On August 1 the team does that with Brazilian striker Lucas Venuto. Falling down in the depth chart behind Yordy Reyna, Fredy Montero, and up in coming talent Theo Bair, Venuto contributed only three goals and one assist in 22 league matches. Dos Santos at the end of the season reverts back to the 4-3-3 formation but it’s too late. The first year of the rebuild finishes with the team bottom of the Western Conference with a record of 8Wins 16 Losses and 10 draws.
All through that offseason and into the altered 2020 season, reoccurring themes that have plagued the club continue to occur. The team strikes gold like signing forward Lucas Cavallini but also let go of players both performing and underperforming. Midfielder Jon Erice’s contract was terminated before the preseason started indicating that management had seen enough and were going separate directions.
The shock came in August when the team sells fan favorite central midfielder Hwang In-Beom to Russian club Rubin Kazan. In-beom was one of the bright spots in the rebuild and certainly was a player any team would want to build around not sell. The pandemic certainly didn’t help the Whitecaps favor, as they were forced to play all their home matches against American clubs at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon from three straight months when the regular season resumed. Even with a larger number of teams allowed into the playoffs, the Whitecaps still failed to qualify. They did finish higher in the standings 9th place in stead of 12th.
Heading into the third and final year of the rebuild many are wondering what it will take for Vancouver to become a regular championship contender? The club recently acquired Brazilian midfielder Caio Alexandre, Portuguese right back Bruno Gaspar and Colombian winger Deiber Caicedo as the big signings this offseason but is it truly enough to get the team over the hump?
There are two major issues that Vancouver needs to address. The first issue is constantly bringing in new players year after year who either perform and underperform and let go. This doesn’t allow time for the team’s on field chemistry to settle in making it very difficult for the team to string positive results. The second issue Vancouver has made is not sign a “#10 playmaker”. Every team that goes to MLS Playoffs and wins MLS Cup has formation that relies on a midfield playmaker to connect passes from the defense to the forwards. This includes the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro, Alejandro Pozuelo, Lucas Zelarayan, Carlos Vela, Diego Valeri among others who play this role for their respective clubs. Regardless of formation if it’s a 4-5-1, 4-3-3, or even a 3-5-2 formation, the playmaker must be utilized in order for a team to compete regularly for a championship in MLS.
It’s clear this is what Vancouver lacks and it’s imperative Marc Dos Santos and management address this need to strengthen the club. If they don’t, this rebuild is pointless and if results don’t improve after supporters were told from ownership it would take 3 years, someone will take the brunt of the criticism. That person to take the brunt whether it’s fair or not is Marc Dos Santos. He is doing everything he can to field a competitive team with all the resources that are available to him but pointing out to ownership that he needs more could hurt rather than help the team’s cause even if he’s right and cares deeply about the team he coaches. This is why 2021 is make or break for Marc Dos Santos and the Vancouver Whitecaps.