VANCOUVER, BC – Now, the main event.
After an encouraging preseason campaign, Vancouver Whitecaps FC open their 2020 MLS regular season campaign against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at BC Place.
The ‘Caps posted a 3W-2L-1D record during the preseason, scoring 11 goals and earning victories over FC Dallas, New England Revolution, and Minnesota United FC. There were certainly some positive signs from the new-look ‘Caps – both individually and collectively.
Here are three things that stood out to me.
From the first day he took the job, Whitecaps FC head coach Marc Dos Santos has had a clear picture of how he wants his team to play.
Aggressive high up the field. Relentless without the ball. Patient and methodical with it.
The ‘Caps offered some glimpses in 2019, but Dos Santos will be the first to admit that his preferred style of play didn’t fully materialize. If this year’s preseason was any indication, however, they certainly appear to be on the right track.
For starters, the high press has been a keen focus of the team throughout training camp and you can start to see it coming to life in moments during the games. In Vancouver’s 4-1 win over FC Dallas for example, the ‘Caps scored two goals that were a direct result of pressure applied on the opposition back line and goalkeeper.
Dos Santos has always stressed pressing “in the right moments” rather than doing so aimlessly for 90 minutes, which simply isn’t sustainable physically. Ultimately, though, he wants the ‘Caps to be an “in your face” team that has the ability to grab their opponent by the throat and play the game on their own terms.
That, in theory, will result in less defending and more time on the ball.
And the ‘Caps have looked quite comfortable in possession creating chances through their build-up play this preseason, particularly last week when they scored a couple highlight reel “team goals” at the Timbers Preseason Tournament.
“There are going to be moments in the game when we see space in behind the opponent and we try to get in behind, but there are also moments when you have to control the ball,” Dos Santos said. “When you do that, you bring more numbers in the opponent’s half and more solutions. I think when the ball was crossed to Cava, we maybe had five players in the box, so it wasn’t Cava alone. There are numbers. And you only get to that spot if you’re good on the ball to get there.”
“You need the idea of play to come from the coaches and staff, but you need acceptance from the group to do it well,” Dos Santos added. “And the group is responding in a way of belief to what we want to be about, which is important.”
EL TANQUE MAKES HIS MARK
The man on the end of both the aforementioned goals? El Tanque himself.
Lucas Cavallini, Vancouver’s marquee offseason signing, led Whitecaps FC with four goals this preseason – scoring in each of Vancouver’s final four matches. Sure, it’s a small sample, but you can certainly see why Cavallini is a player the ‘Caps brass so heavily coveted.
As illustrated above, he was a real presence in the box, putting his body on the line, proving a handful for opposition defenders, and showing a composure in front of goal. The Canadian striker also did well to draw and finish a penalty in Vancouver’s final match against Minnesota and looked dangerous in transition throughout the preseason.
But if you ask Dos Santos, he’ll be more inclined to talk about what Cavallini does for the team in other areas of the pitch, particularly on the defensive side.
“There’s a play against Portland where he comes all the way from the attacking area, to track and tackle Valeri next to our box, like he was a defender,” Dos Santos told TSN Radio Vancouver. “That type of work ethic, and the type of commitment he has for the team, also allows him to always be connected when the ball gets in the box to finish some actions. It’s much more than him scoring goals.”
It's the full package.
ANOTHER LEVEL FOR ADNAN
Aside from Cavallini, no ‘Caps player contributed directly to more goals this preseason than Ali Adnan, who found the back of the net with a pair of world-class free kicks.
You can’t hit them much better than that.
The Iraqi international fullback, who linked up well with newcomer David Milinkovic on the left wing, also added a pair of assists with these pinpoint deliveries.
The cross, the finish 😍— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) February 23, 2020
We're ready for Feb. 29. ARE YOU? pic.twitter.com/PMF7LTjWCu
It’s no secret that Adnan has a unique skillset, which allows him drive play forward and contribute to the attack more than most fullbacks – whether it’s his marauding runs down the flank, exceptional service into the box, or goalscoring threat from long distance.
But Adnan isn’t concerned about the goals and assists, per se.
He just wants to win.
“It’s not important if I score more,” Adnan told TSN Radio Vancouver. “It’s most important that I do something for this club and for this city. This is the reason why I came here. I’m coming here to help this team. The team helped me a lot after I came from Italy, so now it’s time I give my everything to help this team and make this city proud.”
This is Adnan’s first preseason with the ‘Caps, having joined the club in March of last year initially on loan from Serie A side Udinese Calcio before signing a permanent contract in the summer.
And it appears to have done him wonders.