VANCOUVER, BC – That’s a wrap.
The ‘Caps have returned home after a 10-day camp in Wales that saw them fall 1-0 to Cardiff City FC U-23s before defeating Oxford United U-23s and Bristol City FC U-23s both by a score of 4-0.
Here are five of my thoughts from the camp:
This trip was about two things: building fitness and building chemistry.
And, in that regard, it served its purpose.
Interestingly, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson fielded an identical starting lineup in each of the three matches in Wales – not something you often see this early in camp.
The XI was composed of goalkeeper David Ousted, a back line of Jake Nerwinski, Tim Parker, Christian Dean, and Jordan Harvey, a midfield of Matias Laba and Andrew Jacobson, wingers Alphonso Davies and Marcel de Jong, who had a goal and two assists, and forwards Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh, who played behind Hurtado as a withdrawn striker/attacking midfielder.
It may be a bit early to read too much into this lineup, with a few players not yet up to full speed from a health and fitness perspective. Kendall Waston and Giles Barnes, for example, just got their first minutes of the preseason on Thursday after dealing with minor injuries.
And recently-acquired attacking midfielder/forward Yordy Reyna was not able to get his UK visa sorted in time to make the trip.
That said, it allowed those 11 players to get a good feel for one another, which certainly can’t hurt.
“It’s great to be able to do that,” Harvey told whitecapsfc.com. “I think sometimes you have a little bit longer of a preseason before a match and you try to tinker with the lineup. I think this is good. It’s a blessing in disguise we have a game so early. We’re getting right into it, getting guys together, getting on the same page and we’re building some chemistry and you can see that with every game.”
THE KID IS READY
A year ago, a then 15-year-old Alphonso Davies turned heads at Vancouver’s preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona, earning himself a pro contract with WFC2 and eventually an MLS deal.
It was a similar story in Wales.
The 16-year-old once again shone brightly, scoring a pair of well-taken goals against Bristol City FC U-23s and picking up an assist against Oxford United U-23s.
The kid is electric. Full stop.
No, we shouldn’t expect him to light the league on fire anytime soon. He’s just a kid, after all. As with any young player, there will be some ebbs and flows throughout the season. But we're probably safe in expecting him to entertain, because he seems to do just that every time he touches the ball.
“He thinks ahead of the game,” Manneh told whitecapsfc.com. “It makes the game easier for you. He’s got a willingness to run and take on players, he’s quick, he’s positive … he’s infectious.”
On and off the field.
We gave Davies the keys to our Snapchat account on the team’s day off in Wales, which should give you a glimpse of his bubbly and blossoming personality.
NEW CHALLENGE FOR MANNEH
After missing the final four months last season due to injury, Manneh is healthy, fit, and “enjoying the game” again. And he’s doing so in a relatively new position.
Over the last few years, Manneh has primarily been deployed on the left wing.
In each of the three matches in Wales, however, the 22-year-old played centrally as a second striker/attacking midfielder. It took him a couple games to adjust, but he broke out in a big way on Thursday against Bristol City FC U-23s, assisting on three of Vancouver’s four goals.
And they were quite the assists – these two especially.
“It just gives me that freedom to roam around, go everywhere, go about the field,” Manneh said of the new position. “I feel more dangerous when I’m on the ball. I enjoy it. I love the freedom about it. I can go forward as much as I can. I like to be the link between Erik and the midfielders. I think it’s going pretty well at the moment. There are a lot of things I need to improve on. It’s a bit new. I haven’t played there in so long. I have to get used it. It’s a different challenge for me.”
It’s unclear at this point whether Robinson sees Manneh in that position long-term, or if it was just a stopgap measure with Reyna yet to arrive.
Either way, it’s certainly given him something to think about.
ALL-AMERICAN BACK LINE
Although they weren’t tested much, Vancouver’s all-American back line of Nerwinski, Parker, Dean, and Harvey looked quite resolute in each of the three matches. They also helped contribute to the attack, with Harvey scoring a goal and Nerwinski contributing towards one himself.
This was Nerwinski’s first experience playing with professionals following a four-year collegiate career at the University of Connecticut. The 22-year-old right back certainly didn’t look out of place, particularly going forward with his runs and service from the flank.
Nerwinski and Parker, in fact, played more than anyone else during the trip with 230 minutes apiece, which tells you how far along they are from a fitness perspective.
You’d have to think we’ll see more of centre back Waston and right back Sheanon Williams in the upcoming preseason matches in Portland. You can never have too much depth on the back line, however, and the ‘Caps appear to have just that.
THE BUG IS BACK
Cristian Techera did not appear in Vancouver’s preseason opener.
He then played a total of 75 minutes over the final two matches. It’s not a lot of time to make an impact, but that didn’t stop him.
The 5-foot-2 winger, who goes by “The Bug,” had a goal and two assists over the two matches, including this lovely turn and throughball against Oxford United U-23s.
In Robinson’s words, he “looked like his old self,” which is an exciting prospect indeed.
After a blistering start to his MLS career, Techera struggled in league play last season (though he did score five goals in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is tied for the tournament lead). An in-form Techera is a fun player to watch and a hard one to contain.
Is “The Bug” back? The ‘Caps certainly hope so.