Whitecaps FC have arrived in Central Florida for the MLS is Back Tournament, which is set to kick off live on TSN tonight.
The ‘Caps, who were put under quarantine upon their arrival, begin competition on Wednesday, July 15 against San Jose Earthquakes.
Whitecaps FC CEO and Sporting Director Axel Schuster and Head Coach Marc Dos Santos addressed the media via video conference yesterday to chat about their experience so far, and talked about how the team is adjusting to missing a number of players who stayed behind in Vancouver.
‘Our own BC bubble’
Schuster shared the good news that everyone in the travelling party is well and talked about the safety measures the league and the club are implementing onsite.
“We had a test last Saturday (in Vancouver) where we had two non-clear results and we took the decision ‘safety first’ and postponed our flight two times to get the additional test results. We finally made it (to Orlando on Monday evening) and we are just starting to jump into this whole environment and process here,” said Schuster. “We’ve created a British Columbia bubble here on the 10th floor of the hotel. It’s exclusively our floor. You’ll see flags of British Columbia, Canada, and some rules for our floor. We’re still following the protocols and recommendations of Bonnie Henry here.”
Dos Santos acknowledged the natural apprehension with leaving the safety of Vancouver to compete in the tournament.
“Fear is always there, it’s normal, we’re human. But we also feel secure here. There are things that are in place that help us go through this. What is important is that we stay together as a club and that we create our bubble inside this bubble,” said Dos Santos. “I come from a position of faith. In life, we’re always where we have to be. Right now, I have to be here and my family feels the same thing. I have to be here to support my players, I’m at peace with that 100 per cent.”
With FC Dallas’ withdrawal from competition, Group B is currently left with three clubs with San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC along with the ‘Caps.
“Every solution with only two games is difficult because there is also the rule of the best third. That makes it very difficult to find a fair solution for that. The league also has issues with the schedule and the available stadiums here, the three pitches where we can play games. The decision that no two games should be played at the same time. It’s not that easy,” said Schuster. “For us, we’re not allowed to play in our first seven days. Whatever the league decides in the end, we are fine with that.”
The tournament format currently allows for the top two teams from each of the six groups, the third-placed team of Group A, and the three best teams finishing third (Groups B to F) or fourth (Group A) to advance to the knockout rounds.
Emotional, hard talks
The ‘Caps revealed their travelling roster on Tuesday, with some notable players staying behind in Vancouver in forwards Lucas Cavallini, Fredy Montero, and Tosaint Ricketts, midfielder Andy Rose, and defender Georges Mukumbilwa.
“There’s no doubt they are key players that help the team. It was hard for them. Lucas is an emotional guy and he knows the effort that the club made to bring him here. He was emotional about not being with the team here but he always felt supported by the staff and everybody at the club,” said Dos Santos. “It was emotional, it was hard talks. What was important for them was to feel everybody in the club supported the decision. It’s important that everybody who’s here feels good about being here.”
The coach reiterated that the team is prepared to take the field despite being undermanned.
“We did adjustments in every training session once we were getting information and confirmation,” said Dos Santos. “We were slowly adjusting our options and the way we play based on players not being present.
‘It opens the door’
The ‘Caps depth will be put to the test in the tournament, and Dos Santos is looking forward to seeing players take advantage of the situation.
“It opens the door for other young players. Ryan Raposo is going to get more minutes that expected. Yordy Reyna has the opportunity to step up and contribute more to the team,” said Dos Santos. “Maybe the three midfielders will be used more. Guys like Inbeom (Hwang), (Leonard) Owusu, or (Russell) Teibert. It opens the door for a kid like Patrick Metcalfe to maybe see some minutes. It’s going to open doors for young players who have the availability to showcase themselves.
He also shared his early impressions of Ranko Veselinovic, who is looking to make his MLS debut in the tournament, while providing an update on Erik Godoy’s status.
“Ranko is very mature. He shows great signs of leadership from the first day. He communicates a lot, he shows a lot of maturity for his age. I understand why he was the captain for his team in Serbia at such a young age,” said Dos Santos. “Erik always tells me ‘I’m good to go.’ It’s his mentality. He’s good to start training slowly, he’s getting a few minutes at training, then it’s day-by-day.”
Dos Santos wants to see his team play aggressive and go right at their opponents.
“We have nothing to lose and that can play in our favour,” said Dos Santos. “(David) Milinkovic, Raposo, (Cristian) Dajome, Reyna, Theo (Bair) are going to show something because they are going to seize the opportunity. I don’t have a doubt from what I’ve seen in training that were still going to be a hard team to beat.”