Whitecaps FC held their year-end media availability on Thursday, and CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster discussed a variety of topics following a 2020 season marked both by adversity and growth for the young squad.
EVALUATING THE SEASON
The ‘Caps ultimately fell three points short of the final goal of making the postseason, but the club has to be pleased with the strides that the team showed especially late, finishing 4W-3L in their final seven matches despite being displaced in foreign territory for the last 51 days of the regular season.
Whitecaps FC ranked ninth in the Western Conference, an improvement from their 12th place finish in the prior season.
“The positive is that I think we made a few good steps. We wanted to jump four spots from 12th to eighth, and we have only jumped three spots. The positive is we improved three spots and we did it with sustainability,” said Schuster. “I see us progressing and going forward and becoming a better team next year, with players that are now more adapted to the league and players that had time to grow in this environment in a very difficult year.”
Head coach Marc Dos Santos could not help but be impressed with how his players battled through all the challenges that were thrown at them.
“What an incredible attitude and mindset they had throughout the process. It was incredible to see the group grow, to know the people that we work with every day, how they act in the day to day situations like that,” said Dos Santos.
The ‘Caps are taking a gradual approach to progress, and next year, their sights are set at playoffs and beyond.
“Our idea is to make three additional steps to be safe in the playoffs. It is not a question of if, it is only a question of which position we go into the playoffs, where do we finish to go into the playoffs,” said Schuster. “This is the way how we want to build things. Next year, we want to slide in smoothly. And then, 2022, the next step should be we want to have a home playoff game.”
RETOOLING FOR 2021
The ‘Caps went through a lot of changes over the past year, seeing 15 new players come in, and 16 players leave from their roster that finished the 2019 season.
Expect to see less player movement this offseason as the club is confident that they have built a solid foundation of youth and experience. However, keep your eyes peeled for a number of difference-makers to join the squad for 2021.
“There will not be another big turnover ahead of us. There are only additional pieces we want to add – we have an open DP spot, and we have three open Young DP spots,” said Schuster. “Most of the additions will be offensive solutions, difference-makers, players that attack the goal or can assist and provide service to our strong offensive players.”
Schuster went on to explain the need for a link between the defence and the attack, as well as a threat along the wings.
“We need a link between our forwards, our offensive play and our defensive play, we look for this one leader on the pitch in the middle of the park. It should be a DP at the no. 8 or no. 10, a player that is very good in possession,” said Schuster. “We are looking at a left footed winger and an additional offensive player that can be very versatile.”
Having already defined the profile of players they’re looking for, and identified the key spots they’re looking to fill, the team is well into the scouting stage of the process, another part of the staff that the club has been quietly building.
“Most of the scouting is being done today, on video and with stats,” said Schuster. “Since I arrived in the club, we’ve added five people under contract that are working in our scouting and recruitment department and doing all this job.”
Before the ‘Caps make acquisitions however, they are to make decisions on a number of players whose status remain up in the air, including forward Fredy Montero.
“We had a very good conversation after the last game and we are now in talks,” said Schuster. “We’re looking at all the different scenarios and as I always say, there are two parties that have to be satisfied with the solution at the end.”
Schuster also shared that David Milinkovic, who spent the season on loan to the ‘Caps from Hull City, is not expected to be back next year.
“Both sides agree that it might be better for him to look for other options, as I see us signing a Young DP on the left wing. We also have (Cristian Gutierrez) and Ali (Adnan),” said Schuster. “He wants to start every game and he will not be satisfied if that’s not possible, so for that reason, we decided for both sides to find a new solution for him next year.”
One of the curveballs the ‘Caps were thrown this past season was their goalkeeper situation. Due to season-ending injuries to Maxime Crepeau and Thomas Hasal, and Bryan Meredith having to be away for personal reasons, the ‘Caps had a revolving door in net of four players making starts, and six total making the matchday roster.
Schuster gave his assurance that the club has a clear plan for the position going into next year, including their promising prospect in Hasal, who came into his own when the 21-year old was thrown into the fire after Crepeau was injured.
“If we end up in a situation that Thomas is not our number one, I want to keep the door open. He has to play somewhere. He showed his talent and nothing is more important than to get a lot of minutes,” said Schuster. “It would be not a catastrophe if he is not the number one because he's still young but then he has to play somewhere else because we have the strong belief that he can be our number one at some point in future.”
The ‘Caps also have nine players with a club option for 2021 - Theo Bair, Michael Baldisimo, Issac Boehmer, Derek Cornelius, Thomas Hasal, Patrick Metcalfe, Georges Mukumbilwa, Jake Nerwinski, and Andy Rose - and two players out of contract in Montero and Bryan Meredith.
Over the coming weeks, Dos Santos and Schuster will confirm these roster decisions.
But for now, the club recognizes that despite falling short of their final goal for the year, they are confident in where they stand going into the next season.
“We want to build and develop this club step-by-step and with sustainability,” said Schuster. “Everybody on the team agrees that no question, we think we’re good enough to make the playoffs.”