This year’s MLS Cup final between Columbus Crew SC and Seattle Sounders FC could very well be the blueprint for what they are building in Vancouver in the coming years.
On the pitch at MAPFRE Stadium were two sides, each with an established core of players. In fact, 17 of the 22 starters were returning players from 2019 or previous years.
That’s what the ‘Caps intend to steadily establish within their club, as they look forward to 2021 with 24 players under contract from the previous season.
“If you look at teams that have had success in this league, like Seattle right now, how long have those guys been together?” asked Whitecaps FC right back Jake Nerwinski, who is the second-longest tenured player on the team. “Keeping guys together for two to three-plus years, you're going to have more success.”
“Majority of the teams that have success have a core of players that have stuck together for a good amount of years. You saw that in Toronto, with Giovinco, Altidore, Bradley, Osorio, Morrow,” said head coach Marc Dos Santos.
“The club has had two straight seasons with a lot of turnover. It's the first time in a while that we have a solid and sustainable base where we can build for the next step, and only in that way can you become successful,” added CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster.
The ‘Caps showed signs of the growing chemistry amongst their core late in the 2020 regular season, and they expect to continue building on it, starting with training camp next year.
“I’m very excited to see a lot of the guys come back because I’ve created a good rapport with Eric Godoy, with Ranko, Cristian Dajome and the guys that I play with on my right side,” said Nerwinski. “That's very important going forward because towards the end of the season, me and Dajome started to play off each other very well.”
“When we go to preseason, they know exactly what to expect. They know the tendencies and the qualities of their teammates. They've gone through things together,” said Dos Santos.
With some continuity and chemistry, winning habits are formed, and eventually culture.
“We always speak about our four cornerstones - team spirit, discipline, work ethic and mentality. By the end of last season, we were a team that was outworking the opponent, running a lot more than the opponent, that was winning a majority of the challenges. Players were working against the ball and defending the goal with their life,” said Schuster.
Not surprisingly, the four cornerstones are fundamental in the ‘Caps search for difference-makers to bolster their lineup.
“If you say, ‘I'm good at attacking the goal, but if I'm out of possession, I have to recover for the next attack,’ then you're not the right player and you will not play here. We are not only selecting the player who's scoring a lot of goals, we have to select the player that exactly fits with the style of game we want to play. Every player we sign should be doing that,” said Schuster.
“We’re looking at where they are playing, what type of dynamics they have in their game, what type of personalities they are, do they fit our model, are they going to come in and help right away,” explained Dos Santos. “All of that is so important when you're building and you’re bringing guys in. We’re making sure that these guys are going to fit with the structure.”
With the core in place, it’s now up to the ‘Caps to find these dynamic additions and insert them seamlessly into the culture that has started to form.
“You can be successful just by serendipity when you just have this one special year,” said Schuster. “However, we want to build an organization that is successful and sustainable. We want to develop things here, step by step.”