There is a delicate balance, a tightrope of team dynamics that the Vancouver Whitecaps are trying to walk.
On one hand, they’re trying to ingrain a style of play, a philosophy, the oft-cited “culture” in the organization and on the field.
On the other, they’re trying not to slip and plummet into the same type of murky depths of disappointment and apathy that claimed another infamous Major League Soccer franchise in Chivas USA.
Avoiding overreaction was a hard lesson learned last season, when coach Marc Dos Santos switched up his formation and personnel nine times before settling on the 4-4-2 alignment that he deployed for eight of the final 10 games of the season. He stuck with it through the first six games of 2021, before changing to a 4-3-3, which better suited the players he has at his disposal.
That’s shown his willingness to adapt, but at the same time he could be accused of over-rigidity in his roster selection, with the same faces featuring in their eight-game winless streak. Only injuries or absences have altered the lineup. And only new players — the secondary transfer window opened a week ago and runs through Aug. 5 — would modify that approach further.
“When you start making too many changes, you also bring doubt into the team — especially on the tactical side. This is not a chessboard that you’re always changing things around,” Dos Santos said Wednesday, as the team returned from a break to prepare for Sunday’s game against the L.A. Galaxy.
“The other thing is, and we have a picture and a vision of who we will we will eventually get. We don’t want to make all these changes when we get Player A or B inside our team. We want the team already to have habits, and we can work those habits and then add those potential players in,” he said, adding that the club is “incredibly close” on signing an impact player.
“It’s very clear what I want and what I have in my head of how we want to play. Now we were trying slowly to have the guys getting more and more used to it.
“So it is a balance between how do we get the right results, and at the same time how do we stick to what we want to be about as a club and in our identity.”
L.A. Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
7 p.m., Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, Utah), TV: TSN, Radio: AM730
That identity didn’t apparently include centre back Derek Cornelius, who was shipped off to Greek Super League side Panetolikos FC on loan through December 2022. The Canadian international’s only significant playing time came when he subbed on for an injured Andy Rose on May 12, then started in place of him on May 22. He had three more appearances that totalled nine minutes, and was left out of the 18-man roster completely on five occasions this season.
Jasser Khmiri is out on loan as well, leaving just Rose, Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic and young Gianfranco (Franky) Facchineri as the only centre backs. Rose and Godoy have battled injuries at different points this season and last, leading Dos Santos to offer media the freedom to “use their imagination” as to how the problem may be addressed.
“Derek was fighting to get a spot in the team, and there was two players that were more option one and two at the moment,” said Dos Santos. “But Derrick was a player that wanted to be in the top two and wanted to play consistently. He had very honest and direct conversations with me, (but) I can never promise (playing time) to any player.
“When Derrick felt that he wasn’t going to be the player that would be in … the top two centre backs, he felt where he was in his career, he needed to play.”
A roster that seemed deep at the start of the season now looks exceedingly stretched, especially with international duty robbing the team of several players on a consistent basis.
Lucas Cavallini and Max Crepeau are gone, and left back Cristian Gutierrez — the only natural left back left on the roster with the departure of Ali Adnan — is on Canada’s roster for the Gold Cup, although he remains with the club. There is flexibility to bring Javain Brown over from the right to play as an inverted fullback, something Dos Santos made clear wasn’t his first choice, but there is depth challenges on the right with Bruno Gaspar is still working his way back from injury. Michael Baldisimo is also being slow-rolled in his return from injury.
“(LB depth) been very, very stretched and I think it’s important also for Cristian to have competition there,” said Dos Santos. “It’s important for any player to have real competition in a position. Of course, we always had hope with Ali, but then slowly with time that all started to die and we became very thin there.
“We’re always an injury away or we’re always (a) mistake away of losing stability in one position.”
NOTES: The news came out Wednesday, via MLS press release, that both Toronto and Montreal intended to host games — with fans — at their respective stadiums this weekend, even though they haven’t been given approval to do so yet. Vancouver wouldn’t be able to host a home game until July 28 at the soonest, as the Whitecaps are on the road after this weekend for two more games. The hitch in their plans is, unlike Toronto and Montreal, the Caps don’t own their own stadium. There are logistical problems to be worked out, as well as reports that the stadium is still being upgraded and isn’t available for use. The new federal government border restrictions are expected to be announced on July 21. The most likely scenario would see the Caps play out July in Sandy, Utah, then return home in August and host their first game on Aug. 21 against LAFC.
RSL 4, Whitecaps 0: Winless skid stretched to eight as Caps overmatched by Salt Lake
Whitecaps part ways with designated player Ali Adnan
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com.