The Vancouver Whitecaps are back as they get set to kick off the 2022 MLS season on Saturday afternoon on the road against the Columbus Crew. After ending a four-year playoff drought last season, Vancouver is looking to recapture that momentum.
The Whitecaps will return a familiar roster with relatively little turnover this season. The biggest change comes in net after Max Crepeau was traded to LAFC. Newly-signed Thomas Hasal will look to have a breakout season as he becomes the Whitecaps No. 1 goalkeeper.
Tristan Blackmon and Sebastian Berhalter are the big offseason acquisitions that could have a significant impact defensively, while the offence will continue to be carried by the likes of Brian White, Ryan Gauld, Dieber Caicedo, Cristian Dajome, and Lucas Cavallini.
There wasn’t a lot of faith behind a Whitecaps playoff berth in 2021.
— Jake Nerwinski (@jake_nerwinski) November 8, 2021
Jake Nerwinski kept those receipts and used them as motivation throughout last season. As the season approaches, have MLS pundits changed their tune regarding the Whitecaps?
This time around, predictions are more favourable, with six of eight MLSSoccer.com pundits picking the Whitecaps to make the playoffs.
The top seven teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, with the top four earning a home playoff match. None of the experts project Vancouver to earn a home playoff date, and that doesn’t sit well with Nerwinski.
“I disagree,” Nerwinski told Daily Hive following training this week. “I think we’re going to be right in the mix for a home playoff game this year. I saw where they think we’re going to land, better than last year, but I think we’re still better than that.”
Cavallini also has his sights set higher.
“I don’t believe in that kind of stuff especially with the names of the people you just showed me,” Cavallini said. “It’s ok if they want to predict things, it’s fine. We’ve just got to stick to our game plan. We’ve got to take things step by step, it’s a long season. We have to be as concentrated and healthy as possible.”
Cavallini will be looking to start the season off on the right foot, especially since he is nursing a toe injury on his shooting foot. El Tanque was the second-highest paid Whitecaps player last season, earning $1,362,500.
A remarkable 10-2-10 run helped Vanni Sartini earn the full time Whitecaps head coaching job. Entering his first full season in charge, he’s appreciative of how far the team has come and the acknowledgement the team has earned.
“The majority of them put us in the playoffs,” Sartini said. “There’s more respect and consideration about the Whitecaps around the league. I can’t do a prediction for the simple reason that MLS is such a tight league. The first four games before the international break, I think we have the exact same possibility to do 12 points or 0 points. It’s hard to predict results in this league.”
Can White and Cavallini play together?
Brian White and Lucas Cavallini have a small sample size of playing up top together. Sartini’s 3-1-4-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation calls for a pair of strikers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean White and Cavallini will spend considerable time on the pitch together.
White and Cavallini both play a similar role, with White more inclined to go into the six-yard box where greasy goals are scored. The emergence of Caicedo, and the chemistry he formed with White and Gauld, will most likely leave Cavallini in a bench role.
“I don’t know how many times it will happen,” Sartini explained when pressed on the topic. “But I can say it will for sure happen. Under contract we have Brian, Deiber, and Lucas as our full strikers. The two of three that are going to be fitter, more ready for the game and more adapted to the game, we’re going to play, they will play.”
After a disappointing 2021 season, Cavallini just wants to play football. The dream of having him link up with White for a dominant offence duo will likely have to wait.
“Why not, it’d be nice,” Cavallini said. “A lot of people would like to see that. I just want to see myself playing. It doesn’t matter with who, I just need to play and step up my game this season.”
Caio Alexandre getting closer
The visa saga surrounding Caio has come to a conclusion after he received his Canadian work visa last week. Despite having the green light to work in Canada, there’s still a long road ahead before Caio reaches full match fitness.
— Caio Alexandre (@CaioAlexandre05) February 19, 2022
When can fans expect to see Caio this season?
“I think realistically we can look at these four games we have before the international break as his real preseason,” Sartini revealed. “At least for the first two weeks, I would say he’s not going to be in the 20 (lineup). I would love for him to play some minutes with the U-23’s to get match fitness.”
A season ending broken foot limited Caio to 15 MLS appearances. The 22-year-old is still getting up to speed and he’s unlikely to play significant minutes until April. Captain Russell Teibert, Leo Owusu, Pedro Vite, and Berhalter are all defensive options in the midfield.
Where the new guys fit in
The MLS rosters must be set by 5:00 pm on Friday. Blackmon and Berhalter are the lone additions for Vancouver.
Blackmon will feature in the back three alongside a combination of Florian Jungwirth, Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic, and Nerwinski. The Nevada native joins Vancouver after spending four seasons with LAFC. He is expected to bring experience, pace, and height to the Whitecaps rotating back three.
The 20 year-old Berhalter joins Vancouver after two seasons split between Columbus and Austin FC. The son of US Soccer men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, Sebastian will be tasked with protecting the house when Vancouver presses going forward.
Following Saturday’s away match, the Whitecaps will return home to BC Place for their home opener on Saturday, March 5 against the defending MLS champions, New York City FC.