This Saturday is Real Salt Lake’s home open of the 2019 MLS season. They’ll host the Vancouver Whitecaps. RSL head coach Mike Petke’s first game in charge was a home game against the Whitecaps, a game that resulted in a much-needed win, several inches of snow, and one iconic Luis Silva snowball. Vancouver went through a major overhaul in the offseason and it’s hard to predict what we’ll see on Saturday. We asked the following questions of Ian Jones of Eighty Six Forever.
You can read our responses to their three questions on Eighty Six Forever.
1) The Whitecaps went through a signification shakeup during the offseason, what can we expect from this team in the early stages of 2019?
That the team will successfully field a side featuring eleven players on the pitch and seven on the bench. This isn’t an attempt at being coy so much as a hoping for the bare minimum. That’s not to say that the Whitecaps will be incapable of performing. Not even slightly.
However, it’s somewhat hard to quantify expectations. We’ve been given a brand new roster, as a result of a season where the team, originally heralded as the strongest side the Whitecaps had ever comprised, arguably gave up on the season while the playoffs were still within reach, culminating in a clustercuss of a “he-said, she-said, no one & everyone are to blame” year-end presser.
As such, we got gutted.
For a team regarded as having so much potential early on, dumpster fires ain’t got nothin’ on the 2018 Whitecaps. But from it, the 2019 Whitecaps find themselves with a new gaffer, Marc dos Santos, who brandishes hereto unforeseen (in Vancouver, anyway) tactics and strategies, to be applied to a roster we may or may not have completed as of yet.
All things considered, this “Start of 2019” chaos is entirely different than the “End of 2018” chaos we witnessed last October. It’s a new coach at a new club with a freshly comprised (and one would think strategically-built) roster. At best, the Whitecaps have been called a club with potential, at worst a 2.0 expansion side.
For now, expectations are that the team has been built with an identity in mind, but it’s too early to see if it will coalesce.
2) Who are the new signings you’re most excited for? Where will the goals come from this year?
He’s been here before, but Fredy Montero is technically a new signing, right? Though two years removed from his first stint with the Whitecaps and no longer as a loanee, Montero is back in Vancouver to front the aforementioned new tactics brought in by Dos Santos, one primarily focused on maintaining possession and building up the field.
Montero’s adroitness should be countered by the physicality of Joaquin Ardaiz, though, with the late signing of the Uruguayan DP, it’ll be a little harder to speculate on him outside of the overt, “HEY! He was once scouted by Barcelona!”
Nevertheless, success at maintaining possession begins in the center of the park, making for the encouraged involvement of two signings that are actually new to the club: Jon Erice and Hwang In-boem. Experience versus exuberance, stoicism versus style, the Whitecaps’ offense will need to balance the respective strengths of these two in order to make the proposed possession game work.
3) Vancouver was able to score twice but ultimately fell to Minnesota last week, what went right and what went wrong in that game and what needs to change for them to find success at RSL?
The team is unquestionably a work in progress; it’s hard not to be with so much roster turnover in so many faculties, and players being brought into the club at differing times, resulting in varying levels of fitness and cohesion.
To that end there were glimpses of a want to build out of possession, but it’s hard to say at this point if it was coincidence or a limitation borne out of a collective unfamiliarity of one another. That, and the decision to play with three centerbacks on a 4-man backline should never happen. With luck, PC Giro’s knock will remain a minor one, and Derek Cornelius will get his time as a CB.
So what was the result? A display of occasional superiority but overall disappointment, highlighted by bad giveaways and bizarre decision making. Again, there were positive signs, but it’s too soon to tell if the positives were by design or simply incidental.
To be fair, this season’s Minnesota will be a club that will prove to be stronger than the sides they’ve fielded in the past two seasons, so perhaps they’ll be a benchmark to see how these new Whitecaps have grown when they get a return match in July.
By comparison, I personally rate RSL as a much better club than MUFC, so a loss away to Rio Tinto may be an inevitability, but if Vancouver can “own” the match for as long as possible, maintaining their intent to possess while subverting a punt-and-pray default, it is possible the Whitecaps can net a result.
Nevertheless, the “Work In Progress” tune is one that will stay catchy for now, but we’ll certainly be sick of it if it’s all we listen to between now and May.