It is one day before the 2022 MLS summer transfer window closes, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have been busy. So far, Andrés Cubas, Julian Gressel and now Alessandro Schöpf have joined the first team. There have also been a few new additions to Whitecaps FC 2, which has bolstered the second team with promising players for the future.
It has been a summer that Vanni Sartini believes can mirror the success of last year. He said last summer’s additions of Ryan Gauld, Brian White and Florian Jungwirth kickstarted a resurgence in the last half of the 2021 season and got them into the playoffs.
“They were key pieces in order for us to make the playoffs and to make the final run,” the head coach said. “And I hope that the three guys that arrived in this summer window… can contribute to us going to the playoffs. I would say the club now is in a very good space, in my opinion, in terms of organization in trying to recruit the players.”
But in order to make that run to a potential playoff spot, they have to take it one game at a time. Up next is the Houston Dynamo, a team that beat the Whitecaps 2-1 when they met up in March in Texas.
The ‘wounded beast’ that is Houston
The Dynamo suffered their worst loss in their history in their last match against the Philadelphia Union. The 6-0 loss was punctuated by the loss of their starting goalkeeper, Steve Clark, after the first goal.
Clark is questionable for the match against Vancouver, which means backup Michael Nelson may be called on to start after shipping five goals last game.
Sartini said that it could change a little in how they build from the back.
“Steven Clarke is one of the keepers who plays more with their feet in the league,” Sartini said. “He’s probably one of the more quality goalkeepers. And so Nelson, he’s a different kind of a goalkeeper. So, he’s going to change their buildup a little bit.”
In chatting with Finnister of the Houston Dyna Pod, a podcast that covers all things Dynamo, he said that Nelson is akin to a USL Championship goalkeeper and not one they have confidence in.
But the Whitecaps cannot view Houston’s goalkeeper woes as a golden opportunity. The Blue-and-White have had their own keeper issues this season, and Cody Cropper, who was initially viewed as a backup, has seemingly moved into the top spot after getting the bulk of the wins.
As well, the Whitecaps have to remember that Houston won their last matchup. While it’s true that they have never beat the ‘Caps at BC Place, they will want a solid response to their 6-0 beat down last week.
“I think the start is going to be very important Friday because they come from a very bad game. And when you come from a very bad game, I think that the more you’re doing well in the next game, the more confident you feel and then the more dangerous you can become for the team who plays against you,” Sartini said.
When it comes to coming out of the gate early in matches, the Whitecaps are not a team you can put in that category. They have been called the Cardiac ‘Caps for a reason. So far this season, they rank in the top four teams who have the most goals in the final 15 minutes of matches.
And there have been more than a handful of those which are in the dying minutes of stoppage time. It has helped the ‘Caps make a draw into a win or a loss into a draw, which was the case last week against Nashville.
“We know we need to win the games at home if we’re going to the playoffs,” Sartini said. “So, there’s pressure on us. I would say from now on, there’s going to be less pressure from the game away where we can be more freer, because we know that if we win every game at home, then we have to win just one away, one of the five in order to go to the playoffs. So, the big pressure is on the games [at] home and I would say we welcome the pressure.”
But wins have been a bit sparse as of late. In their last five MLS matches, the Whitecaps are 0W-3D-2L. And an interesting note: the draws have all been on the road and the losses have all been at home.
This is something that will absolutely need to change if there is to be any hope of a playoff push.
Schöpf has arrived
Earlier today, the Whitecaps announced another first-team signing in Austrian midfielder Schöpf, most recently of Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld. The free transfer was completed with the use of Targeted Allocation Money on a contract until the end of 2024 and with a club option for 2025.
The 28-year-old has also played for Schalke in the Bundesliga, recording 299 matches in the top flight of German football. He also has 32 international caps for Austria.
The player spoke with the media and said he was happy to make the move.
“I talked also to my wife, and we say, ‘Maybe this opportunity comes one time in your life.’ And so this is why I want to take this opportunity, and I hope I have success here and we the whole club have a great time,” Schöpf said.
Already joining a team with several midfield pieces, Schöpf said he believed he can add value to the team through his ability to create goalscoring chances.
“I want to be a connection between the defence and offence, to connect both parts, to cover space for the offensive players also, maybe to get them in good positions, [for] the strikers to score,” he said. “And also to help the team in defence. So, this is the main thing I’m doing in midfield.”
Sartini said he sees the player as a box-to-box midfielder, but one who can play a variety of positions if the need arises.
“He’s a very good player. He’s a midfielder that can help our midfield in a bunch of ways. I think he’s very good at pressing and attacking the space,” the head coach said.
Sartini said Schöpf has the ability to function as a no. 6 or a no. 10, giving credit to his attacking, passing and goal-creation abilities.
But he added that it may be a little bit before fans get to see their new man in action.
“I would say the earlier, the better,” he said. “So, of course, he will push himself. We will push him as hard as we can in the first week or two weeks, I would say, in order to get him in the condition that he’s going to be ready to go. And as soon as he’s going to be ready to go, he will be playing an important role. So, I would say it can be in two weeks. It can be earlier. It can be more. We’ll evaluate day-by-day.”
The rest of the rest
Also announced today, Lowell Wright has joined the Whitecaps. He will play for Whitecaps FC 2 on an MLS Next Pro contract until the end of 2024 with a club option for 2025.
It has been reported by Manuel Veth that the deal with York United in the CPL was for an initial $50K, but that pending bonuses, it could grow to $260K.
Wright has played 40 matches for York as a striker and winger, getting seven goals and three assists during that time.
He was also a part of the U-20 Canadian National Team, which failed to qualify for the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris and the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He played four matches and scored twice during the 2022 U-20 CONCACAF Championship.