The Vancouver Whitecaps made a statement win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night. Sure, the Sounders were missing a few players including star striker Raúl Ruidiaz to injury but the win snapped a two-game losing streak.
The win proved that they can go up against the best teams in MLS. This season so far has had its ups and downs but the Whitecaps have managed to stay in a playoff spot for the majority of it.
Of course, there is still quite a lot of season left. A gruelling May continues with games against Pacific FC in the Canadian Championship and St. Louis SC and the Houston Dynamo in MLS.
This season feels different to past seasons. It feels like when I discovered 100Gecs for the first time, it’s not what I’m used to but it’s good for the most part. Head coach Vanni Sartini even has said this year is special.
The Whitecaps have quietly been one of the better teams in MLS this season and with the squad they have, the expectation is to make the playoffs and potentially make some noise.
Let’s look at some intriguing stats from the Whitecaps’ season so far. Some may or may not surprise you. Stats courtesy of the MLS official website and Fotmob.
1. Whitecaps are second in MLS in key passes
The one thing to notice from the Whitecaps this season is that they are getting lots of scoring chances. This is a theme that is going to pop up a lot in this article. Of course, with all those chances there should be more goals. Ryan Gauld and Julian Gressel have been key in giving service for the Whitecaps.
This goes to show that the Whitecaps are getting a ton of chances in the box which leads to scoring chances. They have completed 142 key passes only behind LA Galaxy’s 154. ( It is crazy that the five-time MLS Cup Champions are among the worst teams in MLS)
The Whitecaps have been a decent transition team this year but again, final third play needs to improve.
2. They are first in corners taken and accurate crosses per match
I’m putting these together since they are pretty similar.
The Whitecaps have been one of the best crossing teams in MLS. They lead the league in accurate crosses per match at 6.5. Vancouver also has taken the most corners in MLS so far this season with 94.
Players such as Gressel, Gauld, Luis Martins, Pedro Vite, Ryan Raposo and Ali Ahmed have been among the players who have been whipping in crosses. But the Whitecaps only have scored two goals from headers. One of those was a Tristan Blackmon goal which was assisted by Gressel against the LA Galaxy.
One player that would benefit from all these crosses and corner kicks is Sergio Córdova. The Venezuelan striker signed from FC Augsburg last winter has the height and ability to pounce on all the service. So far, we have not seen much from that with Córdova. But as he gets more minutes and more match fit, he needs to make the most of the opportunities.
3.Vancouver is fifth in duel percentage
The Whitecaps have been great at creating turnovers this season and that was evident during Saturday’s game against the Sounders. Vancouver has a duel percentage of 51.9% and only the New England Revolution, the Galaxy, Toronto FC and Austin FC are above them in that category.
A huge reason why is Andrés Cubas. The Paraguayan Argentinian-born midfielder has an 89.7% duel percentage himself and has 34 interceptions this season. Cubas has been excellent at making tackles and making interceptions happen, we all know that.
Other players that most likely contributed to a large part of the Whitecaps’ high duel percentage are Blackmon, Ranko Veselinović, Ali Ahmed, (more on him later in the article) and Sebastian Berhalter.
Berhalter hasn’t played much this season but he should get some more minutes. The due of him and Cubas against Seattle was immense.
“I’m very happy with Sebastian,” said Sartini after the game against Seattle on Berhalter. “He’s only 21 but he’s an example of a professional.” (I Guess Sartini forgot Berhalter turned 22 on May 10)
Berhalter reads the game well and like Cubas, is great at forcing interceptions. Berhalter is just 22 and Cubas is the perfect mentor for him.
The Cubas-Berhalter pairing needs to be on the pitch more and could launch the Whitecaps’ duel percentage through the roof.
4. Brian White leads MLS in expected goals
Brian White has gotten a lot of criticism. That’s no surprise, he’s a striker and what should strikers do? Score goals. So far, he shares the team lead in goals with Simon Becher with four.
White has missed sitters and should have scored on plenty of his chances. But does that mean he is having a terrible season? No.
White has an expected goals rate of seven this season. That is the highest among MLS players.
Too bad expected goals don’t count on the scoresheet. White is also second among MLS players in big chances missed (Seven which is one behind Heber of the Sounders) and the eye test also backs that up.
Has White been unlucky with his chances at times? Yes. Should he do better to score? Also yes.
White’s build-up play has been good and he’s been roaming in the 18-yard box to find scoring chances. He’s also benefited from playing with Becher in a two-striker formation.
White has had a good season for what it’s worth but it could be an even better one if he starts scoring at a consistent rate.
5. Julian Gressel is tied for first in the league in big chances created
The Whitecaps traded for Gressel last July because they need service. Well, he provided just that.
Gressel has delivered with his passing and crossing ability this season more than Postman Pat. You can call him Gresselmania, The Delivery Man or whatever. The former DC United and Atlanta United player has created eleven big chances this season. That is tied with Atlanta midfielder attacking midfielder/winger Thiago Almada. That guy is pretty good.
But Gressel is also good. He has proven he is one of the best passers and crossers in the league at a consistent rate this season.
One of the Whitecaps’ things on the to-do list is to extend Gressel to a new contract. The 29-year-old makes $884,000 in base salary but that rises to $939,781 in guaranteed compensation. Gressel is in the prime of his career, and he is going to most likely want DP-like wages.
It’s going to be tough as the Whitecaps already have spent quite a lot of money on salaries. Losing Gressel for free in the offseason would sting and if the club were to sell him in the summer, they wouldn’t get much back as his contract expires this winter.
Gressel told Har Johal of Daily Hive last month that his agent and the club are talking. Whitecaps Sporting Director and CEO Axel Schuster also told Johal last month that they will have time in the coming weeks to discuss a new contract for Gressel.
Well, that’s a good sign at least. Gressel is a guy the Whitecaps should keep for a couple of more years at least.
6. Ali Ahmed is third in MLS for successful tackles per 90
Ahmed has been a great story. He, along with Becher were the best players with Whitecaps FC 2 last season and both have done well with the first team this season.
It feels like Ahmed is improving every game he plays. Against Seattle, he looked very quick with the ball and made some good passes and defensive plays. He’s been doing those things all season and continues to improve.
Speaking of defence, Ahmed’s tackles per 90 rate is 3.3 and that is third in the league. He is behind Yuya Kubo of FC Cincinnati and Judson of the San Jose Earthquakes. That’s pretty impressive.
Ahmed’s versatility is what makes him a good player. He can play as a box-to-box midfielder, left-back or even as a wing-back as we saw against Seattle. But wherever he plays, Ahmed excels, especially when it comes to tackles.
Let’s not forget that Ahmed is only 22 and he is just getting started.
7. Simon Becher is fourth in the league in goals per 90
Speaking of players who are just getting started, Becher has had an excellent start to his MLS career.
In 13 games across all competitions, Becher has seven goals. Pretty good start.
This season, the 23-year-old has four goals which included a brace in the 5-0 beat down of CF Montreal. Becher’s best ability is his poaching as he has a nose for goal and is ready to pounce on the ball for scoring chances.
Becher has also proved to be a reliable substitute as both his goals against Minnesota United this season were off the bench.
He has a goals-per-90 rate of 0.96 which is fourth in MLS. The players ahead of him in that category are Georgios Giakoumakis of Atlanta United, Duncan McGuire of Orlando City SC and LAFC star Denis Bouanga. That’s a pretty good group of names to be associated with.
Becher has given White and Córdova competition in the striker spot. He’s off to a great start to his career and Whitecaps fans should be excited to see what is next for him.
For the most part, the Whitecaps have had a good season and this is looking like their best season since 2015 which was the height of the Carl Robinson “Fine Lines” days. However, there are still things to work on such as consistency and the road record and they still have a long way to go before they can think about the playoffs.