Photo Credit: Vancouver Whitecaps Twitter

*This was originally posted on April 29, 2022*

After a great second-half run, last season which saw the Vancouver Whitecaps make the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Unfortunately, there was a loss in the first round to Sporting Kansas City.

The club looked to build on their second-half success which started with making Vanni Sartini the permanent head coach after a successful interim stint. They brought in Tristan Blackmon for the defence but had a mainly quiet offseason. 

However, the biggest offseason was a departure. Team MVP Maxime Crépeau was traded to Los Angeles FC due to personal reasons. It was later revealed in a LA Times article by Kevin Baxter that he was unhappy with the firing of Marc Dos Santos and wanted to join him in Hollywood.

The Whitecaps were projected to take a step back this season but there was still plenty of reason to be optimistic.  You were probably like Jesse Spano from Saved the Bell before the season started: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so scared!” 

Now we are in April and the Whitecaps are 1-1-6 which is the worst start in their 11-year history. It is worse than their inaugural season in 2011 where after eight matches, they were 1-3-4.

Now the players and Sartini are feeling the pressure. 

How bad have the Whitecaps been to start this season? Why are they bad? Well, you probably know the short answer but I’m here to give you the long answer.

The stats

Let’s take a look at the stats.

The Whitecaps are dead last among the 28 MLS clubs only four points. They are only one point below the San Jose Earthquakes. Their -11 goal differential is the worst in the MLS. The second worst is Sporting Kansas City who has a -8 goal differential.

The Whitecaps have given up 17 goals against which is second least in the MLS. Only the Earthquakes have given up more. (20.) Vancouver also has the lowest shots on target in the entire league with only 15. DC United is second least with 21. Not a good look when you give up more goals than shots on target.

Let’s get into the more non-mainstream and advanced stats.

The Whitecaps are second-last only ahead of Sporting KC with 8.2 expected goals. That is tied for fourth worse in the MLS with DC United. They are sixth in the West in expected goals against with 11.2 That is the 11th most in the MLS.

They are 22nd in shots per game with 11 and have the second-worst possession percentage with 41.3%. 

In the final third, they are tied for second last with Philadelphia Union with carries in the final with 64. The Whitecaps are 23rd in touches in the final third with 1040.

What about passing? The Whitecaps are 17th with 79.8% in pass completion. Vancouver is 20th with passes entering the final third with 205 and tied for 13th with Charlotte FC and FC Dallas in passes entering the 18-yard box (Not including set pieces) with 62. One good thing is that they are tied with Charlotte for fifth in crosses into the 18-yard-box with 18. 

The defending? The Whitecaps are tied for 15th in tackles won with Nashville. They have won 88 tackles. Sartini said the team keeps losing one on one battles in Austin. Well, they are dead last in MLS in percentage of dribblers tackled with 30.6%. Vancouver is also last in successful pressure percentage with 23.8. They are also tied for 20th in blocks with New York City FC with 111.

So the stats say the Whitecaps have been pretty mediocre. However, the stats say the Whitecaps have been very poor in one on ones, defensive pressure, and creating chances in the final third.

Stats don’t lie.

The eye-test

While stats are great, nothing beats the good old-fashioned eye test.

I decided to take a closer look at the Whitecaps’ struggles by watching every game up to this point. Well, just the highlights on Youtube. I can only access those. Too bad Squarespace can’t let me upload clips on here but I have provided screenshots and timestamps of each point I want to make from each highlight. That saved me a lot of time from cutting and clipping. I spent a lot of time watching and taking notes.

So what are some things I noticed? 

The first thing I noticed was that the passing in the defensive end was very passive. There also isn’t enough pressure on the ball carrier and almost no urgency to clear the ball out. 

The Whitecaps also give a lot of space for the opposing attackers especially on set plays. On the Columbus Crew corner kick, Javain Brown is standing alone and that puts pressure on Ranko Vesilinovic to keep Derrick Ettienne in check. Fortunately, the corner didn’t make it to Ettiene.

Below, Tristan Blackmon leaves Luis Diaz alone and he eventually scored a tap it. Blackmon is too focused on the ball. That is a good thing but he should try to mark Diaz while the others try to get back and mark Gyasi Zardes. Blackmon moved towards Zardes and found Diaz alone for the goal.

When the Whitecaps are under pressure, it is hard for them to break out. One factor is that the defending isn’t aggressive enough. At 3:28 below against LAFC, it was just as a mess.

The defending has been caught napping on long balls, set-pieces and throw-ins. Jungwirth and Blackmon can’t track the long ball as Houston scores at 2:45 below.

By the time, the Whitecaps react to the long header, Sebastian Druissi’s eyes are already locked in on the ball and he makes no mistake putting the ball in the net.

Turnovers have been killing the Whitecaps too especially in their own half. The midfield especially has been prone to turnovers. When the ball is turned over, the centre-backs have a tough time recovering. At 1:40 below, Russell Teibert’s clearance isn’t good at all and the Crew goes back the other way but Thomas Hasal stopped Etienne.

Marcus Godinho’s bad pass in the last game against Austin FC (0:30) below is another example of the defenders not recovering in time. These turnovers cannot happen.

When the Whitecaps give the ball away in the midfield it is hard to recover back because the wingbacks are usually higher up the pitch and they can’t get back in time. The Whitecaps centrebacks also aren’t aggressive enough to stop the counter.

If the Whitecaps want to score more goals, they are going to need more of Cavallini hovering and running towards the box. Brian White is very good at doing this and that is one of the reasons why he was the Whitecaps’ leading scorer last season.

Now Cavallini isn’t the fastest or the tallest striker. But he has got the strength to get around the defenders and run towards the box. He gets a good chance below against New York City FC by running into the box to receive the cross.

Against the Houston Dynamo, he runs as Pedro Vite receives the throw-in and is in a perfect area to receive Ryan Gauld’s cross and get the goal.

When the Whitecaps are attacking, I noticed that Gauld in particular is good at carrying the ball into the 18-yard box. He is also good at being open for headers and shots but they are either saved or miss the net.

When Gauld does carry the ball into the box, the rest of the attackers can’t get a good shot off, get the blocked or their first touch fails them. It is best shown at the 2:55 mark against Sporting KC. It’s been common this season.

Another reason why the attack has a hard time getting going is that the midfield cannot start the attack. As said above, they turn the ball over but they pass backwards and sideways a lot. The midfield also has a hard time winning the ball back. Andres Cubas would help because winning the ball back is something he is very good at.

The midfield looks very lost at 0:14 below against CF Montreal. They can’t receive Hasal’s goal kick and get their signals crossed and Montreal scores.

Sartini talked about sticking to the plan and playing simple soccer. However, the plan isn’t being executed and they are trying to complicate things. The Whitecaps don’t have the personnel to execute Sartini’s plan and surely more signings will come in the summer. But they have shown they can stick to Sartini’s plan and make it work before. 

What worked last year?

I decided to watch highlights from a Whitecaps game to see what worked under Vanni Sartini. I randomly chose an October game against Minnesota United at BC Place.

Here are some things I noticed.

The Whitecaps were defending more calmly and not trying to do too much. They were clearing the ball out quickly and making tackles effectively. Teibert and the rest of the midfield were accurate were the long balls and made simple but effective passes. Teibert made a nice long ball to White which led to an own goal.

Speaking of White and the offence, Gauld and Cristian Dájome were the maestros in the attack. White and the rest of the attack were sprinting to the box quickly. Dájome is more suited as a winger than a wingback because it gives him more opportunity to create.

Vancouver also had Crépeau in goal and he was there to mask up the mistakes by making game-saving saves. No diss on Thomas Hasal but he isn’t quite at Crépeau’s level yet. Hasal has been far from the problem for the Whitecaps, however.

The Whitecaps looked more fluid and creative. We need to see more of that again.


Sartini has said that everyone will regroup and work hard to prepare for May which has four home matches in a row. They need to find that spark they had last year and stick to it. Easier said than done sure but there is time to improve on a lot of things before they get back on the pitch. 

Only question is, can they show they have improved? If not, it will be a sad season and Sartini may not even be here in two months.