Time goes by fast because the Vancouver Whitecaps will begin their season in less than two weeks. Wasn’t the game against Minnesota United yesterday?
In the last few months, there have been some changes to the Whitecaps organization. Players such as Jake Nerwinski and Lucas Cavallini did not have their options picked up and they are now on different teams. In came defenders Mathias Laborda, and Karifa Yao and the club is reportedly all but done signing striker Sergio Cordova and goalkeeper Yohei Takakoa. The latter two could be announced any day or possibly when the team gets back to Vancouver from Palm Springs.
The Whitecaps also have ditched Bell as a sponsor. Bell has been on the front of the Whitecaps’ jersey since they came into MLS in 2011. It was reported by Har Journalist of Daily Hive that the club is closing in on a new sponsor and it won’t be a bank, beer company or clothing company. So don’t expect Scotiabank, Parallel 49 or Lululemon on the Whitecaps jersey.
You might be wondering why it has taken the club so long to get the signings and sponsor done. It is understandable to feel restless and impatient. It feels like waiting for a doctor’s appointment for more than an hour with this club to announce things. But with MLS signings there is often paperwork and visas to be sorted out. At the same time, I do wish the Whitecaps got the striker and goalkeeper done in January so they would have a full preseason in Palm Springs and get into game shape.
As for the sponsor, I do think they will announce that when the team returns to Vancouver. They will likely do that when the kit for this season is released. I’m not sure why they didn’t announce Bel wasn’t returning last fall but at least we know that now.
But let’s talk about the players that are currently on the team. There are several that have something to prove this season so let’s take a look at four of them.
#1: Pedro Vite has to prove that this season is the beginning of great things
Pedro Vite signed with the Whitecaps from Ecuadorian club Independiente del Valle in August of 2021 but did not join the club until October. He came to Vancouver at just 19 years old.
At such a young age, it was going to be difficult to leave family and friends behind and move to a new country and experience a new culture. Vite knew firsthand how difficult it was, especially since he couldn’t speak English.
The young Ecuadorian was often on the bench in 2022 and even played some games with Whitecaps FC 2 in MLS Next Pro. Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini even criticized Vite’s intensity. When Vite did play with the first team, he looked lost and showed little to no creativity. It also looked like he was struggling to adapt to the physicality of MLS.
However, things changed in the final five games of the season when Sartini switched to a 4-2-2-2 and had Vite paired up with Ryan Gauld as the two number 10s. Vite’s pace and creativity were on display. He even got two goals, one against the LA Galaxy and the second against the rival Seattle Sounders and got an assist against Austin FC.
The Whitecaps were second-last in key passes and third-last in total attacking assists last season. Vite’s best asset is his vision and he showed in the last few games of the season that he is good at passing the ball into the box which could lead to scoring chances.
There is nowhere to go but up for Vite and he has a ton of potential. The boy from Babahoyo may be one of the Whitecaps’ key players this season.
Oh yeah, this was a nice goal from Vite on Sunday against Las Vegas Lights FC in the preseason.
#2: Brian White must prove last season was a bump and get back to scoring goals
Brian White looked like the real deal in 2021. He scored 12 goals which were all with the Whitecaps after being traded from the New York Red Bulls (for $400,000 in General Allocation Money and a possible additional $100,000 in conditional General Allocation Money) and was a big part of why the club climbed their way out of the MLS basement and into the playoffs.
White looked to build on his 2021 season but 2022 was a disappointing season. He only scored four goals in 26 MLS games. White dealt with foot, calf and rib injuries as well as COVID-19.
On the pitch, the American striker looked isolated and wasn’t as threatening as in 2021. He wasn’t receiving the passes well enough in the box and missed chances. It was like the aliens from Space Jam took his powers.
However, Sartini is confident White can find his form.
“If he’s able to stay healthy, he’s going to be able to help us with his link-up play, with his pressing, and being in the right space at the right time,” said the Whitecaps head coach earlier this month on White. “He needs to understand that he’s gonna be a very important player for the team. Even if he’s not gonna score 20 goals, he’s going to help the team score a lot of overall goals.”
White doesn’t need to score at the rate he did in 2021 to be effective. The New Jersey Mario Gomez (as Tom Bogert calls him) needs to find ways to put the ball into the back of the net. His final third play needs to improve and he needs to find space to receive those passes for scoring chances. Oh and hopefully the injury bug is kinder to him. With the Whitecaps being second last in goals for last season, they are going to need as many goals White can get to get back into the playoffs.
#3: Alessandro Schöpf must prove that he has settled in and is ready to provide service
Alessandro Schöpf joined the Whitecaps on a free transfer in August. He did not play a competitive game of soccer since the Bundesliga season ended and May. The Austrian international was soon put into games and it was clear he wasn’t fully settled in.
Schöpf will likely be slotted next to Andrés Cubas in the midfield. While Cubas makes the tackles and interceptions, Schöpf has to be there to make those progressive passes. When he was with Schalke 04 and Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga, that is what he excelled at.
With almost full preseason and time to settle in in a new environment, Schöpf has to prove he can be a key player in MLS. The Whitecaps are going to need all the service they can get for White and Cordova (hopefully he’s announced soon) to make the playoffs.
#4: Karifa Yao must prove he can elevate his game from the CPL to MLS
Karifa Yao probably should have been given more time at CF Montreal. However, he excelled in the CPL. In 2022, he started in all of his 28 games with Cavalry in all competitions. Yao was with Cavalry on loan from CF Montreal the last two seasons and did not have his option picked up last fall and was selected by Vancouver in the re-entry draft.
Yao is a defender that is good at one on one defending and his 6’3″ stature makes him good in the air. He is also a solid passer. The native of Laval displayed those traits with Cavalry and even played against the Whitecaps in the quarter-finals of the Canadian Championship.
But as we all know, MLS is a much harder, faster, and more physical league than the CPL. Yao needs to prove he can take the next step. He might not be a starter right away and it likely will take him a bit of time to get used to Sartini’s system but if all goes well, Yao could become a proven starter by the end of the season.
At just 22 years old, there is still more room for growth in Yao’s game. This is a big opportunity for him as he is getting the chance he didn’t quite get in Montreal to prove he belongs in MLS.
What other Whitecaps have something to prove this season? Well, pretty much all of them but I could only do four for the time being. A deeper Whitecaps season preview deep dive will be written by me in the next week or so once Laborda and Takaoka are announced.