The Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2023 season ended sooner than they would have liked.
The 2023 season was full of ups and downs. The Voyageurs Cup was won for a second straight year and they also won the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2016. A playoff game happened at BC Place for the first time since 2017.
They managed a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and going out in two games in the first round of their best-of-three series against LAFC. Unfortunately 2023 could have been much better. There were games that they should’ve won. (The two games against the Colorado Rapids, opening day against Real Salt Lake and the 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes come to mind.)
But the Whitecaps are turning the page to 2024.
Before we do that here at the Area 51 Sports Network, it’s time for my final Whitecaps player ratings for 2023. I’ve done this before at the midseason mark and now we are going to take the full season into account for every player that has played at least one match for the first team. That will include all competitions including the MLS Cup Playoffs.
You can disagree and yell at me about these ratings all you want.
Yohei Takaoka: 6.5/10
Takaoka started the season well and that included a 428-minute shutout streak which is an MLS era record. But since then, Takaoka has been up and down and with a season of MLS experience under his belt, there is no reason why he can’t have a better season in 2024. While he still made some great saves, (particularly in the 0-0 draw in Seattle and in game two to LAFC) he gave up a bunch of goals he’ll want back. ( like that free kick goal from RSL’s Brayan Vera on September 23) Takaoka’s 96 saves were seventh in MLS in the regular season but his 66.9 save percentage was 21st.
Thomas Hasal: 1/10
The Whitecaps did not pick up his option and it was the right move. Hasal looked fine in the 3-2 second leg loss to Real España in the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 but he looked woeful in his only MLS appearance in a 3-1 loss to St.Louis City SC in May. It’s a shame because Hasal looked like the goalkeeper of the future for the Whitecaps in the MLS Is Back tournament in 2020 and has shown flashes since then. A move to the Canadian Premier League would benefit him.
Tristan Blackmon: 7/10
Blackmon got his option for 2024 and 2025 extended and that is 100% the right move. The former LAFC defender was very good with the ball on his feet as he made the passes from the 18-yard box look easy. He did look shaky after coming back from a heel injury in July but for the most part, had a solid 2023 season.
Ranko Veselinović: 7.5/10
Veselinović was among the MLS leaders in clearances per 90 at 5.8 in 2022 and this year was 14th at 4.6. The Serbian defender was 16th in blocks per 90 at 0.9. While he has been prone to defensive mistakes, (particularly on set pieces) Veselinović has proven he has become a leader on the backline as he was named vice-captain and earned himself a contract extension until 2026.
Mathias Laborda: 7/10
In his first season with the Whitecaps, Laborda displayed some good tackling and passing ability. He struggled with aerials in the first few months of the season but improved as the months went on. Laborda did have moments where he gave away some bad fouls (He also was the only Whitecap to be shown a red card this season and that happened late on July 9 against Seattle. The Sounders ended up scoring on the ensuing free kick for the 3-2 win.) and looked poor defensively. But it looks like moving to the back three from the back four helped as he played more inside as a right centre-back instead of a right-back.
Javain Brown: 7/10
It seemed Brown had a much better 2023, especially defensively. For instance, he looked much better at clearances this past season and has cleaned up the defensive mistakes and crossing seems to be an underrated part of his game. It will be interesting to see if anything happens to Brown this winter as The Athletic’s Tom Bogert reported last summer that Belgian clubs were interested in him. They might have just been calling to ask about his price but we’ll see if they call again this winter.
Karifa Yao: 2/10
There was some hope for Yao as the Whitecaps took him in the MLS Re-Entry Draft last winter. Unfortunately, the former Cavalry FC and CF Montreal homegrown player only made five appearances in all competitions and from what he has shown in a small sample size, he hasn’t impressed. Perhaps going back to the CPL would be beneficial for him or perhaps the Whitecaps take another chance on him next season and help him develop? The club is currently negotiating with him as 2024 is an option year.
Sam Adekugbe: 7/10
Adekugbe returned to the Whitecaps from Turkish side Hatayspor in August. It took him some time to get fully match-fit and he dealt with a knee injury in September. The Canadian international slowly improved as the season went on with his pace, dribbling and crossing down the left flank. A full season of Adekugbe with the Whitecaps is something to be excited about.
Richie Laryea: 6/10
The other Canadian international signed in August, Laryea had his ups and downs. There were times when he didn’t look creative enough and had bad first touches but as the season went on he looked more dangerous. Laryea was winning fouls (he won four penalties with the Whitecaps which is tied for most in MLS with Julian Carranza of the Philadelphia Union) and showcasing his solid pace and dribbling. The big question is, do the Whitecaps sign Laryea permanently from Nottingham Forest as a Designated Player?
Ryan Raposo: 7/10
It is not easy for a winger to turn into a wingback but for the most part, Raposo did a good job making that transition. While his defensive game needs to improve, he has displayed decent crossing and passing. Raposo does tend to overthink and make the wrong decision while being on the attack, however. It was a good move for the Whitecaps to pick up his option.
Luis Martins: 6/10
Martins had a tough time tracking back early in the season. He improved as the months went by despite some poor defensive mistakes. But with Raposo, Laryea and Adekugbe in the fold, plus a calf injury that made him miss 12 matches, Martins is low on the pecking order. He is signed for 2024 with an option for 2025 and only makes $300,000 a year, so keeping him around for depth isn’t the worst idea.
Andrés Cubas: 10/10
The Paraguayan Kante was extended until 2026 and rightfully so. He has been a force all season in the midfield with his blocks and interceptions. His 50 interceptions were tied for sixth in MLS with RSL’s Justen Glad. Cubas is arguably the most important player on the Whitecaps.
Ali Ahmed: 10/10
Ali Ahmed has developed in the best way possible for the Whitecaps. Having made the jump from Whitecaps FC 2, Ahmed has impressed with his passing, tackling and dribbling and has been one of the most exciting players to watch on the team. He earned himself call-ups for Canada for the Gold Cup and now the upcoming Nations League matches against Brown and Jamaica. It will be exciting to see how much more he can develop in 2024.
Alessandro Schöpf: 5/10
Schöpf usually plays a quiet game as a box-to-box midfielder. When he is having a quiet game, it is a good sign…usually. But there were games when he would look poor defensively and turn the ball over and it feels like he hasn’t offered much service offensively. It feels like there could have been more with Schöpf especially given his $900,000 base salary.
Ryan Gauld: 10/10
There is no doubt about this rating The Working Class DP (or better yet, as I like to call him, The Flying Scotsman) has easily been the Whitecaps’ best player. He’s got it all, goals, assists, crossing, passing, dribbling and even running back to make a defensive play. The Whitecaps now need to get him extended sooner rather than later. (His contract is up after the 2024 season)
Pedro Vite: 8.5/10
After dealing with homesickness and adapting to a new environment in 2022, Vite took his game to the next level in 2023. He has looked more creative and comfortable and has even looked decent defensively. Vite has shown great passing and pace and has even scored some goals. 2024 could be an even bigger year for him.
Russell Teibert: 1/10
Sure, it is harsh to give Teibert this low of a score since he barely played this season (seven appearances all off the bench in MLS this season and 15 appearances in all competitions) but he looked fine against the CPL teams in the Canadian Championship so he won’t get a zero. However, it seems almost every time he did come on the pitch, the Whitecaps conceded a goal even though he had nothing to do with the goal that was given up. It feels like his time with the club has come to an end but they are currently negotiating his option year. If this is the end though, say what you want about him as a player but you can’t deny he was a true professional who gave his all for the club and community.
Sebastian Berhalter: 9.5/10
Berhalter needs to be re-signed. He has been an excellent backup defensive midfielder for Cubas and looks like he could be a starter on some other MLS teams. Berhalter is a smart player and reads the game well. Again, he needs to be re-signed.
Junior Hoilett: 6.5/10
Do the Whitecaps bring back Hoilett in 2024? He has mainly come off the bench and he looked fine providing some service into the box but it took him time to get settled in. Depending on his asking price, it would be fine to bring him back on a one-year deal for offensive depth.
JC Ngando: 6.5/10
Ngando didn’t play much but when he did, he looked promising. In eight appearances in all competitions, Ngando did well winning the ball back, holding onto it and with his passes. The Whitecaps traded the number 13 pick along with $225,000 in General Allocation Money to the Houston Dynamo for the fifth overall pick to select Ngando in last year’s MLS SuperDraft. They clearly see the potential in him so he better get more minutes next season.
Brian White: 9/10
Brian White looked snake-bitten in the first few months of 2023, he couldn’t buy a goal. For most of the season, he led MLS in expected goals. (He finished the season third behind Juan “Cucho” Hernandez of the Columbus Crew and Christian Benteke of DC United) However, White figured it out in the second half of the season and finished the year with 15 and that tied him for fifth in the Golden Boot race with Nashville SC star Hany Mukhtar. White poaches and works hard and his chemistry with Gauld was off the charts.
Simon Becher: 7/10
Becher made MLS history by being the fastest player to score four goals as he did it in 87 minutes. He cooled down from his hot start but it was a season that showed promise by the 16th overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. More minutes are needed for him to prove himself further in 2024.
Levonte Johnson: 7/10
Much like Becher, Johnson burst onto the scene with a hot start as he scored his first professional goal against York United in the Canadian Championship quarterfinals. He has the makings of a solid offensive player, he’s got the speed, the skill and the shot. However, it’s the decisions in the final third that hold him back. Like with Becher, more minutes in 2024 could help him develop further.
Head coach Vanni Sartini: 8/10
The fiery and passionate head coach was extended to a two-year contract and it was the right move. Sartini’s high pressing and quick passing system has made the Whitecaps a fun team to watch. Sure, he has made some head-scratching lineup and tactical decisions but it seems the players believe in him and his system. 2024 is another big test for Sartini as the expectations will be even higher.