Vancouver Whitecaps season is upon us. After an offseason of controversy from MLS, the Whitecaps will begin their season on Saturday as they welcome Charlotte FC to BC Place. For whatever reason, the Whitecaps had a bye in week one. Hey at least they are still undefeated!

A new season always brings hope to a fanbase. But for Whitecaps fans, there is hope but of course, there is fear. This is a Vancouver sports team after all. “I’m so excited, I’m so scared!” are what Whitecaps fans are probably thinking.

It will be Whitecaps’ 50th anniversary season and expectations are higher. 2023 was the season that raised the bar. They went 12-12-10 and finished sixth in the Western Conference but ulitmately lost in two games of a best of three series to eventual MLS Cup finalists LAFC. (Game two brought a six game suspension for head coach Vanni Sartini and a one game suspension for Mathias Laborda. That game was something else.) 2023 brought attractive soccer, a second straight Voyageurs Cup and the club’s first Cascadia Cup since 2016.

It really feels like the dawn of a new era for the Whitecaps who have gone through mediocrity since they came into MLS in 2011.

It starts with the skipper. Ryan Gauld has been extended until 2027 and was named the club’s captain. His predessor of the armband Russell Teibert is officially done as a Whitecaps player. What does he does next is currently unknown.

There have been numerous outgoings. Simon Becher was sold to Danish side AC Horsens for around $400,000. Canadian internationals Richie Laryea and Junior Hoilett didn’t come back. Due to family reasons, Laryea returned to MLS but back to Toronto FC. Nottingham Forest sold him for about $750,000. Hoilett signed on a free with Scottish side Aberdeen. Goalkeeper Thomas Hasal’s option was declined in November and it was the same with defender Karifa Yao. Yao signed with Rhode Island FC of the USL Championship

Damir Kreilach, Fafa Picault, Bjorn Inge Utvik, Belal Halbouni, Joe Bendik were the players that were brought in.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Yohei Takaoka, Isaac Boehmer, Joe Bendik

Defenders: Ranko Veselinovic,Tristan Blackmon,Mathias Laborda, Javain Brown,Sam Adekugbe,Luis Martins,Ryan Raposo, Bjorn Inge Utvik, Belal Halbouni

Midfielders: Ryan Gauld, Andres Cubas,Damir Kreilach, Alessandro Schöpf, Sebastian Berhalter, Ali Ahmed, Pedro Vite, JC Ngando

Forwards: Brian White, Fafa Picault, Levonte Johnson

On paper, this is a good squad.

Of course, right wingback is a glaring hole. It is disappointing that the Whitecaps didn’t try and get one this winter. (They tried to reportedly sign Ryoya Morishita but he signed with Legia Warsaw in Poland.) Right now they have Ryan Raposo and Ali Ahmed. Raposo is a winger who has been turned into a wingback over the past few years. While he is a decent player with solid crossing abilities, his defensive game does need some improvement and frankly, he’s better as a depth option and looks better on the left side. Ahmed is naturally a midfielder but has played the fullback/wingback role a few times last season. He excelled thanks to his pace and soccer IQ.

But let’s focus on what the Whitecaps have instead of what they don’t have.

We will see Sam Adekugbe’s first full season

They of course, will be lead by the dynamic duo of Ryan Gauld and Brian White. The two of them connected for many goals last season. However they were relied on a bit too much. So Damir Kreilach and Fafa Picault bring MLS experience and offensive firepower to help them. While these two are in their late 30s, they bring what the Whitecaps need in attack. Picault is great at one on one duels and is a speedster. Kreilach is a solid playmaker and can score goals as well. But how much do they have left in the tank?

In the midfield, Cubas looks to continue being the Paraguyan Kante, making tackles, interceptions and getting the ball back as much as possible. 2024 can also be a bigger year for Sebastian Berhalter. He proved that he doesn’t have to play every match but when he does, he excels. The 22-year-old will look to bring more tackles, interceptions and excellent long range passing.

Ahmed and Pedro Vite are two young players to watch. At 23 and 21, these two are primed to take the next step. Ahmed impressed with his pace and dribbling last season and Vite looked more confident and as he scored goals and looked like a dangerous playmaker. JC Ngando and Levonte Johnson are also two players that showed promise last season but deserve more minutes in 2024 so they can elevate their game.

Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon played a ton last season. In fact, by the end of the regular season, they looked gassed. Bjorn Inge Utvik and Belal Halbouni were brought in for centre-back depth. Utvik brings what the Whitecaps needed: great aerial ability, pace and excellent vision for long range passes. As for Halbouni, he is a depth option and looks to bounce back from a nasty ACL injury. Best case scenario is that he becomes the player Yao was supposed to be. Mathias Laborda

In goal, Yohei Takaoka started last season very well and was a big reason why the Whitecaps went over 428 minutes without conceding a goal.But after the streak ended, Takaoka’s form dipped and he gave up some easy goals and finished the season with his underlying numbers in the mushy middle of MLS. Takaoka has proven he is an excellent shot stopper despite his struggles and the Whitecaps will need him to make year two better than year one.

Isaac Boehmer is expected to get more minutes than last season. The 22-year-old has a ton of potential. Joe Bendik was signed to be nothing more than a third stringer. Unless there is a goalkeeping injury or suspension crisis, don’t expect Bendik to play much, if at all.

The Whitecaps have a ton of depth and on paper they look like a playoff team. Vanni Sartini will likely play a 3-1-4-3 or a 3-4-3. This team suits his high pressing and quick transition playing style.

Keys to a successful season

#1: Have a good start

Under Sartini’s first two seasons as Whitecaps head coach,the Whitecaps started off poorly. In 2022, they went 1-1-6 in their first eight games. Vancouver did turn it around but ended up missing the playoffs by four points. In those games, they gave up a lot of goals and looked lacklusture in the final third. Had they had picked up at least four or five of the possible 24 points, they would’ve made the playoffs.

In 2023, they started 0-2-3 and did not get their first win until April. That bad start was mainly because of the final third play and some sloppy mistakes that cost them games they deserved to win, such as last year’s home opener against Real Salt Lake. A top four finish would’ve been possible if they picked at least won win from those first six games.

Simply put, they need a better start in 2024. With Sartini suspended for the first six games, assistant coach Michael D’Agostino will be in charge of managing the games. The ‘Caps need to make sure they have their engines all fueled up and are ready to take off once the checkered flag drops. Another poor start could cost the Whitecaps playoff positioning at the end of the season. They need to combine structure and better final third play right from the get go.

#2: Brian White and Ryan Gauld continue their chemistry but the supporting cast steps up

Gauld and White have been a deadly duo since Gauld arrived in August of 2021. The two of them lead the attack for the Whitecaps last season. Gauld needs to display another MVP type level season and he totally can. As for White, he needs to be consistent in front of goal right from the start of the season and will always look to be in the right area for Gauld to find him.

They need offence from other than those two. Can Kreilach and Picault provide that with their veteran presence or can the youthfulness of Ahmed and Vite do it? Whoever it is, they need goals and assists from other players than Gauld and White in order to take the pressure off them

#3: Defend set pieces better

The Whitecaps gave up 14 goals from set pieces last season. That was tied for the most in MLS with Inter Miami. There was this feeling of dread everytime there was a set piece against the Whitecaps.

You can blame zonal marking all you want but the system isn’t changing. They just need to execute it better. With Utvik’s aerial ability, he would help. However, Veselinovic and Blackmon have proven to be good at clearances (especially Veselinovic in 2022) and they need to be better as well as everyone on the pitch. There needs to be better concentration and focus.


I do think this is a playoff team. I would be surprised if the Whitecaps miss the playoffs. They have an excellent core of Gauld, White, Veselinovic and Cubas, plus a good amount of depth. Obviously, there needs to be a bit more but those moves will likely come in the summer.

MLS is very hard to predict. After all, who could’ve predicted Austin’s downfall and St. Louis being very good last season? The Western Conference is wide open. The Seattle Sounders and LAFC are the favourites to win the Conference and should finish first and second. After that? Who know?

I’m predicting the Whitecaps finish fifth but finishing anywhere top four is a realistic possibility. I’m also predicting…they knock off FC Dallas in round one but lose to Seattle in round two.

As for the Leagues Cup, I predict the Whitecaps finish second in their group, below LAFC and above Tijuana. However, they lose in the Round of 32 again.

In the Canadian Championship, I say they pull off the three-peat. They should right? I’m predicting they beat CF Montreal in the final again, but this time the final is in Montreal.

Hot takes

It’s about to get hot as the chicken wings celebrities eat on Hot Ones! Time for three hot takes that will probably not age well!

The first will be on Takaoka. I’m predicting with the help of the backline improving, the Whitecaps concede less than 40 goals. As for Takaoka, he is nominated for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

The second is that Pedro Vite will be tied with Gauld for second in assists by the summer…but he will get sold to a European club for a hefty fee. Using that fee, the Whitecaps sign their third DP.

The third will be Ryan Gauld will be in the MLS Best XI and will be a nominee for MVP. The Whitecaps have not had a player in the MLS Best XI since Kendall Waston. He is the only player in Whitecaps history to be selected in the MLS Best XI and he did it in 2015 and 2017. Gauld will have another superb season and make Whitecaps history by becoming the second.

It is finally Whitecaps season! Area 51 Sports Network will have you covered all season long!