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Vancouver Whitecaps 2019 postmortem: Marc Dos Santos hopes to build for the future

A look back at another forgettable Whitecaps season.

Aug 31, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinski (28) is injured during the first half against New York City FC at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Whitecaps ended their 2019 Major League Soccer campaign with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake. With an 8-16-10 record, the Whitecaps finished last in the Western Conference. They were eliminated from playoff contention on Aug. 31, with more than a month remaining in the season. 

In truth, the Whitecaps were never in the playoff picture and were effectively out of the MLS Cup race by the end of July, after the club had gone nine games without a win. During that time, Vancouver was eliminated from the Canadian Championship by Calgary-based Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League. 

The Whitecaps missed the playoffs for the second season in a row. Ultimately, that is not surprising given the current rebuild under head coach Marc Dos Santos. It is a rebuild that had become necessary after the club’s down 2018 season under then-head coach Carl Robinson and subsequent public squad implosion

Going into this season, Dos Santos got rid of many established players, including captain Kendall Waston and striker Kei Kamara. Furthermore, the talented Alphonso Davies was sold to Bayern Munich

Forwards Davies and Kamara, in particular, were missed as the Whitecaps struggled to find the goal all year. They finished last in the Western Conference with just 37 goals scored. 

The Whitecaps went mostly outside the league when it came to building the squad for this season and Dos Santos admitted that, in retrospect, that might have been a mistake.

“The thing I regret the most at this stage is that we weren’t ready to make such a big change with so many players,” Dos Santos said. “We should have kept some players that had that MLS experience.” 

Vancouver brought in 12 players from outside MLS. Some of those players, such as Andy Rose, Fredy Montero and Maxime Crépeau, either had played in the league before or had experience playing in North America. The vast majority of Dos Santos’ key signings, however, had never played on this continent. 

That lack of prior experience showed over the course of the season. While the Whitecaps historically have been a dangerous side on the road, Vancouver won just three away games in 2019. It is perhaps no coincidence that the winless streak in June and July started with a three-game road trip. 

Unfamiliarity with the league was one factor. Another was the lack of chemistry among the many new players. 

“I think starting the year, we didn’t even really know each other, to be honest with you,” goalkeeper Crépeau said after the game on Sunday. The Whitecaps finished the year with 16 players that were not under contract when the 2018 season concluded. 

The squad turnover was a continuation from last year. Robinson oversaw the transfers of 19 players, 11 incoming and eight outgoing, in 2018. The revolving door continued this season. 

“I think the relationships that we’ve built and established are growing,” midfielder Russell Teibert said. “For those relationships to instantaneously click, that’s something very difficult to do. We’ve had guys come in later in the season that had to learn and understand the philosophy, the formation and our tactics, within weeks.”

It is a learning process that took much longer than expected. For most of the season, the Whitecaps looked like an expansion franchise rather than a team that has been playing in MLS for 10 years. 

The 2018 end-of-season press conference highlighted that the club needed a clean break from many players, the coaching staff and some members of the front office. In some ways, that process is still ongoing.

Long-standing president Bob Lenarduzzi, who was under pressure ever since members of two women’s teams, the 2008 Whitecaps and under-20 Canadian national team, lodged serious allegations of abuse by a former Whitecaps coach, announced in August that he would step down from his role. The Whitecaps want to make further changes to their recruitment process by signing a sporting director and several scouts. 

The 2019 season might be dead, but Dos Santos feels that it was just the start of a long process and that the club will be more competitive in 2020.

“After what happened at the end of the season, I feel that this is the base, this is where we need to be stronger,” Dos Santos said. “There’s something now to build on. When I arrived, I didn’t feel the same.” 

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