VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It’s no secret that the Vancouver Whitecaps struggled to generate quality scoring chances last season. They managed just 37 goals in 34 games, the worst in the Western Conference by a mile, and coach Marc Dos Santos has made it clear improving the attack has been the top priority of the offseason.
That’s where David Milinković comes in. The 25-year-old was acquired on loan from English Championship side Hull City last month, and he could primed to break out as key cog in the Vancouver attack this season.
With Vancouver is likely to feature a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, a strong preseason camp could help Milinković earn a spot in the starting 11 on opening day.
“David, if he starts for us, when he’s on the field right now he’s probably going to play as one of the wingers on the right side or left side, depending on the opponent,” Dos Santos told reporters Friday. “Maybe we see something in the fullback position that we play against that we prefer David on the right or left.”
“He has an incredible work ethic,” Dos Santos added. “He helps us a lot in that area. David, in case of necessity or emergency, he could also play as a second forward. He’s a versatile attacking player that we can use him in the three positions up top.”
As Milinković adapts to his new surroundings on the west coast, he’s had a positive first impression of the Whitecaps organization, his teammates, and the club environment.
“Impression is very good,” Milinković told Pro Soccer USA before the team departed to Portland for a preseason tournament starting this weekend. “The team is a very, very good team. We’re working hard everyday, me and the team, staff and the coach. Now it’s important for me and the team to be ready. Today I’m happy because I’m going with the team to Portland. I have nine days, and we play three games there. This is an important three games we play because after we have the league on the 29th of February.
While a starting spot is not a guarantee, Milinković is eager to show what he can do on the field and how he can help the Whitecaps bounce back from their last place finish in 2019.
“It’s very important for me and the team to be ready,” Milinković said. “It’s important to play well and win the first game at home. It’s important to start well in the league. For me the impression of Whitecaps is very good. I’m very happy to stay here. For me this is one year very important. I would like to prove to the supporters, coach, and everyone that I can play at my best level. This year is very important for me.”
Milinković himself is also looking to have a bounce back season.
His time in England was a disappointment and he never found a fit with Hull City, where he managed a lowly eight appearances. When Dos Santos and Axel Schuster, the Whitecaps sporting director, reached out, Milinković knew that a move across the pond could be a perfect match.
“I didn’t play much games last season,” Milinković explained. “It was a very difficult season for me. I’ve seen every league in the world, but MLS is one very good league. They have very good players there and the team is very good, the supporters, stadium is top level. It’s very very good. When I received the call from the manager and the director, I wanted to come the first day, but I had to wait ten days before I could come. It’s the best opportunity for me, I’m very happy, honestly.”
The Whitecaps travel schedule is consistently among the worst in MLS. Geographically, Vancouver often faces longer road trips, delays, and unforeseen travel chaos. Even if travel conditions figure to improve with a new minimum number of charter flights, players from Europe are use to short flights, comfortable rides on coaches, and similar time zones.
The French-born and Serbian-raised Milinković is undeterred by any potential travel woes.
“The travel in the league…” Milinković pondered. “Whitecaps, Vancouver is one team in the league that travels much more than other teams, but it is no problem. You go one day, two days before. You have time for recovery at the hotel, and you have a good massage as well. No, it’s not a problem. For me it’s no problem really, just play.”
Milinković and his teammates will open the regular season hosting Sporting Kansas City at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 29. Until then, the team will look to form chemistry in Portland, during a nine-day, three-match preseason tournament against Portland, New England, and Minnesota.