VANCOUVER — It was a disappointing end to 2018 for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Not only had the Whitecaps missed out on the playoffs, several key players also moved on.
The Whitecaps’ long-serving head coach, Carl Robinson, was already gone at that point, fired midseason, and the club already had a replacement lined up: Marc Dos Santos.
Dos Santos had significant success with the Ottawa Fury and the San Francisco Deltas in the North American Soccer League, and was as an assistant with expansion franchise LAFC.
He would lead Vancouver’s rebuild after a season to forget.
The Whitecaps brought in 14 new players, 15 if one includes draftee Brendan McDonough, this winter and let go 19 players — including stars Kendall Waston and Alphonso Davies. A big overhaul, especially considers the Whitecaps also signed 10 new players during the 2018 season, many of whom have since moved on. In other words, the Whitecaps have been a bit of a revolving door the last two years.
“We think about you with every decision we make,” Marc Dos Santos told fans in an open letter this week. “We are building a team of players who will fight for the club every day.”
The letter is supposed to encourage a fan base showing some signs of discontent in recent months. Failing to make the playoffs and lack of a playing philosophy in previous years means the club will have to win back some hearts.
At the same time, Whitecaps fans will have to be patient.
“We want you to come to the stadium and see a group of players who show up every game and never give up – a group of players who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve something special,” Dos Santos said. “This is the type of collective mentality that we will have at our club. And I want you to know that I am extremely committed to making this work.”
Preseason results highlight that this Whitecaps side could be a construction site for most of the season. The Whitecaps lost against lower division Japanese sides V-Varen Nagasaki (1-3) and Iwaki FC (0-1) at the Pacific Rim Cup during their training camp in Hawaii.
Those results were followed up with draws against the LA Galaxy (0-0) and Liga MX side Tijuana (1-1) before adding another defeat against LAFC (0-1).
Preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, but nonetheless show the Whitecaps still need work — work that could stretch deep into the 2019 season.
“What we want is growth in every game,” Dos Santos said back on Feb. 16 following the 0-0 draw against the Galaxy.
Two weeks ahead of the home opener, the Whitecaps were still feeding players into the squad. Fredy Montero, re-signed after spending the 2017 season with the Caps, and Korean wunderkind Hwang In-Beom, for example, did not feature in preseason until that final game against LAFC.
Meanwhile, talented striker Joaquín Ardaiz did not feature at all during the preseason and only started training with the club this week.
“Yesterday was the first training session with every player,” Dos Santos said right after the LAFC game Feb. 23. “At the same time, we know we have to grow and have to have these guys [find some] rhythm. It starts Saturday.
Of Saturday’s opening game against Minnesota United, Dos Santos said, “We are excited. We have to control our emotions. We will train at BC Place and will have to try to handle our emotions.”
So what can Whitecaps fans expect from this newly-put-together Whitecaps side with many exciting, but also relatively unknown names, and a club still planning to add even more signings this summer?
A work in progress.
A season of uncertainty that might require some patience by the fans.
But a rebuild can be exciting in its own way, especially under a coach like Dos Santos, who has demonstrated in the past that he can build teams that are pleasing to watch.