After months of waiting, the Marc Dos Santos era finally got underway Friday in Hawaii. With big changes being promised to the style of play ever since the dismissal of Carl Robinson late last season, it was the first real chance to see some of these changes first-hand in a live match environment. Despite many key arrivals not being able to make the trip over to the popular US islands for this segment of pre-season, it was still a good chance to see a few fresh faces with only 4 regulars from Robinson’s last year in charge in the squad to face the Japanese side V-Varen Nagasaki. (Russell Teibert and Yordy Reyna are recovering from small injuries and should feature in the coming weeks). With it still only being preseason, and Dos Santos trying to ease in several players, the Caps started with a more experienced 11, swapping them out for a younger 11 featuring many academy prospects at half-time. It was not meant to be on the night for these Caps, as they ended up falling 3-1, with goals conceded on either side of half time sinking them. David Norman. Jr was able to bring back 1 goal with a nice header in the 80th minute, but that was all she wrote for the Caps here at the Pacific Rim Cup as they were eliminated from 1st place contention. They still have one more match remaining in this competition, against Japanese outfit Iwaki FC tomorrow at 4:30 PST.
The Whitecaps came out in Dos Santos’s preferred 4-3-3 system, starting a lot of the players who will be looking to fight for spots as the newcomers start to train with the team over the next few weeks. Right from the get-go, we started to see the Caps attempt to build up from the back and pressure high up the pitch, some hallmarks we should continue to expect from a Dos Santos squad. There is evidence of some growing pains for the back 4, who did struggle at times to move the ball consistently up the pitch, but it is positive to see the change.
Jon Erice was a bright spot in the middle, constantly dropping back to help out the backline and showing off his trademark passing accuracy, spraying the ball around the pitch including one spectacular crossfield left-footed ball that landed perfectly on the foot of PC, jump-starting an attack. He will be very key this season in linking the backline to the other midfielders and the dynamic wingers such as Lass Bangoura. Bangoura was another revelation on the night, showing flashes of the player that was once coveted by the famed Los Blancos in Spain with some darting runs, dangerous balls and a spectacular curled shot that was matched by an equally spectacular save from the Nagasaki keeper. It was a concern that Bangoura would have some rust to shake off after playing sporadically over the last year but he showed on the night why he has potential to be a very key player for the Caps this season. Andy Rose also impressed through the middle, aiding Erice with linking the various phases of play and showing a versatility that will come in handy throughout the season. Felipe complemented the other two very nicely, showing glimpses of the player that the Caps saw when trading for last year and giving hope that the Dos Santos system will benefit him and provide him with a resurgent 2019 campaign. PC was energetic out on the wing, and while his touch was lacking at times, he showed off impressive work rate and proved that he can be a key cog in the press Dos Santos is hoping to implement. Lastly, MacMath showed good consistency similar to what David Ousted showed in his time here, positive signs for a Caps team hoping to settle down the position and avoid leaking goals like last season. He showed off some good ball movement with both feet, positive signs for a Caps team working on improving distribution from the keepers this season.
Hard to be negative considering the circumstances, but the Caps backline did struggle at times during the match, both with distributing the ball and marking set-pieces. Nagasaki was allowed a few free attempts at goal from set-pieces and that is how they opened the scoring, with an unmarked back post header eluding MacMath. Henry and Cornelius had some positive moments, but we were left wanting more from them at times, especially when it came to defending balls in the air. Levis and Nerwinski showed some good enthusiasm going forward but it is evident they are still adapting to playing the ball around after enduring Robinsons hoofball that the backline would often resort to last season. It will take a while, as shown, but it was quite positive to see them successfully move the ball around at times already. Levis looked off the par when it came to defending his flank, but that can probably be chalked up to a rust issue. It will shape up to be an interesting battle in these positions, with Erik Godoy and Jesser Khemiri yet to train and the possibility the Caps bring in another left back to compete with Levis and PC. Up top, Theo Bair showed off his size and what he brings to the table as a striker but his touch and finishing let him down on the night. He is still very raw as a player but should compete for sporadic minutes until he improves his hold up play and polishes his finishing, but despite that, he pressed hard and did what he could.
With most of the young guys thrown in, the second-half started bleakly as the Caps concede twice in 10 mins. Granted, Nagasaki had left their starters in and did not sub them off until the 60th, but it was concerning nonetheless. Despite that, the youth showed off some good things, including some crisp build-up and effective pressing. They had a few chances and were rewarded after one of many dangerous Simon Colyn set-pieces got a clean connection form Norman. Jr who headed home cleanly.
The young guys came out flying in the half, stringing together passes and showcasing some of their chemistry from playing with each other in the academy. They had a crispness that the other guys haven’t reached yet from playing with each other regularly and it was nice to see. The front three of Mukumbilwa, Alade and 15-year-old Habibullah did a great job pressing and generated a few chances off some hard work and smart thinking. The midfield was solid and Colyn showed flashes of what made the Caps sign him as a 15-year-old last year, with some good ball movement and forward runs. Norman.Jr and McDonaugh were pretty good at the back considering one is fresh out of college and one is a natural midfielder, moving the ball well and defending well besides the 2 goals. McDonaugh in particular impressed with his passing, often fizzing it up to the midfielders and wingers with purpose, bypassing the phases of play quite impressively. He has quite a way to go before he is a regular MLS starter, but he showed positively on his debut. Crepeau had some good moments after the two goals, showing some good shot-stopping and decent distribution from the back.
Hard to be critical of the young guys considering the circumstances, as they worked hard and surely impressed Dos Santos with the flashes they showed. Fullback was rather absent in the half, with the veteran Sutter not really doing much in the game and Escobar struggling on both sides of the ball. It made it harder to transition the ball from the back to the midfield at times, putting more pressure on the centre-backs to do so. Defensively, a lot more runners got in behind, which allowed a few crosses to get into the danger zone in the Caps box. Besides that, there wasn’t much else to dwell on and it’ll be interesting to see if any of the youngsters stick around for the rest of training camp.
The Caps play for 3rd tomorrow as mentioned against Iwaki FC, the players should be the same with the possibility for an Erik Godoy appearance as he is with the team in Hawaii, but it’ll be interesting to see how Dos Santos maneuvers his lineup for that one.
By: Alexandre Gangue-Ruzic and Keveren Guillou