After what feels like years of wait, rumours, drama, acquisitions and preseason, the Whitecaps will put on their new white and blue kit with the famed hoop on it and walk through the tunnel at BC place, officially announcing the beginning of their 2019 MLS campaign. Adjacent to them will be a team clad in grey and blue and just as hungry to get started in the Loons from Minnesota, now entering their 3rd season in MLS. Having missed the playoffs both seasons so far, they will be hungry to get going and hit the ground running after attempting to tidy up the defensive side of their game in the offseason with additions such as Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso brought in to complement their attack led by the dynamic Darwin Quintero Jr. The Caps will be looking to get off on the strong foot in this match as it is the first opportunity for most fans to get a good look at some of the fresh faces brought in as part of the extensive rebuild carried out by Marc Dos Santos. Dos Santos has promised some exciting attacking football to be carried out on the pitch at BC place, so this match promises to be an entertaining affair between Western Conference foes.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Injuries: Brett Levis (Lower-Body, Week-to-Week) Russel Teibert (Ankle, Day-to-Day) Jesser Khemiri (Knee, Week-to-Week)
As we saw in our piece on the Caps best lineup heading into the new season (you can check that out here), it appears that something similar to this is what we should expect to come through the tunnel to begin this season. Dos Santos went with a nearly identical XI to this one to end preseason, and with many players still integrating into the team it appears that he will end up going with this come Saturday. Some possible changes would be the entry of Lucas Venuto, if Fredy Montero is not deemed fit to start, which would shift Yordy Reyna up to the striker position, as well Erik Godoy slotting in at the back, if Dos Santos sees enough in training this week to believe that he could go 90 against the Loons. Despite missing some additions such as Godoy and the new Young DP In Beom Hwang, this is an XI very capable of taking 3 points against Minnesota in this match. Hopefully, the squad has had a chance to work on attacking cohesion during training this week, as that is probably the main concern heading into first kick. The defense should be solid as well, allowing 2 goals in the last 3 games against some good opposition, with Zach MacMath looking primed to start after some hairy moments in Hawaii had appeared to knock him behind the other goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. The midfield looks pretty well sorted, as the unit as stayed together most of preseason and appears to have some decent chemistry. Hopefully Hwang is able to get an extended cameo in this match, as he is definitely going to be one to watch this season.
BTSvancity Player to Watch:
In this match, our player to watch will be the new arrival, Lass Bangoura. He has impressed all preseason, from the first 5 minutes of his debut where he performed a tricky seal dribble, to his bombastic runs down the flanks and solid shooting ability to complement them. He is tipped to be a key performer this season, and he is at a perfect age where he is established and has a good pedigree as a player, but still has some room for growth. If he performs at the level that he can, he can definitely become one of the better wingers in this league. Look for him to impress in his introduction to the Vancouver faithful.
Honorable mentions: Montero, Erice
Anytime a new coach takes the reigns of a club, the first match will be heavily scrutinized. With the scale of the rebuild undertaken after some disappointing playoff performances over the years, Dos Santos will be looking to get off to a strong start to his era in this city. This year is likely to be a transition year, as there is a lot of work to do in terms of adjusting to his system and bringing in players that can do that, but getting off to a good start will be important to keep fans happy. In light of the off-field contreversy that has been brought up over the last few days as it pertains to the management of the team, a good performance will go a long way to keeping the new coach and players in good morale as fans and media attempt to gain some clarity from the higher-ups in the club. The whole affair has put a bit of a damper on the excitement to start the season, but a positive opener would definitely bring in some optimism for fans after some of the drama of the last few seasons.
Minnesota United FC:
Manager: Adrian Heath
The forgotten expansion brother of successful franchise Atlanta United FC, Minnesota has toiled along to the tune of two missed playoffs in their two seasons of existence. Despite acquiring some quality attacking talent over those two seasons, their defence has struggled mightily, leaving them out in a tough Western Conference. To fix that, they went out and made some pretty big moves this offseason, bringing some known MLS quantities in Ike Opara and Osvaldo Alonso, and a quality goalkeeper in former premier league starter, Vito Mannone. Along with Costa Rican international Fransico Calvo, they have improved their backline immensely from where it was a few months ago. Looking at this roster, it is rather curious to see why most experts have them just outside the playoff picture with some of the talent on board, but their biggest question mark probably lies with their manager, Adrian Heath. He does not have the greatest reputation so far in MLS, with Minnesota and his former club in Orlando struggling in his seasons there. He has yet to make the playoffs in MLS despite 4 campaigns under his belt, and if the Loons start slow they might consider bringing in a new name to make the most of this quality group they have assembled.
What they’re saying:
“First and Foremost, everyone has come through unscathed, which is always a big positive this time of the year (…) this is the best we’ve been at this stage since I’ve come here”
On the Whitecaps: “It’s a new team virtually (…) everyone’s full of optimism (…) we can only prepare as best we can”
On his own team: “I’ve always thought that this team can score goals (…) But now we’ve got a little more of a solid base I feel (…) we’ve brought some winners into this group”
“We’re progressing nicely, the gaffer is excited with what we’ve shown (…) but we still have a ways to go, we’re trying to gel, we’re trying to progress in certain areas (…) now its time for the real show coming up in Vancouver”
On the Whitecaps:
“I think Vancouver, in the past they were kind of all over the shop in terms of what they were trying to do identity-wise, and now I think they have an identity with the new coach there with how he wants to play”
Over the course of the season, our team here will always make a prediction on the match and count up a point tally based on what we get right. We will decide what the winner gets in terms of a reward as the season goes along. Here is what the team is thinking:
Alexandre: 2-0 Whitecaps, Montero and Felipe the goals.
Karim: 1-0 Whitecaps, Reyna goal
Keveren: 2-0 Whitecaps, Montero and Reyna goals
Jan: 2-1 Whitecaps, Reyna and Bangoura Scoring, with Quintero tallying for the Loons.