With the 2019 MLS season now officially finished, the Vancouver Whitecaps can turn their attention to start making moves. As they begin that process, here are some things they can takeaway from Sunday, as they can begin their wheeling and dealing as early as Monday.
For Whitecaps fans, it’s finally all over.
After a tough 2019 MLS season, the offseason is finally here, as the Seattle Sounders became MLS Cup champions on Sunday, dispatching Toronto FC at home. In front of a boisterous crowd, they were clinical with their opportunities, riding 3 second-half goals to win rather convincingly in the end.
A few hundred miles up the I5, most Vancouver Whitecaps fans watched reluctantly, as two of their biggest rivals did battle on the big stage. Add in that it was the third final between the two teams in the past 4 years, and it made for a tough afternoon for the Whitecaps faithful, who have come too used to seeing rivals dominate MLS competition.
On the plus side, there were plenty of things to take away from the game, as Vancouver looks to build to one day be playing in an MLS Cup final of their own. While that’s unsure if it’ll come as early as next year, or if it will come at a later date, they continue to build a blueprint for that future.
With that in mind, here are some takeaways for Whitecaps fans in this one:
Despite the high-flying offences of LA Galaxy, LAFC, Atlanta United and New York City FC gaining early praise heading into the playoffs, Toronto and Seattle succeeded with a solid defensive approach all posteseason. After conceding 3 times in their opening playoff round clash, the Sounders only conceded twice in the final 3 matches, with 1 of those being a late consolation goal by Jozy Altidore in the final.
Combine that with Toronto, who only allowed 3 goals in 3 games heading into this game, and it shows the importance of the bottom-up approach shown by both coaches. Despite the retirement of Chad Marshall earlier this year, Seattle was able to count on centre backs Kim Kee Hee, Xavier Arreaga and Roman Torres, as well as full backs Kevin Leerdam and Brad Smith, to ensure a good balance of defensive solidity and attacking prowess from their defenders.
Compare that to Toronto, who had centre backs Omar Gonzalez, Laurent Ciman and Chris Mavinga, along with full backs Auro Jr, Justin Morrow and Richie Laryea, and it shows the importance of being set defensively in MLS. The LA Galaxy showed why it’s important, as they defensively imploded versus LAFC, while other teams like LAFC, Portland Timbers, New York City and Philadelphia were unable to keep up a good defensive balance in their various exits.
For Vancouver, it bodes well, as their defensive line has been improved massively by Marc Dos Santos. As long as they continue to find cohesion tactically, and improve in other areas of the pitch, it’ll help them one day compete with the big dogs of MLS.
Stars on Display:
It’s a no-brainer sentence, and it’s become a bit of a broken record in a sense, but big players win you games. As seen throughout the playoffs, teams were carried through by their best players, and that was no different on Sunday. Seattle’s DP striker, Raul Ruidiaz, played provider on the opener, before adding in the 3rd, as he continued a strong playoff run.
For Vancouver, this will be one of their main priorities heading into the offseason. While they will be looking to end top-end depth, as a balanced roster holds a lot of value, MLS has shown that having a star can go a long way in big games. While it isn’t easy to shell out the big bucks for a Ruidiaz or a Nico Lodeiro, having those players changes the complexion of games, and they’ve helped Seattle continue to be a juggernaut year in and year out.
In MLS 3.0, stars win you playoff games, and that was no different this time out.
But as easy as it is to point out the importance of having stars, don’t discount the importance of depth pieces. Seattle’s crucial second goal in the final came off the foot of Victor Rodriguez, the second half sub who made a difference. It was moments like that one, or like what Toronto substitute Richie Laryea has brought all playoffs, which shows how important it is to have depth in the playoffs.
With the Salary Cap restrictions, that depth isn’t always easy to come by, which also makes MLS experience valuable. As Vancouver noticed this year, not bringing in any can be a death knell, as MLS is not an easy league to adapt to. This is an area of deficiency that Marc Dos Santos has recently talked of, so expect Vancouver to add some more of that to their squad, as they look to bounce back this year.
The last, and most important point for Whitecaps fans. This game is over, and that means things will start happening, beginning on Monday, as an MLS trade window opens up for a couple of days. While there’s still a long way to go for the Caps, who have to climb up after finishing second-last in MLS, it isn’t mission impossible.
Toronto missed the playoffs handily last year, and while they were hit hard by injuries and form at bad times, and had the talent to be finishing a lot higher than they did, they showed that it is possible to bounce back with shrewd moves. It wasn’t easy, as the expensive move for Alejandro Pozuelo proved to be a big part of what they needed, but they did enough to get them where they wanted to be.
For Vancouver, it’s now about finding those pieces. Dos Santos has said that it’s been hard to attract names to the club, which makes things hard, but they just need to keep on searching. Portland and Seattle both have turf fields, similar locations and weather as Vancouver, yet the Whitecaps have been the only of the 3 to struggle to attract big-name stars. So it’s certainly possible, but they just need to look in the right avenues to find them, and their Cascadian neighbours are evidence of that.
It’s expected to be a busy offseason for the Caps, and that starts Monday, when the trade window officially gets underway at 10:00 PST. Vancouver has assets to burn, with GAM, TAM, players and the 4th overall Draft Pick to dangle at teams. If they can poach some quality MLS players, especially those that can fill holes on the wing and in the midfield, it’ll make Dos Santos’s job a lot easier heading into the transfer window.
So now, let the silly season begin. The finals are out of the way, and it’s time to jump into a busy offseason slate, as teams look to keep up to some of the dominant teams these playoffs. As seen by the final on Sunday, there are plenty of lessons to learn, it’s just up to the teams to find a way to follow them while building towards the identity.
And for the Whitecaps, after completing year 1 of their rebuild, they’ll definitely be busy in their quest towards the top.