The Vancouver Whitecaps wrap up their preseason this Saturday, as they’ll take on Minnesota United down in Portland. After scoring in every preseason game so far, they want to continue that trend again Saturday, as they look to keep improving their offensive game.
8 more days.
After an offseason that has spanned into the triple digits, the Vancouver Whitecaps are now only 8 days away from coming out of the tunnel at BC Place for the first time in 2020, clad in their brand-new ‘Wave’ strips.
For their new DP striker, Lucas Cavallini, who’s played in the stadium before, but never in the white and blue, it’s a moment he can’t wait to happen.
“As each day goes by, I keep thinking of stepping on the pitch at BC Place, and just expecting the fans to be there, cheering us on.”
But before that, there’s still one more game to play, and that comes this weekend down in Portland, with the Whitecaps taking on Minnesota United this Saturday at 2:30 PST.
Cavallini and his teammates head into that one in good spirits, fresh off a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution, a game that saw Cavallini open the scoring with a cool first-half finish. After a lovely run by Fredy Montero, the ball reached Cavallini at the back post, and from there, he did what made him a ‘10 figure player’ for Technical Director Axel Schuster; he brought down the ball with the precision of a surgeon, before blasting the ball into the low corner with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile.
It’s quietly given him his 3rd goal of this preseason, all of them coming in the last 3 Whitecaps matches, as he builds up his tally heading towards the start of the campaign.
With this Whitecaps side clearly requiring his offence, as they come off of what was a pretty porous offensive season, his contributions will go a long way, and he’s happy to bring that confidence into February 29th and beyond.
“Obviously, it’s something good, no?” Cavallini said with a smile on Wednesday. “To score for your team, especially coming into the season, trying to get that confidence up in goalscoring. Obviously, thanks to my teammates and everybody who’s just helped me get to where I am now, it’s important, it’s important to have this confidence and this motivation, coming into the first game of the season.”
For him and the other fresh faces dotting the Vancouver locker room, it’s been a good couple of weeks together, giving them a chance to adapt to their new teammates and new digs. From kicking off camp in Vancouver over a month ago, to their trips down to San Diego and now Portland, they’ve had a chance to start building towards something, allowing them to start camp strongly.
It’s continuing to happen on the pitch, with the team seeming to put together better combination plays by the minute, with multiple-pass offensive moves becoming the norm. It happened on Cavallini’s goal on Wednesday, it came about on his other tally last Sunday, and it has shown in some of the work put in by the team in order to make those kinds of goals happen more often this year.
And this preseason has played a big role in that, from allowing the players to know each other , from the time spent bonding off of the pitch, to the arduous hours they’ve put in on it. After a 2019 preseason, where many of the players weren’t afforded that luxury, with a lot of the squad building coming together much later than hoped, this extra time is already paying dividends, and it should lead to a stronger start.
Which for Cavallini, who’s itching to play, can’t come soon enough.
“Yeah, of course. As each day goes by, we’re here, we’re always together with each other, so everybody gets to know each other a bit more,” Cavallini said. “It’s a good group of guys here, not only on the pitch but off the pitch, all of the guys are really good, a lot of family guys here, and if not, the young guys really try to make their way into the starting lineup. It’s been good, it’s been a good preseason, we’re looking forward to start the season.”
But while Cavallini has gotten many of the plaudits, and no doubt his early goal tally backs up that notion, there have been emerging storylines all over the pitch. From Yordy Reyna looking a lot more lively in and out of possession, to David Milinkovic so far truly living up to his redemption story arc, and everything between, there’s been a lot of positive performances to monitor.
Be it Hwang In Beom, who’s stroking balls around the park the way a painter brushes his inspiration onto a canvas, or Ali Adnan, who despite his concerning defensive work rate manages to make magic with his left foot multiple times a game, a lot of Vancouver’s top players have come out to play down in Portland.
You factor in those strong performances from the likes Milinkovic, Reyna, Fredy Montero, Russell Teibert and Jake Nerwinski, all players fighting for their respective spots in the squad, and there’s something brewing in Vancouver. While not all has been rosy, as Cristian Dajome has maybe not yet found his final gear, along with the centre backs having a few shaky moments, especially last Sunday against Portland, it has mostly been a first two good games in this Portland trip, which should help Vancouver start the season strong.
Heading into the last game of camp, which comes against an early-season Western Conference favourite, Minnesota United, it sets the table for an entertaining matchup, one where we’ll get one last measuring stick test to see where Vancouver is at.
This team is far from its final form, but they’re putting together glimpses of it, one step at a time, which for head coach, Marc Dos Santos, has been positive.
“Since Day 1, and I don’t feel that this is something that only comes from me, you need the idea of play to come from the coach and the staff, but then you need acceptance in the group to do it well, and the group is responding in a way of belief towards what we want to be about,” Dos Santos said Wednesday.
“And that’s important, and it’s going to be important also that we have guys missing, that could be important pieces, and those guys need to understand what we want to be about, and how we want to play, and they have a good attitude and idea, and we need to keep growing in that.”
Now, for the Whitecaps, it will be all about using these 8 days wisely. The Minnesota game will give them a chance to play what will be close to full strength and full intensity, obviously barring the impending arrivals of the already signed Leonard Owusu and Ranko Veselinovic, which should give us an idea of how ready they are ahead of their opening match.
We know what this team wants to be about, now it’s time to see them in action. They want to press, they want to defend tightly and they want to play out of the back, but we only saw one of those three things last year, so until the other two come together, especially on the offensive end, it’ll be hard to see how things will exactly shape up.
Yet as we’ve seen so far, they’re all coming together nicely, especially offensively, with the ‘Caps scoring in every game this preseason. After their well-documented offensive struggles in 2019, they want to maintain the strong defensive spine they built, just adding in some of the attacking and pressing philosophies to the mix, making them a more complete team.
And as seen by some of the goals, they’ve already started doing just that. Last season, it seemed that goals often came from moments of individual inspiration, instead of showing any semblance of attacking cohesion.
Now, they’re coming in lengthy, attacking moves, with the team happy to push forward as a unit, which for Dos Santos, has him more excited than any of the 9 goals his team has scored this preseason.
“Yeah, it helps (us) and the confidence,” Dos Santos said. “But it’s important that we continue stressing that when we’re successful, yeah there are going to be moments in the game that we see space in behind the opponent, and we try to get in behind. And there are also moments in the game that you have to control with the ball, when you do that, you bring more numbers in the opponent’s half, more solutions.”
“I think that when the ball was crossed to (Lucas) Cava(llini) (against New England), we have maybe 5 guys in the box, so it wasn’t Cava alone, then Cava does a great play, a great finish, but there’s numbers. And you only get to that spot if you’re good on the ball to get there.”