Second ‘Caps Thoughts: Why the Whitecaps are in a good position for an MLS return, lockout permitting

In this edition of Second ‘Caps thoughts, our column about all things Whitecaps and MLS, we take a look at the rumblings around a potential MLS labour dispute, why the ‘Caps could benefit from a return-to-play, and how the league recently took an important step towards that return, before this recent roadblock hit.

During this period where time has moved so slowly, some news has moved fast. 

And in the case of MLS, the movement has been fast and furious during these past few weeks, ever since the idea of using Orlando as a potential hub city for a return started to circulate online. 

Instead of committing to finishing the 2020 league season, it seems likely that a tournament has become the new alternative to allow teams to start playing games, giving players a chance to at least don the field in some manner this season. 

While it isn’t the solution that many would have hoped for, it was seen as potential salvation in a sea of despair, which is why many had been keeping a close eye on this option. 

For the Whitecaps, it could be good news, as well, giving them a chance for some new signings to see the field, after a busy offseason saw them revamp their team. 

With several new arrivals to the squad, the one thing that this pandemic offered was a chance for them to get up to speed in their new surroundings, something that would have surely been difficult under normal circumstances. 

But as we’ve seen in recent days, for that to happen, this tournament would need to be accepted, which per some of the reporting that has recently circulated, isn’t necessarily a guarantee anymore. 

Lockout Looming?

Due to the situation that North America finds itself in as it pertains to COVID-19, with the outbreak numbers looking vastly staggered across different provinces and states, a return to some sort of footballing normal, as we’ve seen in Germany and South Korea, isn’t going to be possible, at least not for a while. 

With the North American continent being as big as it is, it’s a big ask to get teams to travel between regions, especially due to the difference in cases that have been demonstrated across the board. 

As a result, this hub city solution has emerged as the only chance to see MLS games this season, giving the league a chance to put on a special tournament in a select city, of which teams would have to travel to and stay for a set time in order to complete the games required. 

For the most part, the negotiation process for this venture has been pretty straightforward, with the teams, the league and the MLSPA seemingly able to find middle ground on a solution, one that would see teams travel to Orlando for a total of 6 weeks, allowing them to quarantine, train and complete a tournament in that compressed time frame. 

Or so we thought. 

Late on Sunday, ESPN reported that both the league and the MLSPA were still quite apart on negotiations to return to action, with the sticking points being potential salary reductions, bonuses and future media revenue. 

As a result, it was said that the league could now potentially lock out its players, annulling the CBA that both parties had agreed on earlier this year. For a league that has had its fair share of financial struggles over the years, this could be a very negative move, one that could hurt its credibility amongst players. 

While this pandemic is certainly a world-changing crisis, one that will certainly alter the course that many institutions found themselves on, having the MLS use it as a chance to lock out its players wouldn’t be the most PR-friendly move for a league that could use one. 

There is no doubt that the league and its clubs will suffer from this pandemic, maybe even more than a lot of other sports leagues will, but they will need to work together, pushing themselves to come through this stronger. After sweating out a new CBA this year, one that was mostly seen as a success by outsiders, tearing that up before it really got started could be a dangerous move. 

This could also be a negotiation ploy by the league, rendering these points moot, but either way, hopefully both sides can come to an agreement. If they can get back to play, they could potentially find themselves with an influx of new TV money, depending on how they negotiate the viewing rights to their tournament with viewing networks, giving a much-needed boost to an ailing league. 

With the chance to bring in viewers that are starved for live sports, this could be a chance to build goodwill with fans, while also attracting new viewers, but instead, this dispute has so far shown the potential of becoming something much worse. 

It’s too early to say what will happen, and who knows, maybe by the time some of you read this, a peaceful resolution will be reached, but we see it with our own two eyes, we’ll be keeping a close look at the proceedings between both sides. 

Whitecaps set up nicely for a potential tournament?

But if that tournament does get underway, it could be a fun prospect for fans of the ‘Caps, who could certainly be a team to watch in a compressed format. 

Thanks to a busy offseason, one that saw the team bring in 9 new players, the club did a good job to address supposed depth issues that plagued them in 2019, giving them the bodies needed to compete in both MLS and Voyageurs Cup action. 

But with those two competitions unlikely to resume until at least 2021, at least not under their normal formats, these sorts of short tournaments could be a perfect venture for the ‘Caps to undertake. 

In a league where top-end talent wins championships, depth has typically been an undervalued commodity, mostly out of necessity, with the salary cap making it hard to build a balanced roster without careful manoeuvring. 

So when the ‘Caps went out and bought enough players to allow them to be 2 or 3 deep at most positions, little did they know, they were inadvertently setting themselves up to succeed in this new reality, where they could be playing plenty of games in a short period of time. 

While there are certainly questions to be asked of the top-end talent at the club, at least until they prove themselves within MLS, this ‘Caps team does seem to have the pieces to last in battle, at the very least. 

Take their victory over the LA Galaxy during the last round of matches before COVID-19 postponed everything, as an example. After a tough week 1 loss to SKC, Marc Dos Santos was able to rotate some of his squad, making 3 changes from the SKC squad, while also giving debuts to 2 new arrivals, Ryan Raposo and Leonard Owusu, off the bench. 

Despite those changes, the ‘Caps were able to march into a historically tough venue, and leave with all 3 points, giving the team a huge boost heading into what they hoped at the time to be week 3. While that third week never happened, and there are certainly doubts to be had about how good that Galaxy side actually is, no one could doubt the credentials of that victory, one that certainly would have had some teams around the league perking up and taking notice. 

That’s not to say that because of that victory, they’d instantly be favourites down in Orlando, but it’s certainly one that will mark them as a team to watch. They were already super-fit before the pause, thanks to an intense preseason, and they will certainly not stray from that mindset, at least if Dos Santos has anything to say about it. 

So keep an eye on them, if this tournament does happen. They have the bodies, and they’ve got the hunger, now it’s just time to see if they have the talent and the composure to make a surprise run in a World Cup style tournament, a la Iceland. 

Speaking of training…

This isn’t a long blurb, but it’s also important to note that the slow path towards lifting the MLS training moratorium continued this past week, as teams are now allowed to train in small groups, provided that social distancing is in effect. 

That doesn’t mean much, especially in terms of tactics and other sorts of team-oriented exercises, but it will allow players to do 2 things: ramp up the intensity of their training, and start to refamiliarize themselves with their teammates in a more normal environment. 

Even though social distancing must be in effect, that the players are able to zing the ball around, do drills and even involve the goalkeepers in what they do is an important step, one that hopefully leads to the return of normal training, leading up to a potential Orlando tournament. 

But it is important to note, that in a show of solidarity amongst members, the players refused to participate in these voluntary workouts as of today, June 1st, at least until the negotiations towards a return improve, in light of those lockout talks mentioned earlier. 

In face of the league’s tough proposal, it’s good to see the players band together, as they did during much of the CBA negotiations this past winter, so now hopefully it can lead to a solution that works for both sides, not just one, in this push towards a return.

Looking Forward

So while nothing is quite written in stone quite yet, what is clear is that we have an interesting couple of days ahead of us. 

Will the league follow through with its threats to lock out their players? Can both sides reach an agreement? Is this Orlando solution still going to work?

It’s still early, so it’s hard to see what will happen, but at the very least, hopefully both sides can find a solution that pushes MLS towards an eventual return. 

If there is a league that could certainly benefit from positive exposure during these times, it’s them, so now we’ll see if they can find a solution, one that allows them to do just that, but from a football pitch, not a boardroom. 

After a busy offseason of action in the latter, now we’ll see if the former can finally push to the forefront, as many have been waiting for. 

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