For the first time in a long time, the Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to return to BC Place to play a home game in front of their fans this weekend. Here’s what their mood was like in training this week, as well as what’s new with the team as of late, as they get set for their long-awaited 2021 home opener vs LAFC on Saturday.
It’s a massive week for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
As they get set to make their long-awaited return to BC Place this weekend, they find themselves in the midst of a busy August schedule, one that might be make-or-break for the club’s 2021 season.
Sitting just 4 points out of a playoff spot heading into their clash with LAFC on Saturday, they’re preparing for a massive 6-point game, one that can potentially turn around their season, as a win over LA would vault them up into 8th, tied with the Californian club, sitting just outside the top 7.
But while that is their immediate priority, the start of their Canadian Championship journey also beckons on the horizon, as they’re now less than a week away from having to travel to Vancouver Island to take on Pacific FC in a massive one-legged cup tie.
With a good of a chance to win that tournament for just the 2nd time, the ‘Caps will be looking to put their best foot forward in that game, knowing that if they go on a run in that competition, they can pick up a piece of silverware and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League for next year.
Before they look ahead to that, however, they must make sure that they take care of business versus LAFC first, as that game promises to be a big one for them. In their first game in BC Place in just under a year, and their first with fans in over 530 days, they will want to give their fans something to remember, marking a memorable return to their home stadium.
Having had to play 30 consecutive games down in the US either on the road or as the ‘home’ team in a neutral venue, this is a return that’s been months in the making, and they’re looking to perform as such.
Coming off of a big win on the road against expansion side Austin FC, one in which they picked up just their 2nd win in 15 games, there’s a good mood surrounding this ‘Caps team right now, as they’ve picked up points in 7 straight games, and in 9 of their last 10 games, giving them belief that they can beat an LAFC side that is currently struggling, having lost 4 of their last 6 games.
Because of all that, spirits were high in the Vancouver camp as they return to training this week ahead of that long-awaited return to BC Place, as they certainly seemed to recognize the magnitude of what lies ahead for them now.
So with all of that in mind, here’s some of what stood out from this week’s last training session before that game, one that’s been over 500 days in the making.
A long-awaited return home:
And when it’s said that the ‘Caps spirits were raised by the prospect of this return home, you could certainly tell based on their mood on training Friday, their last session before the game.
Training with almost a full roster, those who participated seemed to have a little extra skip in their step, as they get set to play in front of their fans for the first time in a long time.
Having had a smattering of away fans for some of their games this year down in the US, this won’t be the first time they see ‘Caps fans, but it’ll be the first time that they have a large number of them chanting in their favour, which they’ll hope can give them a boost to start picking up the wins that they’ll need to continue their slow climb out of the bottom of the MLS standings.
“Yeah, it’s been 530 something days without our fans, so even the little number of them we had in Austin was special for us,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Friday. “So you can only imagine how everybody’s excited to play at home, and it’s going to be a very special day for us.”
And what’s interesting about this game is that for some players, this will be a completely new experience. In fact, due to the circumstances brought about by the pandemic, for some ‘Caps players, this will be their first time playing at BC Place with fans, and for some, their first time playing at BC Place, period, even though some of them have 25+ appearances for the club.
It’s not often you see players get that immersed into a team without actually getting that chance to play in front of the supporters that follow them so dearly, so for that reason, this return becomes even more special for them, and that’s something that Dos Santos is well aware of.
“Yeah, for a lot of players, it’s the first time,” he continued. “So I would’ve loved to see to have train there today, it was impossible to have it happen, so it’s going to be a surprise factor for some. But the first day is always good to break the ice, and then we keep going, but it’s going to be special for the guys.”
But it’s not going to just be the new players that will look to cherish this experience, as there are still a few players that have played plenty of games at BC Place who are still very excited to return to the stadium.
Take Russell Teibert, for example. A veteran of over 200 games with the Whitecaps, many of them at BC Place, the ‘Caps captain is still just as excited to play on BC Place Saturday as he was when he first arrived, which gives you an idea of how big this is for those involved.
“It’s great, it’s so nice to be home,” Teibert said Friday. “We can’t wait to be back at BC Place, some of us have been looking forward to this for a long time now, and it’s finally just around the corner, so I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
So because of all of that, it’s important that the ‘Caps don’t get carried away by the crowd, as they could easily get overtaken by the occasion, but at the same time, it’s important they embrace it.
As said by the ‘Caps big summer acquisition, DP #10 Ryan Gauld, who will also be making his BC Place debut on Saturday, while the occaison is special, this ‘Caps team needs wins, especially as they sit just 4 points behind that playoff line.
Having drawn 7 of their last 10 games, they’ve left a lot of points on the table as of late, and they can’t afford to leave very many more if they want to dream of the postseason, so they know how far a win against LA could go in their quest to play in the big games at the end of the year.
“Yeah, I’m very excited,” Gauld said after the ‘Caps latest game vs Austin. “I haven’t been there yet, so I haven’t been able to see the stadium, and had the chance to play in front of the Whitecaps fans, but everyone’s been desperate to get home for a long time.”
“I only met up with the boys when they got back to Vancouver, so I think everyone’s looking forward to being at BC Place, and we’ve got a lot of home games coming up, so we’ll be looking to turn those home games into some points now.”
But while that impending return to BC Place obviously dominated headlines at training on Friday, it’s worth noting that there was also a new face who joined the team for that session, as it was announced in the morning that the ‘Caps had brought in 24-year-old Canadian full back Marcus Godinho from FC Zwickau in Germany.
By acquiring his rights from CF Montreal for $50 000 in GAM, the ‘Caps were able to shore up their depth by bringing in a cheap domestic full back at a good price, as Godinho can play both full back positions, giving them some more positional versatility.
Having played as a full senior international for Canada, as well as for their youth teams, Godinho brings a good wealth of experience at the club and international level despite his young age, which is a good asset for this young ‘Caps side.
With 4 natural right backs now in the fold with Godinho, Javain Brown, Jake Nerwinski and Bruno Gaspar, it was a curious move at first, but with Nerwinski, Brown and Godinho all able to play the left side, where Cristian Gutierrez is the lone natural left back on the roster right now, they’re confident they have enough depth at both positions, giving them some peace of mind ahead of a busy schedule.
As the MLS fixtures start to pile up here, along with the added wrench of the Canadian Championship, the ‘Caps are about to be quite busy in the coming weeks and months, and adding Godinho helps give them the roster flexibility to overcome that stretch without stretching their roster.
“We needed that,” Dos Santos said of Godinho’s arrival. “We wanted to make sure we have depth because of the number of competitions we’re going to play in, and we have the Canadian Championship, which is almost an obsession for us.”
“So we want to make sure that every time we make a change, every time we need to rotate a bit, that we keep our standards high, and Marcus gives you the ability to play him on the right, and left, and if you have to play in a back 3, he’s played on the outside of a back 3, so I think overall he gives us depth and quality that is important for the team.”
Dos Santos later confirmed that Godinho won’t be ready to play this weekend, as he’s still working up to full match fitness, but he appears to be an option for that Canadian Championship game next week against Pacific, as he got in his first session with the team on Friday.
But either way, it’s a useful signing, one that should give the ‘Caps value both in the short-term, but also in the coming seasons, as Godinho was signed through the rest of 2021 with options for 2022 and 2023, making him a potential long-term solution for the club at full back.
Otherwise, it’s worth noting that Godinho won’t be the only absence for the ‘Caps on Saturday, as Lucas Cavallini (knee) and Caio Alexandre (foot) remain out long-term, while Erik Godoy didn’t train fully on Friday as he continues to work through a knock, likely ruling him out of the LAFC game.
Everyone else was able to train, although Cristian Gutierrez remains a doubt for the game with a quad injury, so the ‘Caps should have their full roster otherwise, giving Dos Santos some flexibility, as his team finally has appeared to work through a stretch that saw them lose a good chunk of players to injuries, suspensions and international absences.
With an international window coming up, that won’t last long, but it’ll be nice to see the ‘Caps finally return to something close to their full team here, which should help them ahead of this busy stretch of games.
An eye on the Canadian Championship:
Lastly, the ‘Caps are keeping a close eye on that Pacific FC game in the Canadian Championship, which is their next match after this LAFC game, as Dos Santos is fully aware of what’s at stake for his team in that game, calling the competition an ‘obsession’ of his.
For a club struggling this year, the chance to win silverware is obviously a plus, as they’ve won the competition just once in their history, but there’s also the chance to make the Champions League next year, of which Dos Santos has long stated is a goal of his.
But while the ‘Caps will always be a favourite to win as one of the 3 MLS teams in the competition, many aren’t expecting much from them here, as they’re still reeling after being eliminated by first-year CPL side Cavalry FC in 2019 across 2-legs despite playing an A-team in both games, so they’ll look to avoid making the same mistake in this single-elimination clash with Pacific.
We’ll have more coverage of the leadup to that game and the match itself this week, as the focus currently remains on the ‘Caps beating LAFC and setting themselves up nicely in a congested Western Conference picture, but the Pacific game does loom large over the team, and they’re certainly aware of that.
But now, the ‘Caps have their focus completely on LAFC, in what is probably a must-win game, at least considering the circumstances in which they find themselves in.
Having won their last ‘must-win’ game against Austin on Wednesday, giving some needed life to their quickly dying playoff hopes, a win vs LA would also go a long way towards not only keeping those hopes alive, but feeding them some new air, but a loss would also probably do the opposite.
To do that, they must overcome the emotions of playing in front of such a big home crowd for the first time in a long time, which is easier said than done, but will certainly be something that they feel up for.
If they can do that, they can head into that Pacific game in a good mood, giving them the confidence needed to avoid slipping up in that game, but if not, it might add more tension to what’s looking like to be the game of the year for professional soccer in BC.
Before that, though, they’ve got a special milestone to overcome themselves with this LAFC game, so on that note, it’ll be interesting if they can translate their joy of finally returning home into a complete performance against a team they’ve had a lot of recent history with.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Saturday, August 21st, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)