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2020 Western Conference Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

For a team that seems to need sweeping changes to get back to being a playoff contender, they appear to be going for a multi-year plan of attack.

MLS: FORWARD25 Tony Behar-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again! We’re going through each team in the Western Conference to see how they ended last year, how things have gone in the offseason, and what we might expect from them in 2020. They will be published in no particular order, and you can find all of them here.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2019 Record: 8-10-16 (34 points, 14th in WC)

Goals for: 37 (14th in WC)

Goals against: 59 (T-8th in WC)

Three key additions:

  • Lucas Cavallini (DP)
  • Leonard Owusu
  • David Milinkovic

Three key subtractions:

  • Zac MacMath
  • Joaquin Ardaiz
  • Michaell Chirinos

General Thoughts:

For Vancouver, 2019 was a big old “yikes” of a season. They ended 2018 a mere two points from the playoff line but in 2019, tunneled their way to the bottom of the Western Conference and made a near-permanent lockdown on that 14th spot. Were it not for the disaster that was FC Cincinnati’s first season in the league, they would have rather handily earned the Wooden Spoon. They had an absolutely anemic offense with only 37 goals and a -22 goal differential, so while their cousins in blue and orange were the talk of the season for being just… so bad, in any other year Vancouver probably would have deserved being the subjects of that conversation.

So, naturally, after a dismal 2019, it seemed like the Whitecaps were due for a total rebuilding year. But for a team that seems to need sweeping changes to get back to being a playoff contender, the direction their team is making seems rather similar to the direction a certain team in Colorado had to go through. Instead of simply trying to switch everything over all at once, they appear to be going for a multi-year plan of attack: their front office had a bit of a change, as they hired a new CEO and sporting director, and their roster lost 11 players—a fair amount but not overwhelming. This next year seems more like an evolution than a revolution for them.

The players they lost won’t necessarily have a very big impact. Rapids fans will note they got rid of Zac MacMath, who is now with our archenemy. Aside from that? Well, a couple of loans expired in Lass Bangoura, Joaquin Ardaiz, and Michaell Chirinos, but these players were expected to be short-term solutions anyway.

That’s not to say their changes during the offseason seem bad. Far from it. Leonard Owusu, a Ghanian player who was previously with FC Ashdod of the Israeli Premier League, was called “one of three new midfielders in MLS to watch for” by The Athletic (alongside Rapids newcomer and DP Younes Namli). They also added David Milinkovic on loan from Hull City. A 25-year-old Serbian player, Milinkovic has already been with an astonishing eleven teams so far, primarily in Serbia and Italy. Neither of these players are necessarily a splash signing, but do carry some big expectations for the struggling Cascadia team.

By far, their biggest and most important addition has to be Lucas Cavallini. The Canadian striker was previously with Puebla in Liga MX and has been a pretty regular player for the Canadian national team. It is rumored that the Whitecaps spent a club-record transfer fee of $6 million to get the 27-year-old. This would be a big signing for anyone in the league, and especially for Vancouver. The Whitecaps 37 goals for was, to say the least, a problem that the team needs to address for 2020. Cavallini is going to be a big part of their solution to that problem.

It seems like on paper, the Whitecaps have started making the right moves to dig themselves out of the bottom of the Western Conference. But, like our own Burgundy Boys, this has the feeling of a multi-year project. It certainly seems like this year could be better for them, they brought in a big-name striker and several transfers that seem like they would be starters. But, it could also turn into a lot of players who fail to meet expectations. Only time will tell.