It’s been a slow start for the Vancouver Whitecaps. We’re almost at the halfway point in the regular season and the Caps are outside the playoffs. Vancouver welcomes Colorado Rapids to BC Place later this month needing the win. The sides around them have matches to play and Vancouver can’t risk losing ground. Will they rise to the challenge or will head coach Marc Dos Santos miss out on the playoffs in his first season?
It was clear that things needed to change last season. Head coach Carl Robinson had been in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps for almost five years. First appointed in 2013, the former Wales international was originally an assistant at the BC Place but soon got the top job.
It started well for Robinson. There was a steady improvement in the side during his first two years which culminated in a trophy. Victory in the 2015 Canadian Championship was a memorable one. While an MLS Play-Off semifinal appearance capped a memorable season.
But Robinson’s tenure endured a rough spell. The 2016 season was a poor one and while things improved a year later, the writing was on the wall. The eighth-place finish in the 2018 Western Conference proved too much for chairman John Furlong. Robinson and a number of coaches were released and Vancouver started a rebuild.
The Canadian Marc Dos Santos was appointed in November 2018. The following months saw an enormous rebuild of the playing squad with dozens of incomings and outgoings. The biggest loss, of course, was Alphonso Davies – perhaps the best Whitecaps player since Pedro Moarles. The 18-year-old winger departed for Bayern Munich with Vancouver receiving a €10 million fee, the second-highest of any MLS transfer.
It was always going to be tough rebuilding the team. Lucas Venuto, Jasser Khemiri, and In-beom Hwang were the biggest signings in the reconstruction while Fredy Montero was brought in to add some goals. Player turnover is normal in the MLS but the changes at Vancouver were extraordinary. Doneil Henry was the only player to play in Carl Robinson’s final MLS match and Marc Dos Santos’ first.
That amount of change tends to have a negative effect on teams. That proved accurate at BC Place as the Caps got off to a woeful start. It was three consecutive defeats in their opening MLS matches as Vancouver had to wait until matchday 7 for its first win. Hwang got the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Los Angeles FC in a match which proved to be a turning point. So far, it was on their only defeat this season.
Since then, Vancouver has been improving. Some solid ties and wins over Colorado, Portland, and FC Dallas followed. Now, the Caps are in ninth place in the Western Conference on 18 points. One win could put them as high as fifth with the top seven teams heading for the postseason.
A postseason would make for an impressive first year for Dos Santos. Yahoo expert Andy Edwards predicted a twelfth-place for the Caps back in March. The opening few matches suggested as much but since then, things have improved. The Caps are now looking upwards but are in for a tough race to reach the postseason.
It looks like five teams will be battling for three playoff places when the time comes. The Caps are at the bottom of the pack in that respect but will still have to be wary of what’s behind. Last season’s conference champions Sporting Kansas City is going through its own regeneration. But the Wizards can easily close the three-point gap on Whitecaps with one of its two games in hand.
Indeed, the games in hand could certainly hurt the Whitecaps. Vancouver has played more matches than every side below them in the conference standings. Eleventh-place Portland Timbers has three more matches to play than Dos Santos’ side and four points to gain on them. In a repeat of last season’s conference semifinals, Timbers will take on Seattle Sounders next. Portland came out on top then and are 5/4 to do so again on Betway as of 12 June.
Vancouver Whitecaps will be hoping that doesn’t happen. After a troubling start, it’s been a promising few weeks for Vancouver Whitecaps and Marc Dos Santos. The Caps have lost just one of their last seven MLS matches but will have to wait a while for their next. As we approach the halfway point in the regular season, the Whitecaps are very much in the mix for a spot in the playoffs. That would constitute an impressive debut year for Dos Santos following the major roster reconstruction in the off-season.