A new year. A new squad. A new system. A new hope. Well depends who you talk to for that last one as there definitely feels an air of despondency amongst a section of the Vancouver Whitecaps fanbase that may take a lot of shifting.
I was there myself during December, after another season of semi-final disappointment and a campaign that ended with a whimper, rather than a bang. You look around the rest of the league, you see some of the names coming in, and it is hard not to think the Whitecaps are being left somewhat behind.
But this is a team sport. Not an individual one. You are the sum of all pieces, not the magic produced by one or two, although undoubtedly that helps. A lot. Everyone can be a difference maker. It’s just a matter of whether they are.
The Whitecaps have added a couple of exciting attacking pieces this offseason in Kei Kamara and Anthony Blondell. Efrain Juarez has already looked like a great veteran addition for what he will bring to this team on and off the pitch. Carl Robinson has talked about changing the system, going three at the back, with attacking wingbacks and a fluid striker set up. It’s intriguing and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing how it all plays out on the pitch.
All this new system and formation talk though does beg the big question – which players will be the regular starters in it all? You can be sure we’ll see a lot of squad rotation throughout the season, but right now, if you were picking the best 11 players to put out there in some kind of three at the back system, who would they be and just where exactly would you put them?
So what we’re going to do this year is to take a look at the changing aspect of that with the Whitecaps squad. Not just in preseason, but throughout the whole year. We’re not going to do it weekly, but after certain phases of the season, and we’re kicking that off today with a look at what I feel the Whitecaps starting XI is looking like after phase one of the preseason wrapped up today in Vancouver.
It’s maybe not necessarily the best 11 players to be in that line-up, but in terms of things like fitness, where they fit into various playing styles, and how much Robbo may want to utilize certain players from the start of the season, from everything I’ve seen and heard these past ten days, this is what I see the Whitecaps formation and starting line-up looking like right now. A lot can obviously change.
I’ve gone for a 3-4-2-1 formation. It may fluctuate with a 3-4-1-2 and maybe even just a straight forward 3-5-2. A lot looks like it is going to depend on the opposition and individual match ups. Injuries and fitness will also come into play.
The ‘Caps jet off to Hawaii tonight. They’ll be playing three matches there next week and it will be the first time we get to see some of these pieces in the role Robbo ideally wants them to play. Everyone has been honest enough to admit if it doesn’t look like it’s working, which could even be determined a few weeks or a few months into the season, then they won’t be afraid to put in another change.
So going with a 3-4-2-1, Kendall Waston and Tim Parker are the givens on that backline. It’s been more than just hinted that Robbo sees Marcel de Jong as a centre back/left back in that three, so we have him in there right now. If David Edgar signs a new deal with the team, then I’d see that as making sense in slotting him in there at the back with de Jong then pushing further forward.
Behind them, Stefan Marinovic is clearly the starting goalkeeper right now. Brian Rowe has had a strong training camp so far, but the Kiwi is the man.
The midfield four is still going to be built around a solid two man defensive/central midfield tandem. Aly Ghazal will be the guy that sit back, Efrain Juarez will be the guy going box to box.
Jake Nerwinski will be the right wingback. He’s still rehabbing the injury he got in the playoff game in Seattle but he’ll be good to go for the start of the season, which is why we have him in there right now.
It’s that left wingback slot that is the most intriguing to me. Many will want to see Alphonso Davies in there, but he’s not going to be a starter for Robbo right now. Some will expect Cristian Techera. But as the cards fall right now, Brek Shea is the man that makes sense in that position. He has the defensive side of the game. He’s a Designated Player, and you should be playing your DPs or it’s an absolute waste of a salary, but can be the two-way guy the system needs. Whether he’s still here come first kick is a whole other question.
Kei Kamara will undoubtedly lead the attack, and I expect, initially at least, to see Yordy Reyna and Techera in behind him. Techera has been excellent in preseason so far, whipping balls in for Kamara to tuck away in training scrimmages. He also looks the fittest and the leanest I think I’ve seen him. Reyna, barring any more legal issues, will likely be afforded a somewhat of a free role.
Robbo’s said that Blondell will likely be eased in gently, unless he’s in such strong preseason form that he makes it impossible for him to be left out. Expect him off the bench to start with, getting the odd start for Techera in some matches.
Agree with that starting line-up? Or would you like to see others in there? Let us know below! The seven planned preseason matches will see a lot of experimentation with the new system and personnel in it, so we’ll take another look at what we see as the ‘Caps strongest starting line-up when that all wraps us.