If things prove challenging in the upcoming Major League Soccer season, Vancouver Whitecaps are ready to make a play for any new League of Nations that may be set up in the current political climate.
Marc Dos Santos’ rebuild has seen the ‘Caps coach and his management team rack up the air miles and launch a worldwide scouting search for talent. The end result is a squad made of players from 12 different countries, soon to be 13.
With players from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, England, Guinea, Peru, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay, and the US (if/when Fredy Montero is confirmed that will add a 13th, a Colombian into the mix as well), you’ll have both benefits and challenges at the best of times. Factor in putting that together in such a short space of time and everyone is waiting to see how this all players out.
The players Dos Santos has brought in bring a variety of experiences, training methods, and footballing styles to the group, but with all those nationalities and languages comes the challenge of getting them all to mesh and fit into the style of play Dos Santos will be demanding and building up a productive chemistry on the pitch.
How quickly they do that could be a key to the Whitecaps season, but as we’ve seen countless times in MLS these past few years, the path to the playoffs is most certainly a marathon and not a sprint.
“The challenge is that we have a lot of different nations, different players, from different teams,” Dos Santos told reporters at Whitecaps training on Wednesday. “If we were to look at this only for a competition of one month, maybe it’s not the best way to go. But if we look at what we want to be as a club in the future, well we’re very excited and confident in what we’re doing.”
Football is football. A simple game played the world over. It won’t be easy, and it maybe is simplifying things a little too much, and a tad clichéd, but that’s the language all these players speak.
“At the end, football is going to overcome that,” Dos Santos said of the challenges posed. “But you have a lot of nationalities, a lot of cultures, a lot of players coming from different places. But we always focused on the quality and the profile of the player. We wanted to bring in without thinking if he’s Portuguese, Latino, Italian, and not just stick to one area.
“We wanted to open ourselves and our minds and think outside the box, and look at the best player available for the budget we had, in the position, regardless of where he was from. We know that at the end of the day, it’s two goals, 11 v 11, one ball, and maybe we will be an example to nations, who knows. Maybe in such a crazy political world we’ll prove that we can have a lot of different nations and be good.”
The Carl Robinson era in Vancouver was one where the Whitecaps drank frequently from the same well. That well was South American, and the continued desire to find some hidden gems. No-one got successfully quenched from that particular treasure hunt, and at some point that well becomes a tainted source.
Dos Santos certainly hasn’t shied away from the South American market completely, as the signings of Joaquin Ardaiz, “PC” Giro, Erik Godoy, and Lucas Venuto, and the contract extensions of Felipe Martins and Yordy Reyna show. But he’s been keen to explore those more untapped parts of the football world, such as Asia and North Africa.
“We always wanted to think, again, outside of the box,” Dos Santos added. “I think a lot of people go towards the same markets. We’ve seen a tendency that if a player from say Peru does well, and I’m not targeting Peru, that’s just an example, well many teams go let’s go after players from Peru.
“We saw tendencies like that. We wanted to focus on a model of play, a model of player, and then go after the best players for that model, regardless the nation and where they’re from. And we hope that we are going to be able to open new borders for MLS on some decisions that we took.“
‘Trust the process’ is a phrase that Dos Santos has used a lot in interviews since coming to Vancouver. Patience could very well end up being a virtue for the fanbase, but he stresses it’s not up to him to try and preach that. He’s also fully aware that after such a massive overhaul of a squad, things will take time to come together, but even with that, he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the whole group have taken to referring to “our way of playing” and took to the ideas he’s trying to instil down in Hawaii.
“It surprised me how fast they assimilated what we want to do,” Dos Santos admitted. “In a lot of things that we are talking about, they’re starting to understand quickly, because a lot of these players are intelligent and have a good background. So that was a surprise.
“Some young players from the development group were quite exciting and I didn’t know them before. So what I liked about the Hawaii trip was that it allowed me to know more in-depth where we were as a club.”
The Whitecaps still have a couple of international spots open, and Venezuelan striker Anthony Blondell is already on a season long loan to Chilean Primera División side Huachipato FC, so there are options to add more flavour to this international soup as the season goes on.
For now though it’s all about integrating the group as quickly as possible, and helping the players fit into their new surroundings both on and off the pitch. Getting them all here has proven to be a slow process at times, with many of the key new additions already missing out on the preseason matches in Hawaii.
New young Designated Players, Uruguayan striker Joaquin Ardaiz and South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom, have still to arrive. The latter is expected to fly out to LA on Friday and meet up with the team there. Argentine centre back Erik Godoy was sorting out his Canadian visa in New York and will be joining up with the team shortly, as will Tunisian centre back Jasser Kmiri. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Venuto flew into Vancouver at the end of last week, and is in camp here in snowy Vancouver before the team fly out to California on Friday.
It’s not ideal preparations for a season that gets underway on March 2nd, but it’s a long road ahead and Dos Santos, for now, will primarily be focusing his starting line-up on the players he’s already been working with and that already have a few weeks of understanding his tactics and the “process” under their belts.
“We’re close, but there are some things that are out of our control,” Dos Santos said of the new additions all finally joining up with the rest of the squad. “It’s government, and we have to respect rules. It’s just the way it is.
“So it’s a challenging part but we still have a little bit more than two weeks until the first game, and we have a group that will be ready to play that first game. Are we going to be with all of our pieces that day? No, but the season is long and we have to look at the long term future of our club.”
But Dos Santos was also clear. Don’t let the absence of some players from parts of preseason lull you into thinking that the ‘Caps won’t be fully prepared for their season opener at BC Place on March 2nd against Minnesota United. Far from it, and that is the focus now for the group in these next two weeks.
“We’re ready,” Dos Santos stated. “We’re ready with the fact that every player that we have here, if we were to play Minnesota tomorrow, who would play. And that’s what we want to do in LA, so only three players from the development group are going instead of eight or nine.
“We are focusing that camp towards that. Towards preparing for Minnesota and the season. We can’t cry about who’s not here. We know it’s a factor, but we have to prepare for the guys that are here.”