Who are these guys? Whitecaps kick off new season after roster overhaul
Team looking to return to playoffs after shedding 21 players, adding 15 fresh signings and new head coach
Anyone who says they know what to expect from this season's Vancouver Whitecaps is lying.
Gone from the team are last year's captain Kendall Waston, star player Alphonso Davies and leading scorer Kei Kamara.
That trio was joined by 18 more departures from a squad that came up two points short of the playoffs last season, leaving new coach Marc Dos Santos with a roster to overhaul.
"We have to start creating chemistry between guys and that's going to take a little bit of time. I'm excited to see the energy," said Dos Santos.
The Canadian coach is taking over an MLS team for the first time and is promising an up-tempo style of play.
"We are going to be very aggressive," he said.
With a new coaching staff, 15 freshly signed players and the departure of much of last year's squad, the Whitecaps enter this season as one Major League Soccer's great unknowns.
A large part of the mystery is how the players signed to replace last year's starters respond to first team play. The lineup for Saturday's season opener will likely share only two starters with the team fielded for last year's opener.
Among the reinforcements is South Korean international midfielder Inbeom Hwang, hyped as one of the team's highest-profile signings in memory.
"As soon as I agreed with Vancouver, one of the first players I spoke about was Inbeom just because of the quality as a player," said Dos Santos.
Twenty-year-old Uruguayan striker Joaquin Ardaiz, once an internationally coveted prospect, will be counted on for offence. And newly signed goalkeepers Zac MacMath and Maxime Crépeau will battle for playing time in goal.
Familiar face Fredy Montero, the team's leading goal scorer in 2017, returns to B.C. Place for another season after spending last year with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.
"We love to be back in Vancouver," said Montero. "I see so much potential right now. We have a group of players that are hungry."
As hungry as it may be, that group will have only been together for barely a week, with some players only joining the team ahead of its final preseason match in Los Angeles last week.
Such little time for so many new players to gel has even the team's closest fans unsure of what to expect.
"We really don't know. Some of them we haven't even seen play before," said Peter Czimmerman, president of the Whitecaps supporters club the Southsiders.
"I'm trying to temper my expectations. They should make the playoffs at least."
Reaching the postseason would be a step forward for a team that won only 13 games last season and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Whitecaps kick off their 2019 season against Minnesota United at B.C. Place just after 3 p.m. PT.
Key Whitecaps departures:
- Alphonso Davies: sold to Bayern Munich
- Kendall Waston: traded to FC Cincinnati
- Kei Kamara: contract not renewed — now with Colorado
- Brek Shea: contract option declined — now with Atlanta
- Erik Hurtado: traded to Sporting KC.
Key Whitecaps signings:
- Fredy Montero: from Sporting Lisbon (Primeira Liga, Portugal)
- Inbeom Hwang: from Daejeon Citizen (K League 2, Korea)
- Joaquin Ardaiz: from FC Chiasso (Challenge League, Switzerland)
- Lucas Venuto: from Austria Vienna (Bundesliga, Austria)
- Erik Godoy: from Colon (Superliga Argentina).
Key players returning:
- Yordy Reyna
- Russell Teibert
- Jake Nerwinski