What is the Whitecaps best XI heading into the start of the new season?

With the signings having been all but completed, barring one last addition depending on how they address the Brett Levis injury situation, it appears the Caps are comfortable with their squad heading into the new season. With the preseason now behind them, they look set to kick off the 2019 campaign with a visit from Minnesota United FC on the weekend. With many of the signings coming in at different phases throughout the preseason, we have yet to see the Caps play a full-strength XI, but we do have a strong idea of what we’re likely to see heading into the season. In this piece, we will be putting what we believe to be a likely lineup in three situations, but this is something very up for discussion so feel free to comment what your 11 would be in the situations present, those situations being the Season Opener XI, a Canadian Championship XI and a Best XI.

Day 1 XI:

Heading into their opening date with Minnesota in less than 4 days, it appears that this will be the likely 11 to make its way through the tunnel. MacMath appears to have the edge in goal, despite Crepeau getting more time with the first team throughout preseason. They both appear to be very capable keepers for the team, but it looks like the experienced American has the edge going into first kick after a strong performance in the LAFC match to conclude preseason. In front of him, it looks like the Canadian pair of Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius hold the edge, staying together most of the preseason as Jasser Khemiri has been injured and Erik Godoy being slowly eased into things. It is entirely possible Godoy starts this match, but looking at what we know so far, it is likely Cornelius slots in to start the campaign. Flanking them will be Nerwinski and PC, with PC having some good moments at both left wing and left back this preseason, including scoring one of only two Caps goals scored in the 5 games, a nice strike from around 20-25 yards. With the injury of Brett Levis a few days ago in that match against LAFC, it looks unlikely that the Canadian international will feature against the Loons. Nerwinski’s position has been his to lose all preseason, and he is primed to start over incumbent veteran Scott Sutter. In the midfield 3, we are expected to see the regular starters throughout preseason in Jon Erice, Andy Rose and Felipe Martins maintain their spot as they have been solid and other options are eased in. It looks unlikely In-Beom Hwang sneaks in, despite playing a good half hour in the LAFC match after a week of training with his new club. It very likely that Dos Santos gives him a good run in the second half of the opener, as he will likely become a regular starter throughout the season. There are no surprises there, as the veterans Erice, Rose and Felipe have played together pretty much all preseason, as the other option in Russell Teibert has suffered from injury, along with Hwang arriving late to camp. Up front, we have Yordy Reyna, Lass Bangoura and Fredy Montero, with Montero looking primed to start despite a late arrival to the team. After hearing his interviews and seeing that he already played 45 minutes the day after arriving in camp, he looks ready to provide a good 60-75 minutes in this opening match. He appears to be comfortable with the team and the system, and his veteran poise will be relied on right away. That frees Reyna to move out wide, where it appears his main role will be this season. When needed he can fill in through the middle as an attacking midfielder and false-nine striker as we have seen throughout preseason and his tenure here, but for now, it looks like him and Bangoura will terrorize full backs down either flank to begin the season. It would not be surprising if the trio started, considering they were also played together in the LAFC match to begin the game. This lineup is more of an experienced one, but should be one that can bring a solid result.

Canadian Championship XI

The Canadian Championship XI was a little harder to make, as the key in this competition is how you try and find a balance between having enough Canadians on the field and putting your best guys out to win. It can be a tough one to predict, as it could be impacted by what goes on the matchday before, but this lineup will be assuming Dos Santos put out something close to full strength the match before. The first and easiest choice to make is Crepeau in goal, as it would be a complete surprise to not see him feature in every game of this competition. Dos Santos could see this differently, but part of the reason for having a good Canadian keeper like Crepeau would be for his value in this competition. Since 3 Canadians are required to start the match, it helps out the other facets of the pitch to already have one of your 3 Canadians be the goalkeeper. In some matches, you may need to go for it with the XI you put out and having Crepeau will make MDS’s decision a lot easier. The back 2 is pretty straightforward as well, as they are two solid options who happen to be Canadian as well in Henry and Cornelius. By having this Canadian trio as the defensive nucleus of the team, MDS is free to load up in other areas of the pitch. Flanking them would likely be PC (I would put Levis here instead but we will leave him out in light of the injury suffered) and Nerwinski, but I would not be surprised if Sutter got a chance to feature as well. In the middle, we would have a three of Erice, Russell Teibert and Hwang. Erice appears likely to start in this hypothetical scenario as he will be a huge key to our passing game all season and no one else can truly replace his a role as Regista (deep lying playmaker), except maybe Hwang. Teibert is perfect in this trio, as he loves this competition and is the all-time leader in appearances in it with 19. These matches will be huge for him, especially if he is struggling for consistent appearances in MLS. Along with Hwang, there is a lot of grit and spit to go along with good passing ability, which would definitely be a lot of fun to watch in some intense matchups with our Canadian rivals. Up top, we see the introduction of Joaquin Ardaiz, as this competition is a prime chance for the young Ardaiz to get some minutes as these midweek games will likely be his chance to push for a starting spot in the first half of the season. Venuto and Bangoura provide width and they have good ability tucking inwards with the ball, but Reyna could also likely feature. There is a lot of intriguing options in the midfield and attack positions for this competition, aided by the Canadian flair at the back. For the first round, where we will play a CPL side, the likes of young Canadians such as Micheal Baldisimo, David Norman.Jr, Simon Colyn, Theo Bair and Georges Mukumbilwa will probably feature as they attempt to impress Dos Santos. Afterwards, it is definitely positive to see some of the lineup options available, as the rotation options provided due to our depth are gonna be key if we achieve some of the goals that Dos Santos has laid out for the club this season, such as making the Canadian Championship final.

Best XI/Depth Chart:

It is possible that SuperDraft pick McDonaugh makes the team, but he remains unsigned so he is left out.

In this scenario, it made decisions a lot easier, as it was assuming a scenario, such as a playoff game or a cup final, where you had everyone available to you and you were attempting to field your best lineup. Decisions were considered based on what we know today, so someone like Khemiri, who is a very raw prospect with pretty good potential, might not be considered as it is difficult to predict his developmental curve over the course of a season. However, we do see the insertion of Hwang, as he is a lot more polished as a player, while still holding a lot of potential to improve. This lineup appears to be very solid, with some difference-makers who could potentially make a big difference in a tight match. As we know, the depth is very solid, with at least 2 options at most positions besides down the left side, but it is definitely positive to see how the lineup as progressed in top-end talent, compared to where the club was when the preseason started a month ago. As many expert and predictors have struggled with, it is very hard to see where this team will perform due to the fact that most of the guys brought in are relatively unknown. Based on what we do know, there is definitely a very strong chance to make it into the playoffs as a 7th or 6th seed in the Western Conference. There is a proven MLS keeper (130+ appearances, 30+shutouts) in MacMath, some known quantities at the back in Henry, Godoy, Nerwinski and Levis, some very capable MLS performers in Felipe, Reyna and Montero, and some good additions in Erice, Hwang and Bangoura. Based on that alone, it is not at all unreasonable to expect them to compete for the lower playoff spots, especially considering how close the Caps were last year (4 points) despite a horrid defensive record and trotting out anchors such as Efrain Juarez and Brek Shea match after match. Where this team may progress from a fringe playoff team to a bonafide contender will be how quickly the MDS system is implemented and how successful that implementation is. MLS is a system-based league, where teams such as Red Bulls, Atlanta, Toronto, Seattle, Portland and Kansas have been able to make a lot of noise over the last few seasons by combining good talent with a good system, whereas teams like LA Galaxy and Chicago have struggled despite having top quality talent but a poor system.

Looking Forward:

We will revisit this exercise somewhere around the halfway point, possibly around July or August, after some new signings are possibly brought in and we can see some of the changes in the players. It may be possible that our best XI will be completely different, as signings, form and crucial injuries can change that, but it will give us a good chance to evaluate the team after a good amount of games in the new system. Analyzing the squad today gives us an idea of a team that has a chance to make the playoffs, but depending on how they adapt they could be anywhere from a basement dweller to a bonafide contender come August. Another factor will be how some of the new guys adapt to the league, with Hwang, Bangoura and Godoy looking to be three players that can push the Caps towards that contender status, depending on how they adapt to the new culture and league. Until then, we are a lot more unsure of where this team stands compared to other squads such as Seattle, Portland, Kansas or a Red Bulls, but there is a lot to be optimistic for with Caps fans.

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