It’s no secret: The Caps have not had much of a 2019 season to remember. It’s almost over, however, so with only a handful of games remaining before they put the curtains on this 40th anniversary campaign, we offer you some names to watch in those last few matches.
Despite what has felt like a long and calamitous campaign, the Vancouver Whitecaps still have 7 games remaining on their 2019 MLS schedule. Unless they are to somehow make up a 10 point gap over those 7 games, they will be on the outside looking in heading into the playoffs this October. For those following the team, that can be hard, as they must look with envy at other teams around them, in the thick of an intense playoff race, while the Caps play out their last string of games without much to look forward to in the fall.
So while many people wish the season could just end tomorrow, spelling the end to a tough 2019 campaign, that’s not going to happen, so people will have to find a way to get entertainment out of those last few matches. With 2020 looking to be a more and more crucial year with each passing day, how some of these games turn out may provide insight of what to expect heading into that season, with each game providing an audition for these players to perform both in front of management and fans alike.
So with that in mind, here are the guys we’ll be keeping a close eye on for the rest of the year.
The Young Ones:
With the successful insertion of Theo Bair into the first team lineup, many are wondering if there will be another young academy graduate that will soon join him in making the jump up to MLS. Based on what we know, the likely candidates to do so are Michael Baldisimo, David Norman Jr, Simon Colyn and Thomas Hasal, as those 4 are currently the only graduates with MLS contracts, making them eligible to participate in a match at any time.
It’s possible another name or two joins them before the end of the season, signing a first-team deal and then making their debut within the next 7 matches, but given the fact that none of the aforementioned names have yet to be given a shot, that seems unlikely.
Manager Marc Dos Santos has been tough on his young players, setting a high standard for them to be considered for selection, which is equal parts frustrating as it is exciting. It’s frustrating in the sense that at this point of the season with the team struggling as is you expect to see more youth, but it is still exciting because as shown with Bair, when they do get their shot, they should be ready and will have more than earned the opportunity.
The likeliest of the 4 to debut will be Norman Jr and Baldisimo, with Colyn spending a lot of the rest of the season away with the Canadian U17 National Team, while Hasal remains far down the pecking order of goalkeepers, with 3rd goalkeepers like him rarely getting the chance to play. With the Caps midfield being already paper-thin on depth as is, Baldisimo and Norman should at least get into one game before the end of the season, and if any injuries are to occur, there will definitely be room for more participation from them.
With the excitement around Bair this season, as well as Alphonso Davies last season, the future has been bright the last few years, so there is a lot of excitement around what the new crop of youngsters have to offer. While, as we have looked at in the past, the Caps still have some things to sort out in terms of youth development, what they have done so far is pretty good, so hopefully they can get some minutes for these guys and stir up interest in what they have to offer ahead of 2020.
Meet the New Guys:
It would have been hoped that this list had been much fuller after the summer transfer window, but with the Caps only bringing in 2 names, Michaell Chirinos and Tosaint Ricketts, the team remains mostly unperturbed. But, due to the surgery and subsequent rehab of Jhesser Khemiri that has taken all season long to complete, we can add his name to the list, as his potential debut has been much-anticipated for fans.
All 3 of these players look to be solid pieces for next year, especially with Chirinos and Khemiri both being in their early 20s, meaning they will have a lot of room to grow within the league, providing value for the Caps both today and in the future. Chirinos comes from a Honduran team in CD Olimpia that has churned out a couple of quality MLS wingers in the past, including Houston’s Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, so he should have the potential to be pretty good, while Khemiri brings valuable height and athleticism (unless the knee surgery changed that completely) to an already solid Vancouver defensive line. Ricketts is more of a known quantity at 32 years of age, but he does already seem more effective than DP Joaquin Ardaiz so far, and with Ardaiz likely to head out after this season, a cheap striker like Ricketts wouldn’t be the worst replacement as a backup 9 for next campaign.
It’s also possible that another player does also come in, with Marc Dos Santos hinting that the Caps could be active ahead of the August 31st transaction window, meaning that another free agent could be on its way to the Whitecaps. So while a lot of big business is still expected in January, the guys they did and will get now are provided with a critical adjustment and evaluation period, which will be pivotal if they end up contributing to the squad next year.
With some players contract statuses up in the air ahead of next year, these last games will be a good chance to see who sticks around when all is said and done this winter. Ricketts and Chirinos also fill in on this list, but the main names to watch are Yordy Reyna, Joaquin Ardaiz, Erik Godoy, Lass Bangoura and Doneil Henry, who all either are expiring loans or are heading into option years.
Reyna and Henry are the two with options for next season, which makes their situations interesting, as they have both been rocks for the team this season. Usually, contract options do provide an increase in salary, but the question mark will be if that increase will be too much or not enough for what they will deserve, which may mean there will be some intense negotiations in store, as the Caps try to fit them in at what they find to be a good price. The Caps should be able to bring both of them back, but how they perform the rest of the season may also play a role in how much the team will be willing to throw down to get that done.
The loanees also presents an interesting storyline to monitor, as the team will need to figure out who is worth investing in long-term and who should be returned back. Some of the loans do have options to buy, which makes things easier, but some strong finishes from these players will make the Caps decision-making process a lot simpler, as they can retain these players with confidence, heading into the new year with a shortened shopping list. Godoy looks to be a lock to be purchased already, as he has been solid, but the play of wingers like Bangoura and Chirinos will be important to monitor, with the Caps already stretched enough at the position as is.
Bangoura has shown flashes but has been inconsistent, while it is still unclear what Chirinos will bring that Lucas Venuto didn’t, but if they can have a good couple of games, and the Caps can bring them in for cheap, it would be positive moves all around. Ardaiz looks likely to go, as no matter how good he plays he costs too much as a DP, but if he can play well and attract the attention of other teams, the Caps do have purchasing rights on him, meaning they can use that to possibly leverage something out of that.
So even though the Caps have struggled for much of this year, there are still some players and storylines to look forward to for the rest of the season. It’s no doubt that the Caps should have at least been in contention for the Canadian Championship at this point of the campaign, as well as been thick in the fight for the last playoff spot, but they’re not. Nothing can change that. But in a rebuilding campaign, as long as there is stuff to look forward to, it can be easier to stomach, and in the case of the Caps, they still have salvaged some hope heading into next year.
If next season remains a disaster, then maybe they’ll be a reason to put blinders on any sort of optimism, but for now, while there is still slight glimmers of it, may as well try to soak up as much of it as you can.