As the days quickly dwindle down to the start of the 2021 MLS season, the BTSVancity team (plus a special guest) sit down to do their yearly predictions roundtable, where they try to project the fortunes of both the Vancouver Whitecaps and MLS as a whole.
A new Major League Soccer season is finally upon us.
With it, comes new expectations, as all 27 MLS teams are about to enter a lengthy 34-game gauntlet, one from which they’ll hope to emerge on the other side in 1 of the 14 available playoff spots. From there, it’s a 4-round sprint to the final, where one champion will lift the MLS Cup as 2021 champions.
And while no one knows what the end of that road will look like, each team will have a certain sentiment heading into the start of this season, one which might slightly vary depending on the team in question.
Some teams will believe that they’re on the cusp of lifting silverware, while others will be content with just trying to make the dance itself, all depending on where they’re at in their building process.
For the Vancouver Whitecaps, they find themselves at an interesting crossroads, in particular. Having missed the playoffs 3 years in a row, they’ll be one of the teams who believe that this is now the year they return to the big dance, something they felt they were close to doing in 2020.
Buoyed by a roster consisting of a good group of returnee players and a few new arrivals, the Whitecaps are mostly happy with the state of their squad heading into the start of 2021, which will be the third season under head coach Marc Dos Santos.
So for them, the big question looms: will they be able to put two seasons of disappointment behind them in order to make the playoffs?
It’s too early to tell, but they’ve certainly got the potential to, putting their destiny in their own hands.
But while it may be too early to tell, it’s certainly never too early to predict either, even though this ‘Caps team is doing its best to make that exercise as difficult as possible.
That didn’t stop our panel, consisting of the BTSVancity team (plus a guest), from taking a stab at it, however.
Much like we did last year, here’s our 2021 Vancouver Whitecaps and Major League Soccer predictions, in which some of our team’s members take their best shot at making guesses about a league that has long proven itself to be the hardest to project in the world.
It may prove to be a foolish exercise from a pride standpoint, as several people will certainly be left ruing their choices in a few months, but that’s the beauty of this exercise, hence why we’ve made it a yearly tradition.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into things.
Part 1: Vancouver Whitecaps Predictions
To lead things off, we’ve got some Whitecaps predictions, ranging from a few individual award winners to some team projections.
Up first, we’ve got the ‘Caps MVP.
Alexandre Gangue-Ruzic: Maxime Crepeau
Beau Chevalier (BG Media): Cristian Dajome
Ben Steiner: Lucas Cavallini
Bryan Woodward: Caio Alexandre
Karim Winski: Maxime Crepeau
Keveren Guillou: Ali Adnan
A mixed bag of candidates reigned in the MVP discussion, as our 6 panellists had four different candidates between them.
Alex and Karim elected to go with the ‘Caps 2019 MVP, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who is looking to have a bounce-back year in 2021 after missing much of 2020 with a thumb injury. Keveren also elected to go with a former ‘Caps MVP, left back Ali Adnan, who won the award in 2020, while Ben elected to go with 2020 Golden Boot winner, Lucas Cavallini, as his MVP.
Elsewhere, Beau is electing to go with the underrated Colombian talisman, Cristian Dajome, as his pick, while Bryan was the lone person to bet on a newcomer as MVP, going for the ‘Caps silky new Brazilian #8, Caio Alexandre, as his choice.
Alex: Lucas Cavallini
Beau: Lucas Cavallini
Ben: Lucas Cavallini
Bryan: Lucas Cavallini
Karim: Lucas Cavallini
Keveren: Lucas Cavallini
Moving onto the Golden Boot award, there was a lot less debate about who would win this award, similar to last year, where all but 1 picked the Canadian #9.
As the all-time most expensive Vancouver Whitecaps signing, and the teams’ 2020 Golden Boot winner, Cavallini was an easy pick for this award, and he’ll look to reward everyone’s faith in him with an explosive season. Considering that he won this award despite not looking his best for most of last year, on top of the fact that he’s entering this 2021 season in good form, the panel expects him to find the net early and often in this campaign.
Newcomer of the Year:
Alex: Bruno Gaspar
Beau: Deiber Caicedo
Ben: Deiber Caicedo
Bryan: Caio Alexandre
Karim: Caio Alexandre
Keveren: Deiber Caicedo
But while there was no debate about the Golden Boot winner, the Newcomer of the Year award is where a decent split emerges among the factions. With only 6 new additions, this one was always going to be tight, especially considering that 3 of those signings were a pair of Draft Picks and a 3rd-string goalkeeper.
As a result, the picks varied among the 3 other signings, right back Bruno Gaspar, midfielder Caio Alexandre and winger Deiber Caicedo, who headline the ‘Caps arrivals as of writing. Among the panelists, Beau, Ben and Keveren elected to go with Caicedo, while Bryan and Karim decided to back Alexandre, leaving Alex as the lone person to select Gaspar. Of the 3 picks, Alexandre and Caicedo certainly offer the most potential as attacking pieces on a team desperate for them, but Gaspar could prove to be a dark horse piece due to his potential role tactically, making this a very tight selection to keep an eye on going forward.
Alex: Janio Bikel
Beau: Janio Bikel
Ben: Bruno Gaspar
Bryan: Janio Bikel and Patrick Metcalfe
Karim: Janio Bikel
Keveren: Bruno Gaspar
And as we move down the list, we see another split vote for Unsung hero, which is the trophy usually given to a player having the most underrated season.
For Alex, Beau, Bryan and Karim, that player will be Janio Bikel, which considering that the ‘Caps won 6 out of 10 games last year where he played in his natural position, isn’t the worst shout. Elsewhere, Ben and Keveren elected to go with the new arrival, Bruno Gaspar, as their shout for the player that will fly under the radar for the ‘Caps this season, and based on what we saw in the newcomer section, that could be a pretty good shout.
Lastly, Bryan also bucked the trend by selecting two, adding Patrick Metcalfe alongside Janio Bikel, which could prove to be a very interesting prediction to keep an eye on depending Metcalfe’s role in the team this season.
Alex: Michael Baldisimo
Beau: Theo Bair
Ben: Patrick Metcalfe
Bryan: Michael Baldisimo
Karim: Deiber Caicedo
Keveren: Theo Bair
Next, we go from looking at those who will do their business quietly to some who will make a lot of noise in 2021 — the breakout player of the year. There’s technically no requirement for this selection to be a young player, either, but the 18-23 age bracket dominates this section once again this year (although 26-year-old Jake Nerwinski did get a vote in 2020).
As for the selections themselves, Alex and Bryan elect to go for a midfielder by selecting Michael Baldisimo, something that Ben also emulates by selecting fellow midfielder, Patrick Metcalfe. On the other side of the equation, the others chose to go with some attackers, as Beau and Keveren backed Theo Bair, while Karim chose to go with the new arrival, Deiber Caicedo, as his pick.
Third Sub of the Year (most-used sub):
Alex: Patrick Metcalfe
Beau: Ryan Raposo
Ben: David Egbo
Bryan: David Egbo
Karim: Andy Rose
Keveren: Andy Rose
Lastly, for the individual awards, we have the Third Sub of the Year award, which is an award created by the Third Sub Podcast (find it wherever you get your podcasts!), dedicated to the player who makes both the most and biggest percentage of their appearances off of the bench.
For context, 2020 Super Draft pick Ryan Raposo was the runaway winner for that award in 2020, picking up a whopping 13 of his 15 appearances as a sub (it’s worth noting the ‘Caps played 23 games last year). This year, with the 5 substitution rule remaining in place once again in MLS, competition will probably be a bit more fierce this year for this award, as Dos Santos will likely have to turn to his bench a lot due to the nature of the schedule.
As for the predicted winners of this award, Beau is the lone person to back Raposo as a back-to-back winner, while Ben and Bryan elect to stay in a similar vein by picking 2021 Super Draft Pick David Egbo to supplant him. Elsewhere, Karim and Keveren decide to go more defensive, choosing centre back/midfielder Andy Rose, while Alex rounds off the list by going with midfielder Patrick Metcalfe, showing the split opinion for this trophy.
Voyageurs Cup (assuming there sort of is one?):
Alex: Whitecaps Finalist
Beau: Whitecaps win
Ben: TFC win
Bryan: Whitecaps win
Karim: Whitecaps finalist
Keveren: Whitecaps semi-finalists
Moving to the end of part 1 of predictions, we’ve then got Voyageurs Cup predictions, assuming that the tournament is played in some format in 2021, of course.
Having seen the ‘Caps only win this trophy once in nearly 20 years of its existence, Beau and Bryan are the only two to back them to double that number this year, while Alex and Karim both think they’ll come close, but just miss out by losing in the final. Keveren doesn’t believe they’ll even make it that far, having them getting knocked out in the semi-finals, while Ben completely left their status up in the air, backing Toronto FC to win it.
Alex: Ali Adnan will complete the 5/5/5 – 5 goals, 5 assists, 5 yellow cards
Beau: Theo Bair scores a hat trick vs the Houston Dynamo
Ben: Russell Teibert scores a goal
Bryan: ‘Caps don’t sign a #10 because Caio Alexandre makes him redundant
Karim: Lucas Cavallini takes off his shirt for a celebration
Keveren: Marc Dos Santos will get ejected from a match
And to round off part 1, we’ve got the wacky prediction, in which each person tried their best to get their crystal balls out, leaning into the obscure in the process. It’s worth noting that last year, Beau and Felix did the best in this section, as Beau predicted that the ‘Caps would start 5 homegrowns in a game (they did have 4 on a few occasions), while Felix predicted that Marc Dos Santos would use all 3 subs in every game (he mostly did, but was helped by the rule change to 5 subs during the pandemic).
Felix decided to sit this year’s predictions out, however, so Beau will be the lone one to try and protect his reign here, and he does so with the flaming take that he believes that Theo Bair will score a hat trick versus the Houston Dynamo. On a slightly less fire note, Ben believes that Russell Teibert will score a goal (something he’s only done in 2/10 seasons he’s played in MLS, to be fair), while Keveren believes that the usually calm Marc Dos Santos will get ejected from a match.
Elsewhere, Alex thinks that Ali Adnan will join the 5/5/5 club (5 goals, 5 assists, 5 yellow cards), while Karim feels that Lucas Cavallini might get a bit too excited after a goal, taking off his shirt in the process. Lastly, we’ve got Bryan, who makes the prediction that the ‘Caps won’t sign a #10 due to the play of Caio Alexandre, which is a claim that might hit quite close to home with a few ‘Caps supporters.
Part 2: Vancouver Whitecaps Over/Under
In part 2, we’ve got a few over/under questions, where each person was given a number, and they had to decide if the answer would be over, under or even.
To start, we’ve got a fascinating one — the Whitecaps point total.
Whitecaps get 45 points:
Understandably, most were bullish on the ‘Caps point total, as Bryan, Karim and Keveren all said the ‘Caps would finish below 45 points, while Beau and Ben were the lone two to go over with Alex rounding things off by selecting even.
It’s worth noting that if the ‘Caps maintained their points-per-game rate from 2020 over a 34 game season, they’d finish with 40 points, so with marginal improvement, they could easily finish in the over. As a result, this will definitely be one of the over/unders worth keeping an eye on as this year progresses, as this could come down to the wire.
Cavallini scores 15 goals:
But while opinion was split on the ‘Caps point total, everyone was less optimistic on Lucas Cavallini’s chances of scoring 15 goals, even despite all picking him as their Golden Boot winner. Not much of a shock here, as the ‘Caps have struggled to score goals in recent years, but this one could get interesting if Cavallini’s actual numbers start catching up to his underlying statistics.
Whitecaps keep 8 clean sheets:
Moving over to the defence, things once again became interesting, as there were some differing opinions on the ‘Caps defence, with Alex, Beau, Bryan and Keveren going for the under on the ‘Caps keeping 8 clean sheets, while Karim elected to go for the over, with Ben remaining an outlier by going for the even.
To be fair, the ‘Caps only kept 3 clean sheets in 23 games last year, so the under is an easy pick, but with the return of Maxime Crepeau to the lineup, among others, that could quickly change this season.
Ali Adnan gets 8 assists:
Returning to individual statistics, the ‘Caps co-leading assist man in 2020, Ali Adnan, continues to split opinion among the panel. Alex and Ben are bullish on his chances to get over 8 assists, but Beau, Bryan, Karim and Keveren disagree with them, electing to go for the under.
Worth noting that he picked up 5 assists in 22 games last year, which in a 34 game season, projects to 7.7 assists, so this one could go down to the wire depending on the quality of finishing around him. It’s a bold pick to suggest that a full back will get that many assists (and to be fair, it helps that they count secondary assists in MLS), but Adnan is far from your typical full back, and the split opinion here only reflects that.
Caio Alexandre gets 5 assists:
Moving to one of the new arrivals, Alexandre, the panel was unanimous concerning his potential impact, all going for the over on 5 assists. Considering the leading Whitecaps player only got 5 last year, it’s a bold take, but seeing Alexandre’s statistical profile and highlight reel, he has the potential to live up to that number.
Might it pay off? It’s way too early to tell, but optimism remains high surrounding his signing, as the panel shows.
Cristian Dajome has 10 combined goals/assists:
And then to round off the ‘Caps over/under section is Cristian Dajome, who put up a solid 3 goals and 4 assists in his debut MLS season in 2020, doing well despite the circumstances.
Over a full season, that’s around 4.5 goals 6 assists (10.5 goals+assists), and Alex, Beau, Bryan and Keveren back him to reach that, while Karim remains a little more skeptical, going for the under. Ben rounds off the group by going for the even, once again showing the slight split in opinion surrounding what Dajome might do in 2021.
Lastly, the panel went over a quick round of league-wide predictions, which knowing the nature of MLS, was probably the most difficult part of this exercise.
Here’s what they came up with, starting with their picks for the league’s MVP award.
Alex: Emanuel Reynoso
Beau: Carlos Vela
Ben: Nico Lodeiro
Bryan: Carlos Vela
Karim: Lucas Zelarayan
Keveren: Carlos Vela
Surprisingly, the opinion wasn’t very split here, as Beau, Bryan and Keveren all went with 2019 MVP, Carlos Vela, who they back to return to form for LAFC this year. Elsewhere, the choices differed slightly, however, as Alex elected to back Minnesota’s Emmanuel Reynoso, Ben went for Seattle’s Nico Lodeiro, while Karim went for reigning MLS Cup MVP, Columbus’s Lucas Zelarayan.
MLS Golden Boot:
Alex: Robert Beric
Beau: Alan Pulido
Ben: Raul Ruidiaz
Bryan: Josef Martinez
Karim: Diego Rossi
Keveren: Gyasi Zardes
But while the MVP race wasn’t that split, the Golden Boot race is wide open according to the panel, who selected 6 different names. Bryan and Karim elected to go for past Golden Boot winners, as Bryan went for 2018 Golden Boot winner, Josef Martinez, while Karim decided to go for 2020’s winner, Diego Rossi.
Elsewhere, Ben went for the ever-reliable Raul Ruidiaz, with Beau electing to go for the second-year Sporting KC star, Alan Pulido, who he’s backing for a breakout. Alex and Keveren decided to go a bit more obscure, picking Robert Beric and Gyasi Zardes, respectively, but considering the pair were tied for 2nd with Ruidiaz in the 2020 Golden Boot race behind Rossi, their picks could pay off.
MLS Standings and MLS Cup Finalists+Winner:
And to round off this last section, the panel went through their full standings for both conferences, before selecting their MLS Cup Finalists and eventual winner.
Here’s how they think the 2021 MLS season will play out.
Eastern Conference Standings:
|1||New England Revolution||Atlanta United||Columbus Crew||Atlanta United||Philadelphia Union||Philadelphia Union|
|2||Philadelphia Union||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Orlando City SC||Columbus Crew||Atlanta United|
|3||Columbus Crew||Columbus Crew||New England Revolution||Toronto FC||NYCFC||Columbus Crew|
|4||NYCFC||Philadelphia Union||Philadelphia Union||Columbus Crew||Orlando City SC||Toronto FC|
|5||Chicago Fire||New England Revolution||Toronto FC||Philadelphia Union||Atlanta United||Orlando City SC|
|6||Toronto FC||Toronto FC||Atlanta United||Chicago Fire||New England Revolution||Chicago Fire|
|7||Atlanta United||NYCFC||NYCFC||Nashville SC||Toronto FC||NYCFC|
|8||Orlando City SC||Chicago Fire||Nashville SC||New England Revolution||Chicago Fire||New England Revolution|
|9||Nashville SC||DC United||Inter Miami||CF Montreal||New York Red Bulls||New York Red Bulls|
|10||New York Red Bulls||Nashville SC||Chicago Fire||NYCFC||Inter Miami||CF Montreal|
|11||CF Montreal||New York Red Bulls||New York Red Bulls||DC United||Nashville SC||Nashville SC|
|12||FC Cincinnati||CF Montreal||DC United||Inter Miami||DC United||DC United|
|13||DC United||Inter Miami||FC Cincinnati||New York Red Bulls||CF Montreal||Inter Miami|
|14||Inter Miami||FC Cincinnati||CF Montreal||FC Cincinnati||FC Cincinnati||FC Cincinnati|
Western Conference Standings:
|1||Minnesota United||Minnesota United||LAFC||LAFC||LAFC||Seattle Sounders|
|2||Sporting KC||LAFC||Portland Timbers||Minnesota United||Portland Timbers||LAFC|
|3||Seattle Sounders||Sporting KC||Seattle Sounders||Seattle Sounders||Seattle Sounders||Portland Timbers|
|4||Colorado Rapids||Portland Timbers||Sporting KC||Sporting Kansas City||Sporting KC||Sporting KC|
|5||LAFC||Colorado Rapids||Minnesota United||Portland Timbers||Minnesota United||Minnesota United|
|6||Portland Timbers||Seattle Sounders||Colorado Rapids||Vancouver Whitecaps||Colorado Rapids||Colorado Rapids|
|7||San Jose Earthquakes||Vancouver Whitecaps||LA Galaxy||San Jose Earthquakes||LA Galaxy||Vancouver Whitecaps|
|8||FC Dallas||FC Dallas||Vancouver Whitecaps||Colorado Rapids||FC Dallas||LA Galaxy|
|9||Vancouver Whitecaps||San Jose Earthquakes||San Jose Earthquakes||LA Galaxy||Vancouver Whitecaps||FC Dallas|
|10||Houston Dynamo||Houston Dynamo||Austin FC||FC Dallas||San Jose Earthquakes||San Jose Earthquakes|
|11||Real Salt Lake||LA Galaxy||FC Dallas||Austin FC||Houston Dynamo||Austin FC|
|12||Austin FC||Austin FC||Houston Dynamo||Real Salt Lake||Austin FC||Houston Dynamo|
|13||LA Galaxy||Real Salt Lake||Real Salt Lake||Houston Dynamo||Real Salt Lake||Real Salt Lake|
MLS Cup Final (and champion)
Alex: Sporting KC vs New England Revolution (Sporting KC)
Beau: Minnesota United vs Atlanta United (Minnesota United)
Ben: LAFC vs New England Revolution (LAFC)
Bryan: Minnesota United vs Atlanta United (Minnesota United)
Karim: Portland Timbers vs Philadelphia Union (Philadelphia Union)
Keveren: Seattle Sounders vs Philadelphia Union (Seattle Sounders)
After the team went 0/12 on MLS Cup finalists last year, they’ll be hoping their luck changes this year, and considering how mixed the picks are across the board, surely someone will be right this year. In the West, only Minnesota (Beau, Bryan) were picked twice as finalists, with Sporting KC (Alex), LAFC (Ben), Portland Timbers (Karim) and Seattle Sounders (Keveren) rounding off the choices there. Over in the East, opinion was slightly less split, with Atlanta United (Beau, Bryan), New England Revolution (Alex, Ben) and Philadelphia Union (Karim, Keveren) all earning 2 nods apiece. As for the eventual champion, they’ve got 5 different winners, with Minnesota United (Beau, Bryan), Sporting KC (Alex), LAFC (Ben), Philadelphia Union (Karim) and Seattle Sounders (Keveren) all emerging as the panel’s MLS Cup picks.
All in all, this was a very interesting exercise to undertake, one that certainly will be fun to return back to and look at after the end of this season.
With the beauty of MLS being the unpredictable nature of the league, that makes this sort of adventure extra fun, especially when looking back.
So much as we did last year, we’ll definitely have to return and look at these in the future, seeing if anyone will be able to do what’s nearly impossible in MLS — predict the unpredictable.
Big thanks to Beau Chevalier of BG Media for joining us for this year’s predictions once again.
You can find Alex (@AlexGangueRuzic), Beau (@beauchevalier_), Ben (@BenSteiner00) and Keveren (@keverenguillou) on Twitter. You can also find Beau (@shotby.beau) and Keveren (@kevereng) on Instagram.
Season Opener: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Sunday, April 18th, 2021, 19:00 PDT/22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)