An expansion season isn’t something that comes easy to most teams, and Vancouver FC is no exception.
While the likes of LAFC and St. Louis City have hit the ground running as MLS franchises, their quick routes to success look like outliers more than a legitimate expectation expansion teams should have for themselves. Something similar can be said for the Canadian Premier League as a whole, which really only began to hit its stride in its third season.
Despite their lofty aspirations to hit the ground running as a premier team in the CPL, this season for Vancouver FC has been far from plain sailing. With the Vancouver Whitecaps in the same market and their limited on-pitch success, it has been difficult to convince lower mainland soccer supporters to change allegiances and give the new team their full support, especially with the Whitecaps playing well.
Importantly, Vancouver FC has been blown out on multiple occasions at home, with noticeably thin crowds at the Willoughby Community Park Stadium in Langley. Last weekend’s defeat to the new league-leaders Cavalry FC was another tough pill to swallow for Vancouver FC, who went down to 10 men after just six minutes, as Pele Martinez brought down Myer Bevan and was shown a straight red card. The game finished 5-1 to the visitors, as Cavalry’s Ali Musse took all the plaudits for an incredible individual performance.
With poor home form and dwindling support, the question is, can Vancouver FC save their inaugural season with their recent in-season roster moves? That is certainly what they are trying to do.
New Faces for Vancouver FC
One of those key mid-season additions is Alejandro Díaz, who scored Vancouver’s only goal in the blowout loss to Cavalry. The Mexican striker has returned on loan to British Colombia having left Pacific FC a year ago for Norway. Diaz will be tasked with boosting the CPL’s second-worst attacking side, who have scored more than once on only four occasions this season. Despite Díaz leaving the Tridents mid-season last year, he still finished as top scorer in the CPL, and has immediately shown that his eye for goal hasn’t left him, with two goals in his first two games for the team. He looks set to form a great partnership with Vancouver’s current top scorer, Shaan Hundal. Hundal uses his pace and work rate to expose gaps in defences, and now he has another goal-scorer in the final third to combine with.
To help provide service, the signing of Mikaël Cantave has replaced the failed, and now departed, Gael Sandoval. This also takes pressure off Gabriel Bitar, who will no longer have to be the sole creator in the midfield. A little further back in the two-man pivot, you have fellow newcomer Renan Garcia. The 37-year-old Brazilian brings a wealth of experience, and finally, Elliot Simmons has a real central midfielder alongside him. Garcia is incredibly good on the ball, as evidenced by his assist on Díaz’s first goal of the season in Ottawa.
With these additions, Vancouver should be a much more exciting side going forward. Vancouver has relied on youth all season, but they are now complimenting their young players with some experience that fits the current weaknesses in their roster. Sometimes, the only way to discover the weakness in a squad is to play matches, and this is something Vancouver has discovered the hard way. If all goes to plan, these additions will help with the development of young local players, like James Cameron and T.J. Tahid, which is crucial for the club’s long-term aspirations.
What will we see on game day?
Defensively, there is still work to do. Goalkeeper Callum Irving, team captain, brings a wealth of CPL experience to his hometown side, but there is still a lot of inexperience across the rest of the defence. At 23 years of age, Rocco Romeo is the “experienced head” most weeks, and though he has played well, a more experienced player alongside him may help this team organise themselves better, and be more consistent in the league.
Given their recent additions, Vancouver FC should be able to score goals, but every match might end 4-3. The combination of Díaz and Hundal is tantalizing, and they have a host of technical midfielders who can help provide service. For Díaz, he will be looking to add to his 28 career goals in the Canadian Premier League. At the moment, he is the league’s third all-time leading scorer, one goal behind Easton Ongaro (his replacement at Pacific FC), and nine behind Terran Campbell of Forge FC.
Coach Afshin Ghotbi has a wealth of international and top-level club coaching experience, and he and his team continue to voice their determination to reach a playoff spot this season. It may seem far off at the moment, but the CPL can be unpredictable, and this team is definitely trending in the right direction with the additions they have made. Will the crowds follow? It remains to be seen.
(Image Credit: CPL)