Well, the Whitecaps have once again failed to win a playoff game. Of course, there are some ways that this one was different from previous failures. For starters, the Whitecaps were pretty unlucky to be playing LAFC in the first round at all. If the xG table were the actual table, the Whitecaps would have had the home-field advantage against F.C Dallas, a matchup you’d probably back them to win over a three-game series. Instead, thanks to some bad luck by both teams, the ‘Caps found themselves without home-field advantage against the team that is still the best in the West, regardless of what the table might say. But all of that is a little bit academic. We all might feel a bit better if the Whitecaps had lost in the second round rather than the first but the point is they were going to come up against an opponent of this calibre eventually. As we saw, regardless of what you want to say about the officiating, the Whitecaps just aren’t quite that good. At least not yet!
Conversely, the gap between the Whitecaps and those few elite teams is a lot smaller than it’s been in quite some time, maybe ever. It’s certainly the most enjoyable football to watch we’ve seen in the MLS era. There’s every reason to believe that a contender can be built on this. But, the window to build that genuine contender is small. Most research on age-based decline shows players peaking from approximately age 23-27 with a slow decline thereafter. Look at the ages of Vancouver’s core Players, Ryan Gauld (27), Andres Cubas (27), Sam Adekugbe (28), Tristan Blackmon (27), Brian White (27), and maybe Richie Lareya (28). There are younger players who play key roles, Pedro Vite (21), Ali Ahmed (23), and Ranko Veselinovic (24), but I think there’s a good chance you’re going to receive offers you can’t refuse for at least one or two of these guys in the off-season. So, if the Whitecaps are going to win a major trophy (amongst which I personally count the CONCACAF Champions League, Supporter’s Shield, and of course MLS Cup) 2024 is probably going to be the year to do it.
So, this being the case, 2024 is the year to go all in. They have already traded their first-round pick in 2024 to get the rights to Sergio Cordova (lol) but if there are other opportunities to trade futures for help now, they should do it. When making major additions, they should be going primarily for proven, low-risk players as opposed to slightly riskier punts you might take in a re-building phase. They’ll also have to be ruthless. There are very few Whitecaps players who are actively bad at this point. To make upgrades, you’re going to have to replace players who aren’t necessarily doing badly with players who are just on another level.
It’s too early to talk about specific additions, in my opinion. We don’t know which players might be sold (for the first time in a while the Whitecaps have a lot of players you could imagine other teams wanting!). We also don’t know if the MLS rules might change in a way that, by total coincidence, really helps Inter Miami’s project out. We don’t know what it might take to keep Richie Lareya around (I still think making him a DP would be a bad idea, even with a short-term approach). But, whatever moves they do make should be evaluated through the prism of trying to win in 2024.
Of course, going all in can seem romantic and exciting. To an extent, it is! It’s cool that the Whitecaps are in a position to do that. But we shouldn’t forget the other side of going all in if you screw it up you lose all of your money. If 2024 isn’t a success, it’s probably time for a re-tool at the very least. That’s not to say that you blow everything up and sell Gauld and Cubas. But there would have to be an attempt to get younger and start a new cycle. This means, by the way, that 2024 is also a very important year for WFC2. If the next White, Blackmon, and Adekugbe are coming through in-house, that makes the transition to the next cycle a lot easier.
In conclusion, the Whitecaps’ future is exciting, but it’s also very finely balanced. The 2024 CONCACAF Champions League kicks off February 6th so it’s a fairly short turnaround before we’re back at it. All in!