The Vancouver Whitecaps are hopeful that a fresh approach will lead to improved results as their 2020 training camp kicked off Monday at the National Soccer Development Centre on Monday.
The Whitecaps are looking to improve on their 8-16-10 record from 2019, which saw them finish last in the Western Conference.
“We don’t want to look too much in the rear-view mirror. We want to look through the windshield,” said midfielder Russell Teibert, who has been with the club since it joined Major League Soccer in 2011.
“It’s a new decade and that’s super exciting,” he added. “I’ve been wearing this badge year after year and I still get that excitement coming back into work.
“Not many people know how far this club has come over that period. We’re still growing, but I can tell you this is a real exciting time for this club, for fans, for players, for staff, for the entire organization.”
Starting his second season with the Whitecaps, head coach Marc Dos Santos believes his team’s foundation is much more solid this year.
“You can’t compare,” he said. “With all due respect to everyone that was here, we had kids in pre-season (in 2019), 15 years old. I think 60 per cent of the roster were our academy.
“I’m excited if I compare with Day 1 of pre-season last year. It was very, very different, just because of the age, us not having players signed. We had a lot of our players arriving five days before our first game against Minnesota last year. We’re not in the same spot and it’s going to help us in the medium and long term.”
The list of new faces is headlined by Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini. The brawny 27-year-old, who’s known as ‘El Tanque’ (The Tank), signed a three-year deal after being acquired from Mexican side Club Puebla in December for a club-record transfer fee.
“He has the profile that I believe a No. 9 should have in what modern soccer is today,” Dos Santos said. “He’s very aggressive without the ball, his workrate is great. It’s a player that I’ve wanted here for a while.”
Teibert played on the same club team as Cavallini when the two were kids, as well as on the Canadian national team.
“You guys see his physical stature, he’s a machine,” Teibert said. “I think the biggest thing besides the goal scoring is the presence that he has when we’re defending. I’ve never seen a striker that likes to slide-tackle centre backs and defenders as much as he does.
“He’s such a workhorse. It’s great to have a guy like that.”
Cavallini, 27, returns to Canada after 11 years of living and playing abroad.
“I come home as a man, I left as a boy,” he said. “I’m really happy to be back and anxious to get started.”
Also new to the Whitecaps this season are winger Cristian Dajome, defender Cristian Gutierrez and MLS SuperDraft selections Ryan Raposo and Daniel Gagliardi.
Dajome, 26, was acquired from Bogota FC via transfer last Friday. One day earlier, Canadian-born left back Gutierrez, 22, was acquired by a free transfer from the Chilean first division side Colo-Colo.
Like Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, Gutierrez, 22, was born in Greenfield Park, Quebec. He moved to Chile when he was three and grew up in the Colo-Colo youth system.
Gutierrez is now in Vancouver, but flight delays prevented him from joining his new teammates on the pitch on Monday. Dajome’s visa is expected to be sorted out in time for him to join the club for its first pre-season games, which begin this Friday in San Diego.
Midfielder Raposo, 20, was born in Hamilton and played as a Canadian youth national team player. The sophomore from Syracuse University was selected fourth overall in the SuperDraft
Goalkeeper Gagliardi, 22, was selected 32nd overall. Dos Santos has indicated that he’ll get the opportunity to challenge for the backup position behind Crepeau.
The Whitecaps also made a major off-season change in their front office, hiring Axel Schuster in November as their new sporting director after Bob Lenarduzzi moved to a club liaison position when his position as president was eliminated by the organization in August.
Schuster joined the Whitecaps after more than 20 years as an executive with Bundesliga teams in Germany. His organizational philosophy is built around four cornerstones: team spirit, work ethic, discipline and mentality.
“I think that should be the cornerstones for everything we do every day,” Schuster said. “If we are good on that, then I’m really optimistic that we are already in a good way.”
Schuster has indicated that he’s hoping to make one more signing this week. The club is also hoping to re-sign defender Erik Godoy, who spent last season with the Whitecaps on loan from Club Atletico Colon in Argentina.
The new-look squad will open the 2020 regular season on February 29 against Sporting Kansas City, at BC Place.