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Two months after his team was eliminated from Major League Soccer playoffs, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini is looking forward rather than back ahead of the new season.

Sartini first took over as the Whitecaps’ interim coach in 2021 and recently signed a new contract through to 2025.

“Try to improve as a team, try to have more special nights from last year,” he said before the Vancouver club headed to Marbella, Spain, for a preseason training camp.

“It would be easy to say try to win MLS Cup but the most important thing we have to do is improve ourselves.”

That, Sartini said, comes from maintaining momentum for the coming season.

The club broke its MLS attendance record in the final playoff match with a crowd of 30,204 fans at BC Place

“The more people we can bring to the stadium, the more people that support us, the easier it becomes to reach our objectives,” Sartini said.

Vancouver improving its playing performance, combined with an increased home crowd, boosts its ability to attract prospective players, he added.

Defender Tristan Blackmon agreed with his head coach’s assessment.

“I think there’s always pieces that move around trough the off-season and the beginning of the year and we know we have a solid core and it’s finding the right pieces to add to the project we’re trying to build,” he said.

The Whitecaps finished sixth in the 2023 Western Conference standings, up from ninth place the year before, and scored 14 more goals.

Those goals largely came from the duo of striker Brian White and attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld.

White had 15 goals and five assists while Gauld had 11 and 12 respectively.

“We’re all wanting to do better than last year. No matter what happens in terms of names and faces coming and going, we’re going to be competitive,” Gauld said.

The rest of the team combined for 25 goals and 29 assists in regular-season play.

Gauld is in the last year of his contract and said he and the club are in discussions about a future deal.

Sartini acknowledged the pair had, without a doubt, their best MLS seasons and there needs to be a focus on ensuring the load of attacking chances don’t fall fully on their shoulders.

“We cannot rely on them too much,” he said.

The futures of forward Simon Becher and long-time midfielder Russell Teibert remain unclear.

Becher has been linked with a move away while the team declined a contract option for Teibert, with the experienced midfielder considering a non-playing role with the team.

Canadian international Richie Laryea, who signed on loan from Nottingham Forest in August, has not signed with the team, with Sartini saying he did not want to say too much about the contract situation at the time.

“When Richie came last year, five days before he actually signed, we never talked about Richie coming here,” Sartini said. “At the moment, he’s a Nottingham Forest player. It’s not our player, it’s not our decision.”

The Italian manager said his club is looking to bring in two or three players by the time MLS regular season action rolls around, having already signed veteran Damir Kreilach.

The greatest off-season drama so far has been Sartini’s six-game suspension and US$20,000 punishment from MLS for his comments and behaviour in the Whitecaps’ playoff elimination to Los Angeles FC on Nov. 5.

Sartini called referee Tim Ford’s performance “disgraceful” and made a joke about being a suspect if Ford was found dead after the loss to Los Angeles FC on Nov. 5 at BC Place Stadium.

In the 95th minute, Sartini was shown a red card and dismissed from the game by match officials.

Sartini, who has repeatedly apologized for his behaviour and vowed to change moving forward, was also ordered to complete a league-approved behavioural assessment.

The club’s home-opener will be held on March 2, when it hosts Charlotte FC, which Sartini will miss.

Vancouver will take part in the Leagues Cup, which runs from July 26 to Aug. 25, 2024 as well as the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

The Champions Cup match will take place on Feb. 7 at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., because of a scheduling conflict at BC Place, with Vancouver hosting Mexican club Tigres UANL in the first round of the 27-team competition.

The first leg will take place on Vancouver Island before a second leg at Estadio Universitario in San Nicolás de los Garza, Mexico, on Feb. 14.

Vancouver entered the competition having beaten CF Montreal to win the Canadian Championship.

“It affects the way that we work. Instead of building a linear progression … we’ll have to build the progression in two different ways,” Sartini said. “The reason we have this game is not a punishment, it’s a prize.”

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