A large question looms as the Vancouver Whitecaps prepare to start the 2022 Major League Soccer season – will top striker Brian White be fit to take the field?
White travelled to Ohio with his teammates for Saturday’s season opener against Columbus Crew SC, but hasn’t trained since he was stepped on in training and suffered a foot contusion earlier this week.
“We’ll see if he’s going to be able to participate in the game, but we’ll test him [on Friday],” head coach Vanni Sartini said Thursday.
Not having the 26-year-old American forward available would be a blow to the Whitecaps as they try to kick off the 2022 campaign on a high.
Traded to Vancouver from the New York Red Bulls in June, White led the team in scoring last season, putting up 12 goals and five assists in 27 appearances and helping the club secure its first playoff spot in four years.
The Whitecaps struggled though the middle part of the season, but finished on a high, going 7-2-5 after Sartini took over as interim coach in late August and finished sixth in the West with a full-season record of 12-9-13.
The Whitecaps lost 3-1 to Sporting Kansas City in a first-round playoff matchup and Sartini has been waiting for the new season to start ever since.
“That’s the reason we do this job, we want to play this game,” said the coach, who dropped the interim tag in November after signing on to lead the club through 2023.
Columbus is coming off a disappointing 2021. The Crew came in as the defending MLS Cup champions but finished ninth in the East with a 13-13-8 record, missing the playoffs.
Head coach Caleb Porter said he’s “very confident” his team will have a better track record this season.
“We’ve just got to ride through the ups and downs,” he said. “It’s game one right now. That’s it. That’s all our mindset’s on, this first game and getting those first three points in our home stadium and putting a marker down that this is going to be a fortress this year.”
The Whitecaps know they’ll face some tough competition to start, Sartini said.
“[Columbus is] a very good team. They have quality, especially the front four, I would say, they’re really good,” he said, naming Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Berry as potential threats.
The key for the Whitecaps is sticking to the game plan no matter who else is on the field, said defender Jake Nerwinski.
“I think if we go out and do what we need to do then everything else will fall into place. I don’t think we need to worry about [Columbus] too much as long as we carry out what we need to individual roles and team wise, we’ll be fine,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone’s looking at who the opponent necessarily is, we’re just excited to get back on the field again. And if we have a chance to steal points on an away season opener, that’s even better.”
Road games were a mixed bag for the Whitecaps last season, with the team registering a 2-5-10 away record.
The Whitecaps also started the 2021 campaign based out of Sandy, Utah, due to pandemic border restrictions, so the club’s first eight “home” games of the year were played at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium, resulting in a 3-3-2 record. Once the team finally got back to Vancouver, it dominated at B.C. Place, going 7-1-1.
Heading into 2022, the triumphs and lessons of last year still linger for a Whitecaps roster that’s largely been kept intact, said veteran midfielder Russell Teibert.
“We’re trying to build off all the feeling that we had, all the success that we had, the atmosphere, the bond we had with the fans, the organization. It was such an incredible run that we had at the end of the season,” he said. “But that’s in the past now. We want to start this season off right where we left off.”