Less than 1/2 of the Whitecaps’ first team is in training, shrouding the identity of what the Vancouver Whitecaps might be this season.

Article content

The Vancouver Whitecaps will head to Sandy, Utah, next week with a whole lot of luggage and even more questions.

The Caps are three weeks into training camp, and yet to play a competitive training match with a full squad. Mid-week, there were only seven first-team players available to coach Marc Dos Santos, who could barely cobble together a first-team 11 with the players who aren’t either quarantining, awaiting visa clearance, or away with the national team.

“It’s been the most challenging pre-season (for me) until now, just because we were talking about 13 players that are not here right now with us. And if I think about still one of the positions that we want to get, it’s 14 spots that are not here in training camp,” he said, referring to the elusive attacking No. 10 midfielder hole they have desperately been trying to fill.


Tuesday, April 6 (pre-season)

Real Monarchs vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Zions Bank Training Centre (Herriman, Utah)

“Fifteen of the 22 players in training are U19 or U23. We are working more with our academy players than are our first-team players. So is that ideal for preparation? No, absolutely not. The exciting part is refreshing when we’re going to arrive at Salt Lake and the group finally is going to come more and more together.

“The rhythm of training and the intensity of training, I feel is always very high. The effort and the commitment and professionalism of everyone is always very good, but in moments, the quality of some exercises is like a roller coaster. Sometimes we lack fluidity, of combinations still, because it’s all a new group.

“I’m looking forward as a coach just to get to the point when all the rosters gonna be together, working together and not this is not soon, unfortunately.”


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The Caps are scheduled to leave for Salt Lake next Friday, though an advance team arrived in Salt Lake this weekend to begin the preparation for the move there. Vancouver will be in Utah indefinitely due to the border restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All eight Canadian players who are with the U23 and senior men’s national team should be back with the club ahead of an April 6 pre-season game with Real Salt Lake’s USL Championship side, the Monarchs.

New signees Caio Alexandre and Bruno Gaspar are still in immigration limbo, but the two SuperDraft picks — striker David Egbo and right back Javain Brown — will join the team in Utah.

A week after arriving in Utah, the Caps will fly to Chicago to take on the Fire in their first MLS-level pre-season game on April 10, though a split squad will play a second game against USL side Indy Eleven following the first match.

After that, it’s back to Utah in preparation for the regular-season opener against the Portland Timbers on April 18.

Portland was the Caps’ home away from home last year, but the club should feel right at home at Rio Tinto Stadium. They swept RSL last year, including a 2-1 victory on Real’s home turf.

But training and playing at 1,500 metres above sea level is going to take some getting used to.

“I know every time I go there, the first half I’m sucking a lot of wind,” right back Jake Nerwinski said with a smile.

“It’s very difficult to play there. Us being there … training there every day, playing there, we’re definitely going to have an advantage. We want to be a fit team this year, I know Axel (Schuster) said that, I know Marc has said that, and that’s what we want to put an emphasis on. We want to be this fit team that doesn’t stop running, doesn’t stop pressing for 90 minutes. So I think being in altitude getting used to that, I think it’s definitely gonna help us.”


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

For goalkeepers, there’s more to it than fitness. It was against RSL at the Rio last season that Thomas Hasal was hurt after he misplayed a corner kick. In the scramble to recover the dropped ball, he took a boot to the back of the head from Kyle Beckerman. The resulting concussion kept him out for the remainder of the year.

“The last game I played last season was in Salt Lake. I noticing just the altitude makes the ball move a little bit quicker. So for us it’s staying sharp, seeing the ball,” he said. “I know in the warm up it was, ‘OK, let’s get used to the ball, how does it travel on crossed balls? How does it travel on volleys? How does it travel off the foot? All of these. So as being down there, I think it’ll be really cool experience and it’ll be a new way to learn how the ball moves in high altitudes, and getting used to it.”

One player who won’t have to make the adjustment is centre back Jasser Khmiri. The long-legged Tunisian international who came to the Whitecaps with a solid pedigree and huge potential was loaned out to USL Championship squad San Antonio FC.

The 23-year-old had off-season knee surgery before joining the Caps in 2019, and didn’t make his MLS debut until the second-last game of the season, when he had 19 clearances and kept Zlatan Ibrahimovic in check (mostly) in a 4-3 victory. He started the first five games of 2020 before reinjuring his left knee. Khmiri didn’t play again that year.

The move not only gives Khmiri a chance to play again, as he was behind Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic and Derek Cornelius on the depth chart, it also clears an international spot and a roster spot for another player — the aforementioned No. 10.

“This is an important year for Jasser to earn regular minutes and continue his development as a player,” Dos Santos said in a news release. “Based on our evaluation of our roster and San Antonio’s interest in having him on loan, we feel that it is a great opportunity for Jasser to show his qualities.”




Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here