Continuity is the buzzword as Vancouver Whitecaps FC open preseason, just under six weeks until their 2022 campaign begins with a Feb. 26 trip to the Columbus Crew’s Field.

The interim tag is removed from head coach Vanni Sartini’s title after his 7W-2L-5D record in 2021 sparked an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs return following Marc Dos Santos’ dismissal in late August. The roster also looks largely the same, with fullback Bruno Gaspar the only true departure after his loan from Sporting CP expired and negotiations didn’t pan out. Central midfielder Janio Bikel is expected to exit soon also, CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster noted at training Monday, with Italian Serie B club Vicenza reported as his destination.

Otherwise, Vancouver’s running it back with confidence they can replicate last year’s successes.

“I always say, if you do too many changes there’s always the danger that you make things risky, at least for [the] first moment,” Schuster said. “We see that players need time to adapt to this league and now we have a good core group that has proven that they have adapted to the league, that they can perform at a high level, that they can help us to get results. So let us continue with them.”

That shows in Vancouver’s only newcomer (so far) being defender Tristan Blackmon, acquired via an Expansion Draft trade with Charlotte FC after his selection from LAFC. Otherwise, those like attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld and striker Brian White – key midseason acquisitions from 2021 – are fully acclimated and rearing to reignite their chemistry.

U22 Initiative signing and highly-touted Ecuador youth international Pedro Vite is nearing his long-awaited debut, and Brazilian midfielder ​​Caio Alexandre is returning from a metatarsal fracture in his left foot. Another U22 Initiative signing, Colombian youth international Deiber Caicedo, is emerging from a strong first season, and Serbian international center back Ranko Veselinovic is established within the side.

The list goes on with goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau a big part of Canada’s push for a Qatar 2022 World Cup spot, Jamaican international fullback Javain Brown a rising talent, Colombian attacker Cristian Dajome looking to build upon a 10g/5a season and homegrown striker Theo Bair back from a loan in Norway's first division.

After several years in flux, Vancouver’s troops have reached a stabilizing point.

“We think we are in a better place than we have been already in the second half of last season,” Schuster said, “and we also see a lot of flexibility that we still have to add other players without being or feeling rushed into doing something.”

The biggest questions surround striker Lucas Cavallini, one of two Designated Players alongside Gauld and Vancouver’s club-record transfer who arrived ahead of the 2020 campaign from Liga MX side Puebla. The Canadian international No. 9 dealt with injuries last year, and White became Sartini’s preferred starting striker after a midseason trade with the New York Red Bulls.

That’s ignited reports of renewed interest from Liga MX, though Schuster said they’re not looking to sell the 29-year-old and he’s “not convinced” by any offer. Sartini noted the forward remains in his plans, too.

“As I said a few days ago, we expect Lucas to come back stronger and better than he has been in the second half of last season,” Schuster said. “I think that he was a very impactful and important player in the first half before he went to the Gold Cup.”

However that situation unfolds, perhaps the biggest leveler for Vancouver is the expectation of playing a full season at BC Place. The 2020 season included home games at Portland’s Providence Park due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 2021 required nearly a half-season of home games at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium. In both instances, Canada-US border travel and quarantine periods were a major concern.

Now, anticipating a full 17 regular-season home slate in British Columbia, the Whitecaps aren’t facing as many complications.

“I would say that’s probably the most important, that we are home and we can stay here and even when the season starts we will be here at home. That will be good,” Sartini said. “Even for the preseason, I think with all the things that are happening now with this COVID disruption and everything, the choice that we made to stay the first couple of weeks here at home, it’s going to give us the possibility to prepare very well and lay the foundation to start the season as best as we can.”

What could that all lead to in 2022? Gauld didn’t make any bold proclamations when asked, aside from highlighting a desire to host a home playoff game. Last year, they fell in Round One at Sporting Kansas City despite carrying a six-game unbeaten streak into the postseason.

Sartini kept a narrow view, too, acknowledging the parity-filled nature of MLS. As the Italian manager knows well, a club’s fortunes can change quickly.

“It’s very hard in MLS to say the goal because the league is so tight from the first position to the last position that I think the team that arrived first last year can arrive last and the team that arrived last last year can arrive first,” Sartini said. “It doesn’t happen in any other league. So I think the objective for us is to really keep trying to improve and keep playing better. Then week by week trying to make as many points as possible. If we do this, we’ll be happy at the end of the season for sure.”