While Vancouver Whitecaps FC fell just short of the playoffs for the fourth time in their last five seasons, the club believe they can take plenty of positives from 2020.
The year brought hurdles to all MLS clubs and the Whitecaps had more of their fair share. They were without a number of players at the MLS is Back Tournament, had an injury crisis that saw the team play a match without a backup goalkeeper then spent the last two months of the season living and playing their "home" games in Portland.
Despite failing to make the playoffs, they feel they made strides. The Whitecaps can point to the fact that the team improved their final standing year-over-year as well as encouraging signs from a number of their key winter signings, like club-record transfer Lucas Cavallini, as well as homegrowns, like Thomas Hasal and Michael Baldisimo.
WATCH: MDS & Schuster presser
“From the very beginning, I said don’t expect magic things," sporting director and CEO Axel Schuster said on a virtual press conference Thursday. "We want to build and develop step-by-step. We had a big turnaround last winter, after a big turnaround before 2019. I asked all the players after the last game: Does anybody here believe we’re able to make the playoffs next year with the same group? Everybody agreed: No question. We are pissed. We wanted to go to the playoffs, we think we’re good enough."
They plan to get there with just a few key additions, rather than the offseason rebuilds that seemingly became an annual occurrence in Vancouver.
The big addition the Whitecaps have been consistent in their desires is an attack-minded central midfielder with that final Designated Player slot. Since the day Inbeom Hwang transferred to Rubin Kazan, the club have been public in asserting the slot will go to a player who can add more goals and assists from the midfield.
“If we think about player acquisition, we’re really clear that we need a link between our forwards and defensive play," Schuster said. "We’re looking for this one difference-maker, one leader in the pitch to be a DP. A player who attacks the goal, has assists and goals and is very good in possession."
Schuster added the club will bring in a left-footed winger as well as another versatile attacker. He didn't provide a timeline for any acquisition, pointing to the fact they feel good about this group of players and don't want to rush early in the offseason.
"We have an open DP slot, we have TAM and GAM, we’re able to do all of this," Schuster said of the club's flexibility. "But we don’t feel rushed to do anything today, tomorrow — we want to add the exact right pieces. That means they fit our profile and find players who come for the right reasons with great character.
“We want to keep our eyes open, we don’t want to miss a chance that comes later," he added. "We don’t want to do everything in two or three weeks. In January, the European market opens. And I see a very fragile European market right now. We want to keep things flexible and open.”
The Whitecaps still need to announce their end of season roster decisions, a process they're still working through now as the staff continues to analyze the squad. Given the club made 14 additions in the winter, don't expect too much change this time around.
WATCH: Cavallini & Teibert presser
Vancouver will be allowing winger David Milinkovic to leave, Schuster said. Milinkovic was on loan but his purchase option (reported to be $100,000) automatically triggered during the year, but a mutual decision has been reached between club and player that will allow Milinkovic depart for free elsewhere where he may find more playing time.
Schuster also added he and Fredy Montero's agent have had positive conversations. No decision has been made about the forward's future. Montero had five goals and five assists in 16 appearances, starting 11 of the club's final 13 games after being used sparingly early in the season.
“The positive (of 2020) is we did a few good steps, with sustainability," Schuster said. "I don’t see any reason why we’d have a setback next year. Even if we left everything as it is, we’d become a better team next year. … The other positive is we know exactly what we need, what improvements we want to add to this group to become better.”