Major League Soccer

Vancouver Whitecaps 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
VWFC are looking to build on a strong 2021 season. | Image: Matthew Burt.
VWFC are looking to build on a strong 2021 season. | Image: Matthew Burt. /

After finally ending their long MLS Cup Playoffs absence, the Vancouver Whitecaps are looking to build in 2022.

The mid-season arrival of Vanni Sartini to replace Marc Dos Santos in the dugout inspired Vancouver, who eventually climbed to sixth in the Western Conference, finally making the post-season for the first time since 2017.

A platform is now in place and supporters will be expecting even more growth this year.

So, here's everything you need to know about the Vancouver Whitecaps ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did Vancouver Whitecaps perform in 2021?

Vancouver lost seven of their first 12 games at the start of the regular season and things were starting to look pretty bleak. Then the 'Caps came from behind to beat the LA Galaxy 2-1 in July, marking the start of a run that saw them lose just two of their final 22 games of the season. Returning to BC Place in early August certainly helped.

There were a few too many draws, at least until Sartini took over in late August, replacing Dos Santos. But being hard to beat and having big difference-makers in the final third was enough to get the 'Caps over the line. A Round One match away at Sporting Kansas City proved a mountain too big to climb in the Playoffs. But making it that far is a real sign of progress for Vancouver.

Vancouver Whitecaps transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Tristan Blackmon (from Charlotte FC, $475k)
  • Sebastian Berhalter (from Columbus Crew, $50k)
  • Simon Becher (SuperDraft)
  • Luis Felipe Fernandez Salvador (SuperDraft)

Transfers out

  • Maxime Crepeau (to LAFC, $1m)
  • Theo Bair (to St Johnstone, undisc.)
  • Janio Bikel (to LR Vicenza, loan)
  • Evan Newton (to El Paso, loan)
  • Andy Rose (retired)
  • Jasser Khmiri (released)
  • Tosaint Ricketts (released)
  • Patrick Metcalfe (released)

Vanni Sartini: Tactics and style of play

With Sartini only in charge for the final few months of the 2021 season, it's still pretty tough to get a real indication of what the 'Caps are about under him. But, on the whole, he's gone for a 3-4-1-2 system.

Width is provided by driving wing-backs, while the excellent Ryan Gauld operates between the lines, feeding the impressive Brian White. He's also great at making late runs into the box himself. Gauld is protected by two holding midfielders and three center-backs who excel in ball-winning. Vancouver are incredibly tough to play through, meaning the opposition has to be smart about how they create chances, but there are often spaces behind the backline and they can be out-manoeuvred in the midfield at times.

Vancouver Whitecaps predicted XI (3-4-1-2): Hasal; Blackmon, Veselinovic, Jungwirth; Brown Teibert, Alexandre, Dajome; Gauld; Caicedo, White.

Who are Vancouver Whitecaps' key players?

Ryan Gauld

For some, MLS represents a second chance, the opportunity for a talented player to show what they're really made of. That's been the case for Gauld, who has four goals and five assists to his name in just 1,309 regular-season minutes since joining from Farense in July.

The Scottish playmaker has averaged 3.1 chances created and 1.5 successful dribbles per 90 minutes in MLS so far, proving himself a dynamic, all-action option in the No.10 role. If he shows up big again this season, the Whitecaps' chances of success greatly increase.

Brian White

From Gauld to Sartini, Vancouver's 2021 season was all about calling in the cavalry - that goes for White, too. The American striker started the season with one goal and two assists across his opening 16 games for the Red Bulls and Whitecaps combined. But from mid-August, White hit 11 goals and four assists in regular-season play.

Powerful in the air, smart with his movement, and incredibly hard-working, White is the perfect target man for Gauld to dovetail off and he gives Sartini a number of stylistic options.

Ranko Veselinovic

He's not the most glamorous center-back. In fact, he's something of a throwback. But Ranko Veselinovic is exactly the sort of defensive bedrock required to allow Gauld, White and co to get to work.

Veselinovic made more clearances (100) and blocks (44) than any other Whitecaps player in the 2021 regular-season, while he won an impressive 61 percent of his aerial duels. When backs are against the wall, Veselinovic is the type to fight his way into the clear.

What's more, with Maxime Crepeau now gone and the more inexperienced Thomas Hasal being blooded in net, Veselinovic's role in keeping the ball away from goal becomes extra important.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2022 season prediction

Given the failures of previous years, watching their team march into the Playoff spots late on was a dream for Whitecaps supporters in 2021. But with that, expectation levels have been raised.

Crepeau is a big loss and while Hasal is a clearly talented goalkeeper, it's a lot to ask for him to immediately hit the same level as his compatriot.

That alone could cause a drop-off for Sartini's side, not to mention how much the other teams in the West have strengthened. So, making the Playoffs could be much harder this time around, but the 'Caps will at least be competitive again.

Prediction: 9th in the Western Conference