The best jokes are ones that have roots in truth. And none are truer than Scott Sutter’s assessment of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“We’re a lot of new faces … I’ve had a joke with a couple of the guys that it’s almost like an expansion team — myself included,” said the left-back, late of Orlando City.
“When there is so much change like this, it is pretty much building a new team, including the coaching staff that have come in. It’s no easy feat.
“There’s getting to know all the new guys, and their movements and mannerisms, and not just on the field, but off the field as well. There’s 26 different guys, 26 different personalities, 26 ways that people like to do things. But that’s why Marc’s the head coach and I’m a player.”
The Caps returned to Vancouver just to find Mother Nature playing her own cruel joke on them, as they flew in from the tropical nirvana of Hawaii to the heaviest snowfall in years. The Major League Soccer team was set to train on a snow-covered field for one of its few practice sessions before heading to Los Angeles for the next leg of its preseason journey.
Midfielder Russell Teibert, who didn’t make the trip to Oahu as he recovered from an ankle injury, will be healthy enough for that leg — but wasn’t in shape to take part in Wednesday’s session. He mused what some of his new teammates, who have only lived in temperate climes, might make of their introduction to the West Coast.
“If I was able to train today, I’d love it,” said the native of Niagara Falls, Ont.
“Back in Ontario, when it would snow like this, after big snowstorms, our warm-up was to get 20, 25 shovels out of the shed, shovel off the field … and then we’d start playing. It looked familiar today … and I’m happy that I don’t have to shovel now. Maybe we’ll have a snowball fight after the sessions.”
There was the same level of optimistic enthusiasm that the team displayed before its Hawaii trip, and even if both of its preseason games against V. Varen Nagasaki and Iwaki FC resulted in losses, there were major strides made in the implementing of coach Marc Dos Santos’s philosophy.
The team mostly concentrated on the defensive side of the high-pressure 4-3-3 formation the Caps will roll out — Dos Santos also alluded to using an equally versatile 3-5-2 — and the principles involved in the four phases of the game (attacking, defending, and the transitions between both).
It’s a lot for players to absorb in a short period of time, but they’ll continue the progression when they play three games in SoCal in the coming days: The L.A. Galaxy on Saturday, Liga MX side Club Tijuana on Feb. 20 and LAFC on Feb. 23.
Joining the team for those games will be centre-backs Erik Godoy and Jasser Khmiri, along with midfielder Hwang In-Beom.
“It’s another opportunity for the whole team to get that togetherness,” said Sutter, adding that developing team chemistry is one of the most important parts of the preseason.
“It’s not easy being a new person coming in, because you have to take on board those ideas as soon as possible. It’s definitely a challenge, and would have been easy if you were here right from Day 1; but it wasn’t to be, so you need to make the most of what you’ve got.”
Teibert, who missed all of training preceding the Hawaii trip, has been busy with his digital homework, and knows he has some ground to make up.
“It’s all new stuff to learn, and fortunately for myself, we have a great staff. They were sending me videos of the team (showing) the philosophy in training sessions, making sure I’m up to date with what the tactics are,” he said.
“It’s not just the stuff on the field that prepares you for success. All lot of the stuff that happens … behind the scenes, like video sessions, like learning the system, like conversations off the field, help you become successful on it.”
Expectations for the first few games of the season should be tempered, as, like Sutter alluded to, it’s practically an expansion team. But don’t tell that to Dos Santos, who was impressed by how quickly his new players have assimilated his tenets of play.
“Me as a coach, I’ve always had my bar very high. I have high dreams, high hopes. I want us to make the playoffs, I want us to, at a minimum, be in the final of the Canadian Championship. These are all objectives that we want to achieve,” he said.
“But what we don’t want to do is put a low bar and say ‘Oh, we’d be happy with that.’ That is creating a losing environment, and we don’t want to do that.”
The Whitecaps open their regular season March 2 at B.C. Place Stadium, when they host Minnesota United.
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