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Minnesota United-Whitecaps FC Preview
The Vancouver Whitecaps are hoping a massive offseason overhaul helps recapture success, something Minnesota United FC is still trying to achieve in MLS.
Vancouver's new era under Marc Dos Santos begins Saturday when the Whitecaps host a remade Minnesota side seeking a breakthrough third season at the United States' top level.
Brought down by chemistry issues that came to light during the final media session, the 2018 Whitecaps sunk to eighth in the West one year after reaching the conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons under former boss Carl Robinson. Determined to change that acknowledged toxic culture, team president Bob Lenarduzzi's first move was to bring in Dos Santos, a Montreal native who helped Los Angeles FC reach the playoffs in its MLS debut as an assistant.
The 41-year-old takes over a completely reworked roster in his first MLS head coaching gig. In addition to selling standout winger Alphonso Davies to German powerhouse Bayern Munich for a potential $22 million transfer fee, leading scorer Kei Kamara was chosen in the expansion draft and captain Kendall Waston was shipped to upstart FC Cincinnati after publicly requesting a trade over dissatisfaction with Robinson's ousting in September.
Among the slew of new faces is a familiar one in Fredy Montero, back for a second stint with the Whitecaps after spending last season in Portugal's top division. The Colombian striker led Vancouver with 14 goals during its 2017 run.
Montero joins dynamic holdover Yordy Reyna (6 goals, 11 assists in 2018) and two promising young imports, South Korean national teamer In-Beom Hwang and Uruguayan Joaquin Ardaiz, in what's expected to be a more aggressive and wide-open attack than Vancouver traditionally fielded under Robinson.
"It's going to be a fun year, I'm pretty sure," Montero told the Whitecaps' official website. "With the new strategy, the new coach, and a new objective of trying to win a trophy in Canada, try to make the playoffs, and keep advancing. That's what we're looking for and we're working hard on that."
For Minnesota, the goal is to take a significant step forward after failing to improve on its 36-point 2017 MLS debut. The top priority was upgrading a defense that's conceded a dreadful 141 goals during United's two seasons, prompting the Loons to acquire 2017 Defender of the Year Ike Opara in a trade with Sporting Kansas City alongside two key European signings, right back Romain Metanire from France's top division and former Premier League goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Minnesota also brought in four-time All-Star Osvaldo Alonso and Slovakia national team member Jan Gregus to fill gaping holes at central midfield for its inaugural campaign at Allianz Field. The Loons open with five straight road matches before christening the soccer-specific stadium on April 13.
The early results have been encouraging, as Minnesota posted shutouts in each of its final four preseason matches.
"At the moment, it's going well," Alonso told MLS.com. "We're putting in the required work. I think we're on a good path. Now it's just a matter of showcasing our hard work and, little by little, keep moving forward and working for each other so we can reach the playoffs."
Better road results will also be needed for Minnesota to turn a corner. The Loons went 1-14-2 away from home last season and enter the opener on a 17-match road winless streak across all competitions. They've been outscored 7-2 in losing both prior visits to BC Place.
Updated February 26, 2019