Whitecaps finally open season, to host Charlotte FC

League: MLS

Posted on: 02 Mar, 2024 at 02:08 AM

Credit: Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps will become the last MLS team to open their 2024 regular season when they host a Charlotte FC side that opened a new managerial era with a victory.

The Whitecaps won't have a few notable faces on hand in the process.

Vancouver was the lone MLS team idle last weekend after playing and losing a CONCACAF Champions Cup first-round series against Mexico's Tigres UANL earlier in February.

And after reaching the postseason in two of three seasons under current coach Vanni Sartini, the expectations are higher in British Columbia than they've been in some time.

Sartini's squad is returning a core that includes Ryan Gauld (11 goals, 12 assists in league play last season) and Brian White (15 goals), and one that lost only twice in its final 11 regular-season matches.

But taking that next step will require more consistency in the early portion of the season, when Santini's sides have typically struggled. It took six matches for the Whitecaps to win their first match a season ago, and five in 2022, Sartini's first full year in charge.

"We need to start better," Sartini said. "Because every point counts, especially the beginning, because if you start better, you set some kind of tone."

The Italian-born manager won't be on the touchline Saturday as he begins a six-match suspension assessed as a result of his post-match comments critical of referee Tim Ford in last year's playoff finale.

Also, the Whitecaps won't have midfielder Russell Teibert on hand. He announced his retirement on Friday and plans to move into a front office role.

In his 16-year career, all with Vancouver, Teibert ranks fourth in team history with 301 appearances and helped it win the Canadian Championship three times, including each of the past two years.

Charlotte (1-0-0, 3 points) was also plagued by a slow start in 2023, winning just once in its first eight league matches. And incoming English coach Dean Smith was hired as the club's third full-time boss in its three-season history after one failed to make the playoffs, and the second qualified but was blown out as a wild card.

Defender Adilson Malanda scored his first career MLS goal early in Charlotte's opening 1-0 home win over New York City FC. But Charlotte couldn't build on that early goal despite plenty of chances, making it harder than necessary to preserve the lead.

"We're far from the finished product," Smith said. "I think everybody saw that on Saturday. As good as it was to keep a clean sheet and go and win the first game, we've got to be better with the ball, and there's certain periods in the game where we've got to be better without the ball as well."

--Field Level Media