VANCOUVER — Vanni Sartini believes Vancouver Whitecaps fans will finally get a glimpse of the team’s Canadian star.
And with a goal and two assists in his last two Major League Soccer games, Lucas Cavallini is finding form at just the right time.
“I think this is finally the real Lucas. This is the real (designated player) we signed, a guy who fights every ball, he helps us build,” Sartini, the club’s head coach, said on Tuesday.
“He never changed his attitude even in the dark moment of last year. And this year he’s in good shape and in a good moment physically. He can give us what he can and he helps us a lot.”
Cavallini, a 29-year-old forward from Toronto, started his career in Uruguay and played in Mexico before signing for Vancouver in December 2019.
He led the Caps with six goals in 2020 but struggled with injuries last season, contributing three goals and an assist in 21 games.
Nicknamed ‘El Tanque’, the 1.6m tall, 190lb forward recovered in the off-season and entered the 2022 campaign with renewed energy.
“I knew at the beginning of the year that it was going to be a good year for me and I just had to keep that positive attitude and regain the confidence that I was,” Cavallini said. “And now just all these games have helped me gain more and more confidence.”
His success comes during a scheduling crunch for the ‘Caps (2-6-2), who play their fourth game in 11 days on Wednesday when they host high-flying FC Dallas (6-1-4).
The busy track didn’t worry Cavallini.
“I honestly love it. It is great. I mean, that’s what we like to do – play games. Less practice, more games,” he said. “We have to be smart and intelligent and take care of the body and rest well and be ready for the next game.”
Wednesday’s matchup will complete a four-game homestand for the Whitecaps, who went 2-1-0 in all competitions during the stretch.
While Vancouver has been good at the Caps this season and the team is 2-1-2 at home, facing Dallas will not be an easy task.
The Toros are second in the Western Conference with 22 points and a goal difference of plus 11, while the Whitecaps remain bottom with eight points.
Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira leads the league with nine goals this season, including the two he scored in Saturday’s 3-1 win over LA Galaxy.
Containing the visitors’ strong offense will take the entire team, said Vancouver goaltender Cody Cropper.
“I think we have to defend as a collective unit. From my point of view, it’s organizing what’s ahead, talking to the guys in front of me,” he said. “We are a very good team. And we have very good players. We just have to keep putting these pieces together.”
The past few weeks have been “a whirlwind” for Cropper.
The 29-year-old American was pressured in Vancouver’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC on May 8 after regular Thomas Hasal injured his left hand.
“It was an amazing feeling to be back on the pitch,” said Cropper, who signed with the Caps in March. “Obviously it’s not how you want your chance to be, but unfortunately it’s part of the game.”
The veteran goaltender has made six saves in three games for the Whitecaps this season and kept a clean sheet in Vancouver’s 2-0 win over Valor FC in the Canadian Championship on May 11.
While the team has found a way to get results lately, the ‘Caps have often played from behind. Vancouver’s last eight goals – including three from Saturday’s 3-3 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes – came in the second half.
Sartini wants his group to get into action earlier on Wednesday.
“I always say that if we’re whitecaps for 90 minutes, not 45, 30 or 50 minutes, we have a chance of making the playoffs,” said the coach. “And we need a good start and a good finish.”
DALLAS FC (6-1-4) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (2-6-2)
BC Place, Wednesday
PANDEMIC PROTOCOL: Several players from both sides are likely to miss Wednesday’s game due to COVID-19 restrictions. Vancouver midfielder Ryan Gauld and forward Tosaint Ricketts both remained on health and safety protocols on Tuesday. Dallas defender Jose Martinez, goaltender Maarten Paes and forward Alan Velasco were also on the record.
HISTORY BOOKS: The Whitecaps are unbeaten in their last four meetings with FC Dallas (2-2-0), including a 1-0 win at BC Place on Sept. 21, 2021.
ARRIVES: After an extended homestand, the ‘Caps will embark on a three-game road swing in North Carolina starting Sunday when they play their first-ever game against expansion club Charlotte FC.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 17, 2022.