VANCOUVER — Returning to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ training facility on Monday was a bit like the first day of school for Russell Teibert.
The 26-year-old midfielder is heading into his ninth season with the club but many of the faces around him — from teammates to coaching staff — will be brand new as training camp kicks off this week.
"You just look at it coming in and you think ‘Wow. This is a fresh start for all of us,"’ Teibert said.
A fresh start may be just what was needed for the ‘Caps, who finished last year with a disappointing 13-13-8 record, two spots out of a playoff position.
At an end-of-season press conference, Teibert was one of a handful of players who said that a "divide" in the locker room impacted the team’s play on the field.
The club has since been overhauled, starting with the appointment of Marc Dos Santos as the head coach in early November.
Eighteen players have since parted ways with the organization, leaving Dos Santos and his staff to completely rebuild the team.
"We want this team to be very dynamic, very fast, aggressive, higher on the field, have the courage to — especially when we’re playing at home — to try to dictate the game," the coach said. "For that you need a lot of energy. You need players that are energetic, are courageous. And I think a lot of the guys that we’re bringing in have that profile."
So far, the Whitecaps’ roster includes 14 players from last year’s squad, plus five athletes who signed on with the club over the off-season.
Goalkeeper Zac MacMath was shocked when he learned in early December that he had been traded to the Whitecaps from the Colorado Rapids.
The 27-year-old was on a trip with friends at the time.
"It’s been a roller coaster but we’ve embraced it and we’re excited that a team like Vancouver is wanting of me," said MacMath, who recently moved to Vancouver with his wife and four-month-old son. "And hopefully we can make this home for a little while."
The ‘keeper added that the move is a "fresh start," coming off a season where he played just two games for the Rapids.
"I know that there’s a lot of history with the club. Obviously last year wasn’t as great as they expected. But with a new coaching staff, a whole bunch of new players coming in, hopefully we can build something very special here," MacMath said.
Midfielder Andy Rose is another of the Whitecaps’ new additions. The 28-year-old spent the pas three seasons in the United Kingdom, playing most recently with Motherwell FC of the Scottish Premiership.
Rose started his professional career with the Seattle Sounders and said he felt now was the right time to return to Major League Soccer.
"I feel like I’ve still got so much to prove over here," he said. "As soon as I had a conversation with (Dos Santos), for me it was a no-brainer. I wanted to get the deal done as soon as possible. His vision for the club, what I had heard about his coaching was just so exciting. It was something I really wanted to be a part of."
It’s nice to have other players who are new to Vancouver so they can all go through the process together, Rose added.
More new faces are on the way, too, Dos Santos said. But fans hoping to see a name like Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic join the lineup will have to wait.
"We’re looking a lot at players that can fill the gaps for the future of this club. We’re looking at this as building. I’ve always said we want to build a championship team, not buy a championship team because we can’t do that as a team," Dos Santos said.
The Whitecaps have lost their top three scorers from last season and the coach admitted that filling the offensive void is a priority. The club is in final negotiations with some goal scorers and details should be announced soon, he said.
But Dos Santos said it would be a mistake to try and get players who do the same things that teenage star Alphonso Davies or striker Kei Kamara did on the field.
What the ‘Caps need, he said, is to look at the team as a collective and maximize each player’s strengths.
"We’re trying to build a team that’s going to win on a consistent basis, that’s going to be competing for playoff spots on a consistent basis. Not only one year and then miss it for three years, we want to be there all the time," Dos Santos said. "That’s what we’re trying to build and we’re putting a lot of energy into it."
Veterans will also have a crucial role to play with the revamped club.
Last year, Teibert took on more of a leadership role with the team, both on and off the field. He said that’s something he wants to continue this year.
"And I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to lead and how to be a leader with this team," he said.
But based on what he’s seen so far, Teibert is excited about the Whitecaps’ future.
"We’re going to be a young squad and we’re going to be a squad that’s going to fight, we’re going to be aggressive and we’re not going to wait for the game to come to us," he said. "We’re going to bring the game to teams."