6 questions ahead of Vancouver FC’s 2024 season

The 2024 season, beginning April 13, will be the sixth year of competition in the Canadian Premier League. To celebrate its arrival, we at have been asking the same six questions for each of the eight teams playing in the league from coast to coast.
To check out our 6 questions breakdowns for all eight teams, click hereTo see all of our season preview coverage ahead of the sixth year of the CPL, click here.

What can we learn from Vancouver FC’s 2023 season?

It’s difficult to take many lessons from Vancouver’s inaugural season considering the natural growing pains of being an expansion team, but there are nonetheless a few things to take away from the second half of last year in particular.

What’s most clear is that Vancouver are a prime example of the competitiveness in the Canadian Premier League; they took points off every club in the league in 2023, and managed to beat every opponent except for Cavalry at least once.

VFC also demonstrated a core piece of the club’s identity, trusting their youth far more than any other side with players like James Cameron, Anthony White, Tyler Crawford and TJ Tahid all playing major roles for the team as U-21s. They led the CPL with well over 5,000 domestic U-21 minutes, leaning into those younger players late in the year especially.

Key Statistics for Vancouver FC

Who are three key players for Vancouver FC in 2024?

DF – Rocco Romeo

A true heart and soul player for Vancouver, Romeo was the centrepiece of the club in defence last year. He led all outfield players on the team in games started (25), and he and club captain/goalkeeper Callum Irving were the only ones to play more than 2,000 minutes.

The towering centre-back is likely to remain a key part of the identity in Vancouver this year, whether he’s lined up alongside youngsters like White and Cameron or a more experienced defender like new signing David Norman. Romeo appeared in the Gatorade Team of the Week three times last year, third-most on his team behind Gabriel Bitar and Irving.

MF – Gabriel Bitar

Bitar continued to develop into a genuine star in the Canadian Premier League last year, scoring six goals and adding five assists, meaning he contributed to almost 40 per cent of Vancouver’s 28 goals in 2023.

A versatile player who can slot in pretty much anywhere in the front three as well as in central midfield, Bitar will be one of the key returning players Afshin Ghotbi relies on in 2024. Bitar’s game will likely only continue to improve as well; he picked up valuable experience over the off-season at the international level, representing Lebanon both at the AFC Asian Cup and in World Cup Qualifying against Australia.

FW – Alejandro Díaz

The difference between Vancouver having a decent season and having a great season might be the form of Alejandro Díaz. The Mexican striker is one of the most talented natural goalscorers the CPL has ever had, and he has the ability to lift a team to far greater heights if he plays up to his best level.

Last year, Díaz joined the club on loan from Sogndal in Norway in July, and he scored in both of his first two games. Unfortunately, though, those would be his only two goal for Vancouver that year. Still, Díaz has 27 career CPL goals to his name, 24 of which came across two years with Pacific; he certainly has the ability to win the Golden Boot (he’s done it before, in half a season) but Vancouver need to provide service and he needs to be sharp.

(Photo: Beau Chevalier)

What does Vancouver FC’s 2024 schedule look like? 

Unlike last year when they had to wait for their stadium to be completed, Vancouver get to open the 2024 campaign at Willoughby Community Park when they take on Valour FC on April 14.

Their first meeting against B.C. rivals Pacific FC will also be at home, set for Saturday, May 25 in VFC’s seventh game of the season. They’ve got a nice run of home dates in the summer, with a run of five out of six matches in Langley in July toward the beginning of August, but they also have a five-game summer run where they play all five 2023 playoff teams in succession.

VFC’s 2024 season will wrap up this year in Ottawa, as they take on Atleti in a decision day finale that they’ll hope is meaningful.

How did Vancouver FC approach the off-season?

Vancouver had perhaps the most defined and specific theme to their roster movement of any CPL club this off-season. Namely, they went all-in on adding as much local talent as they possibly could.

They added five players with roots in the B.C. Lower Mainland, all but one of whom have extensive CPL experience. Paris Gee, Ben Fisk, David Norman and Zachary Verhoven will all add serious depth and quality to this group while also representing their hometown. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Grady McDonnell, born in Vancouver, is looking to become the next young superstar to make a name for himself at this club.

VFC lost 11 members of the roster that finished 2023 — which doesn’t count the handful that left the club prior to the end of last season — but they’ve still managed to retain almost all of their core contributors. Only one of their starters from the last game of the season (Ibrahim Bakare) has left, and the other major departure would be joint-top scorer from last year Shaan Hundal. So, most of the foundations remain in place and the club has now added experience and local flair.

What are three key storylines heading into the season? 

Will added CPL experience translate to on-field success?

As mentioned, Vancouver added a lot of locally-raised players with extensive experience in the Canadian Premier League. In fact, Gee, Fisk, Norman and Verhoven have a combined 298 games of CPL regular season and playoff experience between them.

It’s clear that there’s a knack to success and longevity in this league, and those who are more familiar with the ups and downs of a season — the travel, the recurring opponents, the other idiosyncrasies — are more likely to be comfortable. Plus, with so many young players in Vancouver’s squad, it can’t hurt to have so many more veterans in the group.

For an expansion club still looking to settle into the rhythm of life in the CPL, there’s probably nothing more valuable to VFC’s squad than a wealth of players who have been there and done it before.

Will the young stars continue to blossom in Vancouver?

The best story to come out of VFC in 2023 was the cast of under-21 players who burst onto the scene and made a name for themselves in Canadian soccer. TJ Tahid became the league’s youngest-ever signing and goalscorer at the age of 16, and he went on to play a key role off the bench for this team.

Anthony White, meanwhile, was the first overall pick in the 2023 CPL-U SPORTS Draft and after a few weeks on the bench he eventually won a job in Vancouver’s back four and started 17 games in a row, turning 20 years old in that stretch. James Cameron, who only joined the club on a developmental contract at first, turned into a revelation at fullback as an 18-year-old, playing the hero with a last-minute winning goal against Atlético Ottawa. He would ultimately be nominated for the CPL’s Best U-21 Canadian Player award in October.

This year, all three of those players are likely to be even more important to this side as they continue their development.

How does the midfield set up, and do Renan García’s minutes need managing?

Afshin Ghotbi has several things to consider when setting up his midfield this year. It begins with Brazilian veteran Renan García; the 37-year-old started all 14 games for Vancouver (playing all but three total minutes) after signing for the club in July. He’s got plenty of quality and has proven to be an excellent distributor and organizer in the middle of the pitch. However, it’s been a while since he’s played this much consistent football; his last full season at a club was in 2016. Though García is likely part of Vancouver’s best XI, Ghotbi might have to be mindful when choosing how much to deploy him, lest fatigue begin to cause problems for García later in the year.

Elsewhere in midfield, expect Elliot Simmons to play a major role, as well as Vasco Fry on the defensive side of the ball. Newcomer Kembo Kibato might also be important in the middle, but in a more attack-minded role.

The most interesting question, though, is whether Kadin Chung is considered part of the midfield group. The vast majority of Chung’s career has been spent at right-back, both in the CPL and in Major League Soccer, but Ghotbi surprised everyone on the first day of last season by playing him in midfield. Chung has the technical ability to do it, but didn’t get the run of games he needed to fully settle into the position last year because of a collarbone injury that kept him out for months. Will Ghotbi rekindle that experiment early in 2024?

What are the keys to success for Vancouver FC in 2024?

Vancouver showed over the last two months of 2023 that they were starting to come together as a team and find the best way to play with one another. If they’re to be successful in 2024, they need to pick up right where they left off. Most of the key pieces from last year are still at the club now complemented by some more quality, but this team will likely sink or swim on the backs of the players who carried it toward the end of last season.

This year will be all about building on what was started in the inaugural season. A successful campaign for Vancouver would probably be them pushing toward the playoffs, which don’t seem too far out of reach if they can play the way they did at the end of 2023. VFC will be eyeing their B.C. neighbours Pacific in particular, hoping to claim some more spoils in the Salish Sea Derby and stake their claim to supremacy in their province.