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Platt’s 3 Points: Davies, David crashing back to earth after meteoric rise?

Welcome to Platt’s 3 Points, where Oliver Platt breaks down the three biggest Canadian soccer talking points of the week, from the Canadian men’s and women’s national teams, our Canadian talents playing in Europe, Major League Soccer, the Canadian Premier League, and more.

Here’s what caught Oli’s eye this week (Oct. 19-25):

Whitecaps’ future suddenly looks more positive

If the Vancouver Whitecaps go on to be something under Marc Dos Santos, the 3-0 loss at the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this month might be looked back upon as a turning point.

That defeat extended the Caps’ losing streak to four games — with a whopping 13 goals conceded and just one scored — and left Dos Santos to issue his players an ultimatum.

It was time, the coach said, to stop compromising and searching for new solutions. The team would play in his image — as an aggressive, high-pressing unit — and anyone who could not do their job would not play.

“What I told the guys is we have (seven) games left, and the (seven) games we have to try to play in this way,” Dos Santos said, per the Province.

“And who’s ready and who’s able to play in this way, is going to play for the Whitecaps. Who cannot follow this rhythm, and who cannot follow closing down in what’s in front of them, won’t.

“I don’t want to be a team that spends all half and spends all game in our defensive third. I don’t want to be about that.”

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What followed was back-to-back 2-1 victories over Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles FC in which the Whitecaps won 72 and 70 duels respectively — their two highest marks of the season.

They had to make adjustments to deal with San Jose’s unique man-marking system, which now features the added wrinkle of a true libero in defence, to pull off another 2-1 victory on Saturday night.

And the 1-0 loss at the bottom-of-the-West LA Galaxy the previous weekend was poor.

But what Vancouver needs at the moment is not perfection every week. The team just isn’t as talented as the best in MLS.

What Dos Santos and sporting director Axel Schuster need to see are signs that an identity and a style of play are beginning to take root.

Finally, at the end of Dos Santos’ second season in charge, it feels as if we might be getting there.

That makes Schuster’s job this winter much clearer.

You don’t make mistakes like Hwang In-beom — a good player but the wrong fit — when you know exactly how a new signing is going to be used and the qualities he requires to perform his role.

That hasn’t always been obvious when the Whitecaps have gone shopping in recent years.

Schuster still has an enormous task on his hands — basically every area of the team needs upgrading and there are difficult decisions to be made on high earners like Ali Adnan and Fredy Montero.

How the Whitecaps handle the salary cap and all the other quirks of MLS continues to be something of a concern. I’ve written before about the trade for Evan Bush, and there was also the strange case of them trading for an international slot they never actually used.

But it also must be said that 2020 additions such as Cristian Dajome, Ranko Veselinovic, and Janio Bikel look a lot better than the likes of Jon Erice, Lucas Venuto, and Joaquin Ardaiz. That bodes well.

Thanks to the altered structure of this bizarre MLS season, Vancouver goes into tonight’s match against Cascadia rivals Seattle in a playoff spot.

The Whitecaps would surely relish the chance to play underdog and make someone’s life difficult in the postseason. You never know what might happen when you punch your ticket.

But the real value of this late burst of optimism is more likely to be seen in what comes next.

Hurdles thrown in Davies & David’s path

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It was always going to happen at some point.

After 2019-20 seasons that defied anyone’s most optimistic expectations, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David came back down to earth with a thud on the same weekend.

On Saturday, Davies lasted just three minutes of Bayern Munich’s 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt before coming off with what was later revealed to be damage to his ankle ligaments.

He is unlikely to play again in 2020.

The next day, David was dropped to the bench by Lille coach Christophe Galtier for the first time this season.

In truth, the signs that the young Canadians’ progress was slowing preceded the weekend’s matches.

Davies registered just eight minutes across two Bayern games last week, with coach Hansi Flick admitting that he had been deliberately giving the 19-year-old some “time to recharge”.

David’s struggles in France, meanwhile, have been well documented, with eight consecutive starts since his record-breaking transfer producing zero goals.

Neither situation can be written off as nothing to worry about. There are valid concerns as to how David is fitting in at Lille, while Davies is facing increased competition at left-back from a back-in-form Lucas Hernandez.

But this is the reality of top-level European football. Dealing with setbacks is part of life.

The challenge facing Davies and David now is to ensure they retain the humility and work ethic that has got them this far.

They have jumped more hurdles than most 19 and 20-year-olds to take their seats at the top table and now have another to overcome.

TFC receive a wake-up call in Philly

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The duels won statistic I mentioned earlier in this column is one I keep an eye on.

It doesn’t always tell you much but sometimes the numbers jump off the page.

They did on Saturday when Toronto FC was thumped 5-0 by the Philadelphia Union.

The Union won 72 duels and lost 40, which is the best differential since the LA Galaxy won 7-2 against Sporting Kansas City last season.

I’m not going to try to argue that the result was any kind of positive given its Supporters’ Shield implications, but I’ve long believed that a wake-up call near the end of the regular season is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a contender.

It can provide something of a reality check as to what is required to win in the playoffs — which are a different beast to the regular season.

“You never want it to happen but when you just get physically outperformed… it’s a reminder of what the playoffs are like,” Greg Vanney said afterwards.

Vanney was specifically referring to depth players with less playoff experience in that answer.

But it seemed noteworthy that Auro and Marky Delgado — very much regular starters but a combined 0-for-13 in duels through 45 minutes — were hauled off at half-time.

When the playoffs come, you win your battles first and then you start to play — not the other way around.

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