(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Multiple reports in the South Korean media, as well as a statement from the player's representatives, say that the Vancouver Whitecaps have agreed to sign South Korean left back Lee Young-pyo to a two-year contract.
Lee is 34 years old and best-known for his time with PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch Eredivisie and Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. He's also the third-most-capped player in the history of the South Korean national team and only nine back of all-time leader Hong Myung-Bo; Lee is still active with South Korea as the team's vice-captain and could pass Hong next year (EDIT: but Lee has apparently retired from the South Korean national team; see comments).
An older player with a somewhat high but hardly world-class profile, Lee's hardly likely to sell tickets. And, with reports that he made a million Euro salary the past two years with Al-Hilal of the Saudi Premier League, he may well becoming in as a designated player. A native left back, Lee would fill one of the very few positions on the Whitecaps that are adequately covered thanks to incumbent Alain Rochat and useful MLS journeyman Jordan Harvey. If this signing is exactly what it appears to be, then it makes for a Major League Soccer mystery.
While Lee is a player of considerable international pedigree, he's also well along the downslope of his career. International fixtures aside, Lee hasn't played at a truly world-class level since 2009, when he saw spot duty with Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga. Even in his Premier League hey-day, Lee was never that much more than a squad player.
Lee comes with less recent first-class experience than our other ex-Premier League defender, Jay DeMerit. He may well be more expensive, is certainly older, and has had some injury concerns in recent years. If Lee is expensive it's difficult to see the value in such a signing; ominously, it may just be Paul Barber intervening for an old buddy from his Tottenham days. With the Whitecaps carrying two designated players plus pricey veterans DeMerit, Joe Cannon, and John Thorrington, Tom Soehn and Martin Rennie must be very judicious with their salary cap space. This signing may not help.
With the Whitecaps apparently not set to make this official until later in the week, the team may also be deleting players from the roster to make room. But cutting the promising, if enigmatic, Mustapha Jarju or any of the team's younger guns to make room for the aging Lee reeks of short-sightedness.
Besides, what role will Lee play in Vancouver? He's a left back and the Whitecaps already have MLS's best left back in Alain Rochat. Rochat can play centrally but is more effective out wide and besides, if the Whitecaps want a good centre back they should have just signed one of those. Lee is a right-footer and the Whitecaps could desperately use a right back, but 34 is a little late in the day to learn a new position. Lee has spent time at RB in his career, including behind Paul Stalteri at Tottenham, but it's clearly not his natural position and the last thing we need is another designated player learning on the job.
I am pessimistic. The Whitecaps have gotten surprisingly good value out of some pretty unheralded defenders; guys like Michael Boxall, Jonathan Leathers, and Carlyle Mitchell. I'm not giving up hope for Lee and a lot depends on his salary. But early on, this looks bad.