It's sad news because Morfaw, like fellow departees Wes Knight and Mouloud Akloul, is a fine young man and proved a superb ambassador for the Whitecaps off the field. Though he spent most of the year traveling with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency rather than the first team he never showed any trace of bitterness. On the contrary, he was always eager to engage with fans whenever he had the chance and seemed to give his all every time he was on the USL PDL field. Morfaw was an easy guy to like; it might be easier to say that he was a hard guy to dislike. You won't find many fans who'll say a bad word about young Alexandre.
It's not sad news on the field, though. The hard truth is that Morfaw was surplus to requirements. He was a good, although not particularly dominant, USL PDL midfielder, and though he had moments at a higher level (he deserved to rank higher than Peter Vagenas, at any rate) he never really lived up to his contract.
Morfaw would always take the time to chat with a fan or even have a kick-around with a young supporter after a tough PDL game. He went to the Whitecaps' first U-18 home game of the season, not in an official capacity but just to show his support for the youngsters. He was class all the way and I'll miss having him in Vancouver, but in a salary-capped league like MLS that's just not a good enough reason to keep him.
Morfaw signed with the Whitecaps on August 12 of last year. His last stop had been with Bodens BK in the Swedish third division; not a great level but he had spent some time in the English Football League, played for Cameroon in the 2008 Summer Olympics, and come up through the Nantes youth system. At the time Morfaw was signed I wrote:
Google Translate tells an ominous story: one Bodens supporter on a team fan board says of Morfaw that "one Alex and the motivation is really poisonous but not so that he becomes what dozen players at any time", which sounds... really vaguely terrible. More intelligibly, the fans are writing Morfaw off as not a major loss. A concerning statement when you're bringing in a player from as far down the line as the Swedish third division. As early as July, Morfaw had left Bodens for "family reasons" and was being condemned by the Bodens supporters.
Morfaw certainly had no problems with popularity in Vancouver: his engagement with the fans in person and online saw to that. But the playing time was never there. Morfaw played 33 minutes of USSF D2 action after signing in August and then a further 135 minutes in Major League Soccer. He seldom even made the MLS 18-man lineup, spending most of his time as elder statesman with the Whitecaps Residency.
The fact is that Morfaw, a very nice young man who everybody is cheering for, wasn't good enough. He was a tenacious defensive midfielder but had neither the positional instinct nor the athleticism to be a dangerous ball-winner. He showed moments of great creativity and daring but, even with the PDL team, he was never exactly an offensive catalyst. He was certainly behind Gershon Koffie on any Whitecaps central midfield depth chart and, on mine, behind both Philippe Davies and Bryce Alderson: all players significantly younger than Morfaw. At $90,000 per year he was also paid disproportionately to his contribution on the field. It simply wasn't sustainable; that's enough money for a quality MLS player and you can't give it to a Reserves-level midfielder simply because he's nice.
When he signed in 2010 Morfaw came over with not much hype. Injuries and visa problems conspired to keep him away from the lineup, but even when he appeared he didn't blow me away. Gershon Koffie looked tremendous almost from day one (his electrifying play against the Portland Timbers in the playoffs showed a dazzling two-dimensional ability that he still hasn't fully replicated), Terry Dunfield was probably Vancouver's second-half MVP, and while Davide Chiumiento was frustrating and deeply unfit he was also obviously talented. Morfaw was just... sort of there.
At the start of the 2011 season Morfaw was injured again; he wore a soft cast on his right wrist through the first few games of the USL PDL campaign. It was a tough way to start the season after a promising cameo in the pre-season Cascadia Summit, but even when Dunfield faltered and was traded or Thorrington was injured, Morfaw didn't seize the day. His play with the PDL team would have been just fine if he had been 19, but as a 23-year-old with professional experience and a big-money MLS contract he simply wasn't cutting the mustard.
To an extent, Morfaw has fallen victim to bad timing. The arrival of Martin Rennie in Vancouver for a post-season training camp coincided with Morfaw coming down with a nasty virus: while I haven't been able to attend any training sessions myself witnesses say that Morfaw has looked a little slow and more frustrated with himself than usual. But there's nothing in Morfaw's play to say that he deserves playing time that could go to Davies or Alderson, or a $90,000 contract that could buy us a veteran right back, or an international slot that could be used as a trade chip.
Alexandre Morfaw will be missed. He's a good person who always tried his best. He was a great influence on some young Whitecaps as well as some young Whitecaps fans.