Omar Salgado in action with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Luckily, this sight's about to become much less rare. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
Terrific news out of the world of FIFA today. After much speculation, finger-crossing and, frankly, fear, forward and first overall pick Omar Salgado has been granted an exception to FIFA international transfer rules, making him eligible to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps senior or reserve teams before his eighteenth birthday in September.
In short, Salgado's back. All right!
No Whitecaps fan will need much more of an explanation than that. This is undeniably a good thing. While I wasn't thrilled with selecting Salgado first overall in the winter rather than, say, Mike Kitchen (and I'm still not convinced it was the right move), Salgado has started to win me over. His combination of speed, size and ball control is everything that was advertised. I'm legitimately excited for the beginning of the Omar Salgado era in Vancouver and am properly delighted that it's coming months early.
Vancouver's striker situation looks a bit less desperate than it did at draft time, of course. For example, we now have Eric Hassli in the fold, and judging by his brace against Toronto I think he should be able to play in this league. With Salgado in the mix, there should be a few goals in this forward corps.
Really, there's not much else to say about this good news, but after the jump I'll try and say it.
My first question out of this is where the hell it leaves Atiba Harris? I'm not a big believer in Atiba Harris at forward. Before we signed Hassli, I could live with it because we didn't have any other big bodies up there. Afterwards, I preferred to see Camilo Sanvezzo or even Davide Chiumiento as a small forward with Hassli up top, but Teitur Thordarson disagreed and went Hassli - Harris as his striking tandem against Toronto FC.
Of course, Atiba Harris scored in that game and a fine goal it was. He also had a pretty nice assist in the first half. Then again, he was bound to score given the number of opportunities he had. Whatever a "natural finisher" is, Atiba Harris ain't it. As well, his first touch isn't terrific, he has a nasty tendency to roam offside at the drop of a hat, and when he got the ball in the area his reflexes were a touch slow. He wasn't dreadful but he wasn't good.
Maybe this is understandable, given that Atiba Harris is a winger by profession. Coincidentally the team is having a bit of trouble at wing at the moment, with Davide Chiumiento and Shea Salinas already out injured as well as Russell Teibert leaving soon on U-20 international duty. If ever there was a moment for Harris to stake his claim to a wing spot, this is it. Frankly, I suspect that Harris would look a fair bit better in his natural position, where his obvious failings on a soccer field would be less important. What I expect to happen is for Teitur Thordarson to either start Harris and keep Salgado on the bench or start Salgado and keep Harris on the bench. Still, Harris on the wing seems like a natural move given the team's needs and the player's abilities.
This also can't be good news for Long Tan. Tan is already fighting for roster time against Hassli, Harris, and Camilo Sanvezzo. Now he has to add Salgado to the mix, and he's at least a step behind all of them. He's not big enough to be a big body like Harris but too slow to be a sparkplug like Sanvezzo. If Harris moves back to the wing Tan might get back in the mix, but until then I'm not sure we'll see him unless somebody is injured or seriously struggles.
Finally, the all-important question: will Omar Salgado start against Philadelphia? I doubt it. For all his physical magnificence he is just seventeen and the Whitecaps will probably want to start him off slowly. Given the scoring the team got against Toronto, they can afford to be patient. Let Salgado come off the bench, provide some energy and some skill, and get his feet wet in MLS without feeling like there's a tonne of pressure on him. (Unless Hassli gets hurt. Then all bets are off.)