Today Vancouver Whitecaps traded native Vancouverite, English Premier League alumnus, Canadian national team starter, and all-round good guy Terry Dunfield to rivals Toronto FC for allocation money and future considerations.
I'm not happy.
No reader of this site will need to be told that I'm a fan of Dunfield. I acknowledge some of his weaknesses (that was a crappy penalty and he doesn't hit as many defense-splitting passes as you want from a veteran central midfielder) often hit at by his detractors, but I'm frankly flabbergasted they miss his obvious strengths (first-class positioning, the best Whitecap off the ball by miles including DeMerit and Rochat, excellent at either stripping the ball off an opponent or forcing them outside into a sub-optimal position, excellent at preventing scoring opportunities, good on dead balls, does not understand the concept of "giving up", useful shots from distance and a very accurate shooter in general). I think he gets an unfair rap because of his relatively unambitious play offensively: Gershon Koffie turns the ball over every bit as much as Terry Dunfield but only one player gets stick for it. Then the people who mock Dunfield for turning the ball over mock him again for passing it back when that's his best option.
The loss of Dunfield deprives the Whitecaps of a useful player who could contribute to a playoff team. It's also a kick in the teeth for Dunfield, who returned home covered in glory and was less than a week from playing his old club Manchester City. A good servant deserves better, at least to most of us.
It's a weird trade for both teams. Toronto doesn't really need Dunfield: with guys like Nathan Sturgis and Julian de Guzman kicking around they have the position fairly well covered given their 4-3-3 formation. Vancouver definitely needs Dunfield and gave him up for an unknown amount of allocation money, though judging from Toronto's spending it's probably not much (and allocation money, which isn't all carried over every season, is of less use midway through a non-playoff team's year).
The problem with this trade isn't that Dunfield is a fantastic player. He's behind Koffie on my personal depth chart. The problem is that the Whitecaps are giving up a high-value contract (Dunfield earns $65,000 this year), a popular local player, a Canadian, and a face of the team to a rival for very little. They had so many other players they could have moved to free up a roster space or some salary cap room. It's just bad asset management by Tom Soehn.
Yet even I, the most dyed-in-the-wool Terry Dunfield fan, won't give up entirely on this trade. Everybody's saying that it's part of a bigger picture and that's probably true. So before we know if this team is going to work out or not, I need some questions answered in the coming weeks.
What is this move leading up to? Historically, the Vancouver Whitecaps have surprised us with their designated player signings: neither Eric Hassli nor Mustapha Jarju were being linked to the team more than twenty-four hours before the press conferences introducing them. We all know the Whitecaps have been associated with Owen Hargreaves and, as I've discussed, I think that would be a catastrophically bad idea even if I didn't hate the bastard. Both Hargreaves and Dunfield are central holding midfielders who are considered Canadian by MLS: the replacement would be natural. Hargreaves is obviously more skilled than Dunfield, though given Hargreaves's injury situation it's impossible to know where he's at athletically. Most importantly, Hargreaves is never on the field.
If the Whitecaps are replacing Dunfield with Hargreaves then they're making the team even worse. On the other hand, if they're bringing in someone with more than a big name who's as promising as Hassli has been and Jarju looks, this could make the team better.
Second, if you need space why trade Dunfield? Even if the Whitecaps bring in a non-Hargreaves central midfielder the depth at the position isn't great: Imaginary DP, Gershon Koffie (who I love but who is only nineteen and sometimes plays like it), and Peter Vagenas (who won an ESPY yesterday for Most Washed Up Player). Jeb Brovsky, Alexandre Morfaw, and Philippe Davies shouldn't be playing that role, although judging by his performances with the Whitecaps Residency Davies might be getting there. If Imaginary DP gets hurt (or if he's Owen Hargreaves, which amounts to the same thing), we're fucked. As we've seen every time a player's been on international duty or banged up there's no depth at that position so why sacrifice more of it?
So why not cut Blake Wagner to free up a roster spot? Or Bilal Duckett, or John Thorrington, or Davies, or do you really want me to keep going through our roster naming the useless players on it? If you need to save the money cut Morfaw, who is worse than Dunfield, more injury prone, and more expensive. It's true that by trading Dunfield we get some allocation money, but it wouldn't have been a problem in the first place if the Whitecaps hadn't traded a reported mountain of allocation dough to the Philadelphia Union for Jordan Harvey.
Third, does Tommy Dreamer have a plan to replace Dunfield's high-value contract? Dunfield was a useful veteran holding midfielder with some offensive pop who made less than some of you guys do. In a salary cap league that's very valuable. I can actually answer this question now: no.
What's the "future considerations" the Whitecaps are getting back? Nobody knows but Bob Lenarduzzi hints that it's a current player. There's an easy possibility: Canadian U-17 starlet Keven Aleman's MLS rights. Aleman is one of the two best U-17 prospects in the country right now but was released by Toronto FC when he refused to sign a restrictive contract with the team. However, because this is MLS and everything is stupid, Toronto still owns his MLS rights (similar to how Vancouver still holds the MLS rights to Kyle Porter). If the Whitecaps manage to sign Aleman that may, frankly, make this trade a win on its own.
On the other hand, if the Whitecaps get some half-assed prospect like Jonathan Lao or a late draft pick then what's the difference?
How much does Soehn's trade have to do with how he's been using Dunfield? This is a question I think we'll never get the answer to but it might be the most important one. We all remember the disastrous attempts by Soehn to use Dunfield in an attacking role: a child could have told Tommy Dreamer that wouldn't work but Soehn gave it a spin anyway. Is the drop in Dunfield's play in recent weeks just because Soehn has no idea what a holding midfielder is for?
I don't like this trade, but there are circumstances in which I could like it. That's the closest I can get to positivity, though. Frankly this is just one more sign that Soehn doesn't have a clear vision of what he's doing.