Whitecaps Add Another Old Railhawk; Midfielder Jun Marques Davidson

Another one of Martin Rennie's old proteges is coming: yesterday the Vancouver Whitecaps announced the signing of midfielder Jun Marques Davidson.

Davidson is 28 years old, born in Tokyo to American parents and considered a domestic for MLS purposes. He's a veteran of some pretty good leagues, having spent the years from 2005 to 2008 in the excellent Japanese first division as well as more experience in their second division. Of course, what's getting headlines is that Davidson played a year in 2010 with, and you may have guessed this already, Martin Rennie and the Carolina Railhawks.

Advertised as a central midfielder with a defensive bias, Davidson will presumably compete with John Thorrington in the Whitecaps lineup. Davidson is younger, healthier, and has played at a higher club level but Thorrington is familiar with MLS and, of course, had his brief time with the American national team that ended three years ago.

Going into the season, the Whitecaps were starving for depth and badly weakened in central midfield. Now they have depth all over the place, except perhaps at fullback, and while they're still missing the marquee central defender midfielder we're hoping for they're clearly trying to establish a good committee. Some fans are concerned at Rennie chasing another one of his old American second-division buddies, but for most of his career Davidson hasn't been an American second-division player. Calling Davidson an American second division player is like calling Bilal Duckett an MLS starter.

People who call Davidson a second-division lifer are way off the mark; he's spent most of his career in a league that's better than Major League Soccer. The one season Davidson spent with the Railhawks was an aberration in a career that's been mostly spent overseas. He played very well and promptly returned to a level noticeably better than the NASL, where he started and did fine.

I do understand some apprehension. As was pointed out to me on Twitter, this now gives the 2010 Railhawks seven MLS players going on eight: Davidson, Matt Watson, Evan Bush, Josh Gardner, Tom Heinemann, Daniel Woolard, and Daniel Paladini, with Etienne Barbara probably on the way. Watching the 2010 Railhawks I saw a very good team, but not one that made even I (the most pro-NASL guy you will ever see) think "eight of these guys could be good MLS players."

Of course, Paladini's done great with the Chicago Fire despite being in his mid-20s when he left the NASL. Heinemann only really cameoed in Carolina but he's been a success with the Columbus Crew. Gardner's a depth guy but a useful one nobody denies belongs in this league. Woolard was a regular with DC United and looks like he's established himself in this league. Bush, Watson, Davidson, and Barbara are waiting for their opportunities. That's a pretty good hit rate, particularly when you consider that Davidson's successful 2011 season in Japan was also at a higher level than the NASL.

Next to Barbara and Paladini, Davidson had the best 2010 season out of any of the players I just listed. He also has more high-end professional experience than all of them, and he's in his physical prime without much of an injury history.

What the Whitecaps are doing seems sensible. They're replacing the crappy college kids who steered them into so much trouble last year with good professional players that have proven they can get it done at a level just below MLS's. I'd rather have Davidson than a thousand Jeb Brovskys. The concern, from a Whitecaps fan's perspective, is that this may freeze out promising youngsters, but Rennie was quick to sign Bryce Alderson to a Generation Adidas contract early in his tenure and presumably as some plans for our youth.

People who never watch the NASL are scoffing at the Whitecaps for trying to turn their starters into MLS depth. Oh, well. The Whitecaps are loaded for stars: Jay DeMerit, Eric Hassli, Alain Rochat, Camilo Sanvezzo, Davide Chiumiento, Russell Teibert; all those players are still here! Add Lee Young-pyo and the Whitecaps have the front-end talent for a playoff run. It was everywhere else on the roster that we had problems in 2011, and that's where Martin Rennie has sensibly turned his attention.

The other traditional ways to get depth talent are with college players, or by grabbing former MLS journeymen off the scrap heap, or for some teams by signing homegrown players. I'm all for homegrown players if they're good enough, but youngsters need to be nurtured through their development and not just thrown into a situation they're not ready for. College players miss far more often than they hit, particularly beyond the SuperDraft top five. As for players who've already failed elsewhere in MLS... they've proven they can't do it! Obviously there's a few good reclamation projects and diamonds in the rough who were screwed by Tom Soehn but, for the most part, give me an NASL talent every time.

We'll see whether adding a bunch of good professional soccer players is a better strategy than moving around a couple famous guys every year and bolstering the roster with draft picks, youth, and known MLS failures. I feel pretty confident.

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