Philippe Davies was a core player as a teenager in the second division but never even got a chance in Major League Soccer. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
Jarju will get the headlines. The Gambian came in as a mid-season designated player last year and made himself famous for getting into prime scoring positions then wasting them. I was under the impression that he was being mis-used by Tom Soehn as a pure striker rather than the attacking midfielder he's been his entire career, but it appears that Martin Rennie has chosen not to give him a chance.
Still, you can defend releasing Jarju if the Whitecaps have found a better way to spend the money. Letting Davies go, from an outsider's perspective, looks maddening. The 21-year-old had an excellent 2010 USSF D2 season and showed very promising signs in USL PDL during 2011 despite being frozen out of the first team by Teitur Thordarson and Tom Soehn. The Whitecaps press release indicates that the team declined Davies's option and the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. Given that Davies made the MLS minimum of $32,600 last year and counted as a homegrown player, that must have been some option.
Jarju had the big money, the big name, and the lack of big results. Everybody's going to be talking about him but fuck that, I'm here for Big Phil. Cutting Davies ends what's been a terrible year between him and the Whitecaps organization and gives Davies a fresh start that I doubt he'll really mind having. It also jettisons one of Vancouver's few authentic Canadians and a quality prospect no never got even the most cursory glance in MLS. Somebody who was cheap, young, had a good attitude, and who could play a variety of positions. I cannot to save my life concoct a reasonable explanation.
A brief word about Jarju, just for the record. He's 25 years old and has five years worth of professional experience, plus a good career with his national team, to suggest that he has the quality to do well in MLS. He has ten bad games under the worst coach in professional soccer to suggest that he hasn't. This is a classic case of buying high and selling low, and if the Whitecaps aren't doing this for the sole purpose of immediately bringing in another, superior designated player then they are insane. If they needed to cut Jarju to, for example, afford the allocation money for today's trade with the Colorado Rapids, then somebody needs to take Martin Rennie out for a long walk by the harbour to explain the facts of life.
Jarju didn't do the job in his ten games, I know that. If the Whitecaps have a better replacement coming and needed to free up resources then this is an understandable move. But if they're just getting rid of him for the sake of getting him off the payroll then it's poor management of an asset whose value could hardly depreciate any further.
But Phil Davies. Figure that one out. A Canadian raised in the Vancouver Residency system who's succeeded at every level where he's been given the opportunity. He worked hard last year to try and break into the first team even when incompetence put him behind the likes of Peter Vagenas. Watching him at the PDL level, I can't think of anything he left undone: trying to adjust to a more all-round, box-to-box role than his usual attacking style, Davies made good strides on his defense and positioning against players who were often still a couple of years older than him. Heck, he even had a fantastic cameo in the Manchester City friendly where he seemed one of the most effective players on the pitch!
I have to assume that there's some sort of behind-the-scenes shenanigans that we haven't heard about. Maybe Davies, who was visibly frustrated at times during the season, wanted to leave. It's possible, although I think unlikely, that he dogged it in practice or showed an unacceptable attitude to the coaches. Maybe the option year of his contract really was for enormous money and Davies wasn't willing to negotiate it down to decent value. In any case, Davies now leaves Vancouver without even being a true free agent: the Whitecaps hold his MLS rights, ruling out a return home to the Montreal Impact. Davies' only options are FC Edmonton, semi-professional soccer, or overseas without a European Union passport.
I'm grasping for rationalizations here because, on the surface, letting Davies go is indefensible. It looks like Rennie signed Jun Marques Davidson, decided "I have one midfielder too many", and cut the bottom guy on the totem pole while ignoring the bigger picture.
I've given Martin Rennie very high marks so far for asset management. If he had something of no value to him, he's done well getting some sort of return for it. He's inked players from good leagues who tend to make less money than your average MLS journeyman. He's built up depth at most positions while leaving the quality core players intact. But I think he underestimates the value of a player like Davies in a league as tightly restricted as MLS: multi-positional, young and improving, willing to learn, cheap, and domestic. Even if you think he's worse than, say, Matt Watson (and I do not), it's better to have Davies than Watson for all those reasons.
I wish both Davies and Jarju the best of luck. Jarju because he seemed like a good person in a bad situation, and Davies because he deserves the chance Vancouver never gave him.