As we enter the off-season, priority number one for those tending the Vancouver Whitecaps' garden has got to be clearing out the dead wood and doing a little much-needed weeding. By my calculation, through a combination of buyouts, transfers, and outright releases, there's potential to put roughly $2.4 million into the shopping kitty - plus the transfer fee that Davide Chiumiento would have commanded, and whatever may have come their way this year through everybody's favourite MLS trade component: "allocation money".
With both fists clutching slightly less than what Christiano Ronaldo takes home every couple of months, the Caps will need to address a couple issues that are mostly problems of their own making.
The squad needs an injection of youth, particularly on the back line. The starters there average just a shade over 32 years old. The most critical item on this list concerns the RB position and 35-year-old Y. P. Lee. If Vancouver can persuade him to enter another MLS campaign, something that by no means should be seen as a certainty, they will have to come up with some form of job-sharing at that position. As the team doesn't have anything more than a patchwork solution at the moment, they're going to have to add a RB to their current shopping list. The club does have the youngish Jordan Harvey, who has developed into a serviceable LB and thus earned Martin Rennie's trust. CB Carlyle Mitchell, on the other hand, is rotting on the bench, and will likely be headed elsewhere. the Caps were lucky this year that injuries did not play a larger role along the back line. At least one apprentice is going to be needed for security here.
The Caps are stuck with two players that cannot or will not ever make it onto the game day roster, let alone the starting XI on a regular basis. They are already past their peak, and are investments on the downward slide from just barely making the grade in MLS. Look for the Caps to divest themselves of forwards Atiba Harris and Etienne Barbara sooner rather than later. Harris is the better of the two, but has only 12 games played over the last two seasons. At 27, he probably has a couple years left in his pro soccer account, just not likely with the Caps. Barbara has sounded the bottom of the attacking depth charts since joining the Caps from Martin Rennie's feeder favourite, the Carolina Railhawks. The Maltese striker saw only 13 minutes of pitch time in 2012. At nearly $7,000 per minute, his services will likely not be required come 2013.
Neither Barry Robson nor Kenny Miller have lived up to the hype that preceded them. Since MLS rules allow for only one guaranteed contract to be bought out each off-season, my guess is that Miller will get the golden handshake, while Rennie will be left trying to evaluate his options with Robson.
The goalkeeping scene is a little thorny at the moment. Brad Knighton appears to have assumed the de facto no. 1 position, while Joe Cannon looks on. At 37 Cannon is now growing long of tooth, and short of options. His guaranteed salary of $176,000 doesn't help his chances of staying with the club. If the Caps shop around for a journeyman keeper, Joe & Co. might just part ways.
On the topic of deadweight salaries, Martin Bonjour gets a paragraph to himself. At almost $277,000 per season, his (substitute) salary is so seriously out of whack it's ridiculous. Alain Rochat's taking home $170,000 for god's sakes. There's no way in the world Bonjour can justify being the fourth-highest paid player on the squad behind Miller, Robson, and DeMerit. I'll say one thing, though. He's got a hell of an agent. He's a decent relief defender, but not at that price.
So how could the Whitecaps spend the money that Vancouver's fans and corporate sponsors have poured into their coffers? The possibilities are endless. I've been doing some digging, and here are some of my current favourites:
McGoldrick appears to be a true diamond in the rough. Having played mostly in the English Championship and League One, this 24-year-old striker has been turning heads of late at Coventry City, where he's currently on loan from Nottingham Forest. His tally so far this season: 10 goals in 16 appearances, including two markers notched against Crawley Town earlier this week. Here's a sample of his work. Taking a look at Transfermarkt, it would seem that his market value of £225,000 represents an opportunity for money well spent. Just three years ago, with Southampton, his value was £1.3 million. He's still young and performing well enough that the drop in value could well be just a trough, and not necessarily an indication of a long-term trend. By comparison, German-based Transfermarkt lists Kenny Miller at £1.1 million (June '12). Miller's 32, and his value has plummeted in the last 18 months. There's virtually no chance at this stage in his career of any significant upswing.
This young attacker, at 21 years old, has moved around between Volendam, Utrecht, and current home Dordrecht in the Dutch Jupiler League (also known as the Eerste Divisie), the second-highest level of play in the Netherlands, below the top-level Eredivisie. Veldwijk's numbers of late look impressive: 7 goals in 11 matches so far in 2012. Transfermarkt lists him at £125,000. Given his age, it might be a better option to just keep him on the watchlist than the shopping list for now.
Rise is a 26-year-old forward / midfielder who has moved up and down between Denmark's top division, the Superliga, and the next level down. Currently with Randers FC, Rise has 2 goals in 8 appearances (5 of them in the starting 11) for his side this year. Over the last 4 years, he's netted at least 23 balls in 38 appearances -- his data is somewhat incomplete. Transfermarkt lists him as a CF / RW / LW, while at least one other site has him down as a midfielder. Current market value is estimated to be £350,000. Check out this fabulous effort from distance vs AGF earlier this year. Rise can hit deadly screamers with the best of them.
The last last three signings the Whitecaps have made out of Europe have been for aging players with little left on their footballing odometers. Andy O'Brien has worked out great so far, and there is no quibble with his contribution to the team this past half-season or so. The same cannot be said for Barry Robson, who was a disappointment, and Kenny Miller, who was frankly a bust. The Caps have been paying top-dollar for players who've been trading on past performance, while failing to deliver even a semblance of it for a number of months. They're not getting any younger, and their potential will continue to dwindle downward.
The Caps need to cast their eyes more often at players who have not yet approached their peak, not tailing off after it. In short, they're bringing in talent that's guaranteed to be getting worse with time. Perhaps it's time to be looking not for the quick fix, but searching for potentially longer-term solutions and youth at the same time.