Just when we thought we'd get through a Friday afternoon without anything happening, the Vancouver Whitecaps have traded forward Sebastien Le Toux to the New York Red Bulls. In exchange, the Whitecaps receive winger/forward Dane Richards and allocation money.
Both are attacking-first players who run hard and chip into the offense in a couple of different ways. Both are basically all-rounders, although Richards is more of a natural playmaker and Le Toux a scorer both of them are comfortable either passing or shooting. Richards is a month younger and, like Le Toux, a naturalized domestic player. Richards also makes slightly more than Le Toux, with a $170,000 base salary against Le Toux's $145,000. Richards is smaller and hasn't got the same two-way-infinite-work-rate reputation as Le Toux but at the same time no complaints.
The Whitecaps have seen Richards good. He beat the hell out of Alain Rochat a couple of times earlier this year and gave Jay DeMerit a very hard time last season. No doubt this has factored into Rennie's decision to bring Richards in.
Yet there's also a clear tactical reason for the Whitecaps to acquire Richards in place of Le Toux. Le Toux played wide right a great deal this season and never wholly looked comfortable (paging Jay Duke): he's far stronger in the middle but with Eric Hassli, Darren Mattocks, Camilo Sanvezzo, and now Barry Robson around it's a hard position to break into. Richards, however, is a born-and-bred right winger, someone who can play with his heels to the touchline but also isn't limited by it. Richards is also a classical speed merchant on a team that, Mattocks aside, isn't very fast.
You don't have to look too far to see why Martin Rennie would make this move, but it's also hard not to be flabbergasted by it. Le Toux's had some clumsy touches and some rough games, but his proven ability in MLS counts for a lot (hell, it got Dane Richards in a trade) and his two-way acumen isn't shared by any other Whitecaps attacking player.
Richards is good. I like him. But the loss of Le Toux could wind up stinging in unforeseeable ways.
With Le Toux gone, the healthy Whitecaps forward depth chart is something like Mattocks, Hassli, Camilo, and Etienne Barbara (to the extent he qualifies as healthy with his nagging groin issues). None of these players can really defend; well, Hassli can, but when he tries he gets sent off so he's stopped trying. The situation is just as bad on the wings; Russell Teibert's defense has improved since last year and Barry Robson is a fair two-way player but Teibert never plays and Robson will need to slow down to avoid disciplinary problems.
There's a lot to be said for your team having at least one two-way player in a pinch. Le Toux was that guy for Vancouver, and while he wasn't the most gifted (hello, Terry Dunfield goal) such players aren't common in Major League Soccer. It's far easier to get, well, a Dane Richards type, somebody who's dynamite in one direction but even when he puts the effort in can't keep up the same standard getting back.
Again, Richards is quality. He became an everyday player the instant he arrived in New York and is among the league's better wingers. His seven assists last year were very credible and he adds goals in bunches. Obviously it's pretty easy being a supporting offensive player when the stars are Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Kenny Cooper and we'll see how he responds to less of a "showtime" offense, but we can draw some hope from his performances from Jamaica: that offense is a long way from CONCACAF's cream these days but Richards has been a pretty fair contributor.
I'm plenty happy with the return, particularly if it's Martin Rennie's way of solving a very old offensive flaw. With Robson/Teibert/Michael Nanchoff on the left and Richards on the right, the Whitecaps are now capable of properly attacking from wide positions for the first time since maybe 2009.
Acquiring Richards is a good decision, and of course you have to give quality to get quality back (unless you're Toronto FC in which case you just trade assets for garbage). He brings something to the Whitecaps we didn't have before. But Le Toux brought something we don't have now. He'll be missed both as a person and a player.