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The Whitecaps Add Four (But Are They Any Good?)

It was real nice of Teitur Thordarson and Tom Soehn to ring in this blog's first full day by making some headline news. I mean, I'd have been happy if they signed one guy, or announced another trial for some mediocre Central American with muddy YouTube video, but signing four players in one day? Most of whom I've heard of? That's going above and beyond the call of duty, is what that is.

As broken by Marc Weber of the Vancouver Province on Twitter, the Whitecaps have added three players on full contracts and one on loan. Canadian midfielders Terry Dunfield and Kyle Porter as well as Cameroonian Alexandre Morfaw have signed contracts, while Generation Adidas starlet, American striker, and probable top-three MLS pick Omar Salgado has joined on loan until the end of the year, pending league approval.

At this stage, it's impossible to view the Whitecaps' signing anybody to so much as mop the floors without a suspicious eye towards MLS in 2011. The Whitecaps, who are notoriously reticent to announce anything even vaguely contract-related, refused to disclose the lengths of the three permanent signings but if they were inked into next season it would have been big enough news for there to surely be an announcement. All the same, of the three permanent contracts, two are young and the third is a recently-capped veteran with an ambition to play at a higher level.

As for the loanee, well, obviously he's leaving at the end of the season one way or another. Then again, Omar Salgado may appeal to the Whitecaps with that first overall pick they recently picked up. The longest-lasting Whitecap out of this foursome may wind up being the only one on a loan deal. Unless it turns out to be a player who ruined his draft stock and his reputation by failing at his first professional test.

Clearly these four aren't just playing for this season, they're auditioning for the MLS roster. But are they any good?

The sole non-North American, Alexandre Morfaw, is obviously the most obscure of the bunch. Lured in from Bodens BK of the Swedish First Division (which, in that inimitable European way, is actually their third division), Morfaw is primarily a midfielder who turns 23 on August 31. Although listed as French on some sites and having come up through the FC Nantes youth system, Morfaw represented Cameroon at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Morfaw has also had brief, undistinguished reserve careers with Lincoln City and Scunthorpe in England.

Finding out something about this kid would probably be easier if I read a word of Swedish: Bodens is the only part of the footballing world where he's gotten so much as a nanosecond of first team time. But Google Translate tells an ominous story: one Bodens supporter on a team fan board says of Morfaw that "one Alex and the motivation is really poisonous but not so that he becomes what dozen players at any time", which sounds... really vaguely terrible. More intelligibly, the fans are writing Morfaw off as not a major loss. A concerning statement when you're bringing in a player from as far down the line as the Swedish third division. As early as July, Morfaw had left Bodens for "family reasons" and was being condemned by the Bodens supporters.

You will be unsurprised to hear that I have never seen Morfaw play and knew nothing about him before today. But when you're picking up bit players with potential attitude problems from mediocre teams in leagues far below MLS and probably below USSF D2 quality, that's a question mark.

The Canadians, of course, I have a rather better grip on. 20-year-old Kyle Porter returns to Vancouver after leaving the Whitecaps for a tour at Energie Cottbus. Porter, a Mississauga native, has gotten a few brief and undistinguished looks at the youth international level but his loan to Cottbus along with half the Whitecaps Residency's decent prospects a couple years ago was the pinnacle of his footballing career to this point. In truth, I hadn't heard that Porter had ever left the Whitecaps organization (certainly he never caught on in Cottbus) and thought he was just on extended loan, but the Whitecaps release makes it look like that Porter was a new signing. He's no holy hell, but he can play forward as well as midfield, is still young, and will look good back with the Residency even if he can't make a dent on the first team.

Terry Dunfield is the veteran of the group. No Canadian supporter will need me to retell the story of his career: how he was once among the most promising Canadian prospects of his generation, his tenure as U-20 national captain, how he was at one time supposed to surpass Owen Hargreaves as a defensive central midfielder, and how one Premier League game with Manchester City wound up as his high water mark as injuries and ineptitude conspired to slide him further and further down the Football League ladder. Dunfield has been in the lower leagues since 2002 with Bury, Worcester City, Macclesfield Town, and most recently Shrewsbury Town, usually starting but never starring.

But earlier this summer, with Canada manager Stephen Hart needing to fill his roster for a non-FIFA-date friendly against Venezuela, the 28-year-old Dunfield got his first call to the senior Canadian national team. He was there strictly to make up the numbers, or so it seemed, but Dunfield played most of the match against a weak Venezuela side and got reviews ranging from "mediocre" to "terrible".

Unfortunately, perhaps, for all concerned, at some point Stephen Hart mentioned to Dunfield that if he wanted to get further attention from the national team he'd have to be playing at a level higher than League Two. Dunfield went straight to the Shrewsbury Town brass with that one, and they were understandably perturbed. With a year left on his contract Dunfield was released this summer under the provision that he could not sign with another club in England. While it was good to see a player putting his career on the line for the sake of the Canadian national team, the truth was that Dunfield had spent almost a decade as a lower-league journeyman and seemed to suddenly suffer from delusions of grandeur.

Dunfield was frozen out of the league where he had made his reputation, such as it was. He got a trial with Scottish Premier League side Motherwell and impressed nobody. Over at some canadian guys writing about soccer, Squizz said that "the B.C. boy’s hometown squad will be entering MLS next year, and I’m guessing they’ll be itching to sign domestic talent with some transoceanic pedigree", to which I replied "If the Whitecaps are reduced to signing Terry Dunfield for the MLS team we may as well just leave the Voyageurs Cup in Toronto."

Does that give you some idea about how this signing makes me feel? Dunfield can probably play in the second division, to be honest, but he couldn't keep up in MLS. He's playing at a position where the Whitecaps have veterans and youngsters galore. He's quite a poor player and at his age isn't likely to get any better. I love his patriotism and enthusiasm for the national team, and I'd probably be Dunfield's biggest fan if he weren't cashing a paycheque from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Finally there's Omar Salgado. Salgado played a key role in the United States U-20s winning the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland early this month, including scoring a goal against China in his U-20 international debut. Salgado has pursued an unusual route to the MLS SuperDraft: he first came to international attention as a youth player with Mexican Primera División side C.D. Guadalajara before training in Spain with another Mexican youth squad. His mother was a Texan and his father Mexican; Salgado himself was born in El Paso, Texas. If any American seemed suited to a career in Mexico Salgado was it, but homesickness eventually intervened.

Only sixteen years old, Salgado isn't a prodigy but he is a strong young player. In spite of his early U-20 experience it would take a terrific optimist to expect that someone barely old enough to drive is going to make a mark on a second division Canadian club, and the most important thing Salgado can do for himself is to work his blood out in training while impressing Thordarson and Soehn enough to win a first overall pick in 2011. And if he can pip a goal for the senior side, well, we all know the Whitecaps need some scoring. Maybe an electric teenager is just what the doctor ordered.

Kyle Porter is almost a non-entity. Alexandre Morfaw seems like a spectacularly mediocre midfielder from an even more mediocre league. Terry Dunfield is older and not very good and a frankly bewildering signing for the Whitecaps. But Omar Salgado looks like he could be the real deal. Will he be the real deal for Vancouver, though, or will he turn the Whitecaps off enough that they go another route come draft time?