To tell the truth, it's a little premature to start worrying about next year's MLS roster rules. After all, there's a chance that MLS will change the roster rules before the Whitecaps even hit the pitch at Empire Fields. Major League Soccer's rather cavalier treatment of their roster rules can be summed up best of all by their own website, which, remarkably, still has 2009's roster rules online. And the 2009 rules were different from the 2007 rules, no less. Canadian soccer writers, such as Duane Rollins, have argued that the Whitecaps and Montreal Impact will face a key disadvantage trying to get Canadian players when Toronto FC has a three-season head start, as for the moment Major League Soccer requires Canadian teams to (more-or-less; the full rules are fiendishly complicated) keep eight Canadians and eight Americans on their twenty-four-man rosters.
It's true that the Whitecaps have no remarkable young Canadian stars, no domestic players who are going to take Major League Soccer by storm. There are no Dejan Jakovics or Will Johnsons to be seen. Much of the attention to Vancouver's 2011 roster, therefore, has been on how many Canadians they can dragoon into filling those Canadian slots. Implied is the idea that they may have to settle for those who won't do them any good either short or long-term: for a few Tyler Rosenlunds that won't have to get too much playing time.
But the Whitecaps have one important edge: they're not starting from scratch. The current Vancouver Whitecaps lineup runs out a strong Canadian contingent, and if one brings up promising youngsters from the Whitecaps Residency team the possibilities swell still further. Without any further additions, Vancouver could run out eight very credible Canadians. Since further additions are inevitable, it should be clear that the Whitecaps are in tremendous condition to fulfill their Canadian content requirements. Not just prospects, either, but a combination of promising young players and solid veterans who may not be MLS stars but could play a useful role.
You don't believe me? I'll prove it.
Martin Nash is getting on in years, but he also seems likely to play at least one season in Major League Soccer. It's true that not even Thordarson and Soehn likely have the stones to sack the new co-owner's brother. More importantly, after a few pundits (including myself) wrote him off last season, Nash has quietly put together a tremendous USSF D2 campaign at the age of at the age of thirty-four. Nash has piled on three goals, tied for the team lead, in 1,684 well-played minutes despite an injury earlier in the year.
It's true that the Whitecaps' captain is getting on in years and is unlikely to star in MLS the same way he has in the second division. He's no longer very fast and his once-unerring ball distribution has begun to fail him. But he's still a strong dead ball taker from any part of the field, and one can still run an offense through him in a way that eluded once-stalwart players with similar qualifications such as Ricardo Sanchez. If nothing else, Nash is qualified as an extremely poor man's Cuauhtémoc Blanco, with whom he shares many of the same weaknesses and many of the same strengths.
Besides, look how well Steve Nash is doing at his age. Maybe it's genetic?
Perhaps the best Canadian on the Whitecaps this year is also one of the youngest and the most pleasant surprises. Midfielder Philippe Davies is only nineteen and, although he made a few appearances earlier in the year, stormed into the Whitecaps' lineup after a strong performance in the Voyageurs Cup when many of his teammates were coming up short. Davies isn't a big goalscorer yet, but he finally got his first professional tally against Carolina on July 31. He's young, he's good, he's getting better, and he certainly has all the physical ability to succeed in North America.
Of all the young players who the Whitecaps would be bringing up with them, Davies would clearly be the best. He might be Major League Soccer replacement level already, and he's fast-improving. No matter what country he hailed from I'd like to see him in MLS, but as a Canadian he's simply a no-brainer.
Young, fast, and playing at a position where the Whitecaps don't really have any good players, Randy Edwini-Bonsu might get into MLS just by necessity. However, when one looks at it, Edwini-Bonsu seems to qualify. Although it feels like Edwini-Bonsu has been in the Whitecaps' picture forever now, he's still only twenty years old. Moreover, nobody reading this needs to be introduced to Edwini-Bonsu's immense athletic ability, and unlike so many all-flash-no-fire strikers he can actually handle the ball and strike it with power. Mentally he's clearly not there yet, but it's hard to deny he's coming along.
The danger for Edwini-Bonsu's selection is that he's been supplanted in Teitur Thordarson's affection by Cornelius Stewart, and while Edwini-Bonsu's been fighting a calf injury even Nizar Khalfan is getting starts at striker. It may simply be that the Whitecaps staff don't think very highly of Edwini-Bonsu. It is unclear whether Edwini-Bonsu will ever be a first-class MLS striker or whether he'll fall into the same "tweener" trap that has captured Fuad Ibrahim and others, where he's not good enough to play frequently but too promising to cut loose. Either way, though, he's already better than Andrea Lombardo was.
Out of the various middling Canadian first teamers, the one I'd pick to play in MLS is clearly Luca Bellisomo. Bellisomo, a central defender by nature who has spent most of the season at midfield due to injuries and a lack of depth, is actually my pick for the Whitecaps' MVP this season on account of his durability, his versatility, and a fairly good goalscoring record. While I'm not under any illusions that Bellisomo could be a regular starter for a successful MLS team, a domestic player who can play a variety of positions with skill is a player there's always room for in Major League Soccer.
Ethan Gage is in a somewhat awkward position with the Whitecaps, but he clearly deserves a spot on the Major League Soccer roster as a prospect. Gage is a current Canadian youth international and a semi-frequent appearer with the Whitecaps since 2008 who regardless hasn't made the leap into a full first-team position.
But the question is not whether Ethan Gage should be starting for the USSF D2 Whitecaps, but whether he should be on the roster of the MLS squad. The Canadian Soccer Association has faith in Gage, who has continued to get calls to the under-20 camps in Spain and the Netherlands. Indeed, Vancouver's stuck with Gage through thick and thin. Nobody who's watched him play can doubt that Gage is fundamentally suited to play professional defense, and he's certainly with holding onto in a bench role.
Terry Dunfield, much as I hate to say it. As a faithful reader throughout this site's three-day history, you of course know what I think of the Dunfield signing. He has extensive professional experience, however, and presumably the Whitecaps signed him for a reason. If we were to pick a Canadian who was likely to show up on the MLS team, Dunfield certainly has to be in the discussion regardless of my own opinion on his merits.
Simon Thomas, the Whitecaps' backup goaltender for this season, may be an unusual choice for an MLS roster. Thomas hasn't played a single minute in his Whitecaps senior career, although he was a success with the Whitecaps Residency team and has the confidence of almost all concerned. He's also surpassed former Canadian Soccer League star Dan Pelc, brought in this summer to be Nolly's backup and now almost never seen. Unfortunately, Thomas is the backup goalkeeper for Jay Nolly, who hasn't missed a second in the last two seasons, and who views days off like most people view a kick to the testicles.
Thomas may not be of sufficient quality to play backup keeper in Major League Soccer. It's hard to say, the kid never plays. But at the very least, his position is an ideal one for a Canadian to take. Be it Thomas, Adam Street, Josh Wagenaar... there are any number of young-ish Canadian journeymen out there who could use a long-term job. They're all quite good goalkeepers and many have some professional experience. If the Whitecaps aren't taking advantage of a Canadian in goal come 2011, they're missing a trick.
Russell Teibert. Or Alex Semenets, or Kyle Porter, or whichever promising young Residency starlet you'd like. Let's be honest, there is going to be one and there probably should be. Teibert is the most highly touted and gets my pick, although I personally have preferred Semenets when I've seen them. But they've both had cameos with the senior Whitecaps team and they've both played for the Canadian U-20 team. Teibert is actually off at a Canadian under-20 training camp in Spain starting today, and Semenets may only be left off because he's been getting more minutes with the senior Whitecaps lately.
While Vancouver is of course going to strengthen their first team, they're not likely to add a vast number of quality prospects between now and 2011. The MLS SuperDraft will give them one great youngster and maybe two, but it won't be a revolution for their whole organization. There's certain to be room for one of the brilliant Residency men the team has spent such time and expense developing, and Teibert or Semenets are the best of the bunch.
By no means is it likely that all eight of these players will be the eight to star for Vancouver in 2011. Vancouver is certain to add more players before their MLS debut and likely to add more Canadians - there are plenty of veterans out there like Olivier Occean who might be within Vancouver's grasp. But, then, that's another post in of itself. The point to be made is that, even were the Whitecaps unable to add a single Canadian to their roster, they would be able to make the domestic quotient without unduly stretching their resources.
In truth, Montreal isn't likely to have a problem either. No matter what pessimism might tell you, there are quite a few good soccer players in this country, and Vancouver is lucky enough to have more than their share.