Yesterday morning, I looked at how the Whitecaps could fill their 2011 MLS Canadian quotient from within the existing organization. I picked eight players who I thought could play modest roles in MLS without blowing their own brains out and generally played the optimist. It was a weird role. I felt kinda dirty afterwards.
But I certainly didn't deny that Vancouver could use a little strengthening. Vancouver might be able to pack their roster with eight modest Canadians, but bragging about having players better than Tyler Rosenlund is a sign you're probably going to miss the playoffs. When a third of your roster is around or just below replacement level, that's not quite a good thing.
Of course, it would be lovely if Tom Soehn could swing some great trade for one of the superior Canadian players in Major League Soccer - I'd take Dejan Jakovic in a Whitecaps kit so enthusiastically I'd give him a ride from the airport. But the cost in trade of a player such as Teal Bunbury would have to be significant. The problem with such good, affordable players is that they have an irritating habit of being hard to get.
Realistically, if the Whitecaps are going to pick up a Canadian star to help anchor the team, they're going to have to look abroad. And for Canadians that means to Europe, at the assortment of journeymen and not-quite-first-class players plying their trade in leagues all across the continent. Older players looking for one last payday, struggling players who might need a change of scenery. The classic fodder of the MLS roster. But fodder that might be surprisingly good for Vancouver, if we can get it.
The Whitecaps' weakest position this Division Two season has been striker, and a great way to fill that would be to pick up veteran Olivier Occean from Kickers Offenbach of the German 3rd Liga. His contract runs through 2011 and the way he's destroying the German third division on a team chasing promotion, it's unlikely Kickers is going to be eager to let him go. As a matter of fact, Occean's contract expires just in time for him to join a newly-promoted MLS Montreal team in 2012 so he can play on natural grass in his home province of Quebec.
It must be admitted that getting Occean is probably beyond us.
But an article such as this can't be written without at least mentioning Occean. Although recently lost in the Scandinavian wilderness with Lillestrøm, Occean has reliably scored a goal every two and a half games in leagues as good as or better than MLS. He could be a dynamic and remarkably effective striker for the MLS Whitecaps, although we'll probably be stuck seeing him as a remarkably effective striker for the MLS Impact if he crosses the pond at all.
An attractive choice for both sentimental and practical reasons is midfielder/striker Iain Hume out of Barnsley in the Npower Championship. This is the last year of Hume's first contract with Barnsley after arriving in 2008 on a £1.2 million deal, making him an admirable target on a free transfer. But after his vicious injury at the elbow of scumbag Chris Morgan Hume has failed to meet expectations in spite of significant minutes. This summer Barnsley has been loading up on talented young strikers such as Liam Dickinson and fresh Argentine import Jerónimo Morales Neumann, potentially reducing Hume's traction with the club. At first blush, it seems like a perfect match.
The devil is as always in the details. Hume is far from out of options in Europe, and at only twenty-six years old could certainly find a ride somewhere in England. Prior to his injury, his goalscoring record with Barnsley was quite good, and even now that he's not putting the ball in he's an effective sparkplug and agitator on the pitch. Iain Hume, in short, would be expensive if he was willing to come to Major League Soccer at all. And there's just enough doubt around his ability to score post-injury that he may not be worth risking a big investment on. As much as I'd adore seeing Hume in white and blue, for he has been among my favourite Canadian players since his youth career in Tranmere, acquiring him would be running an awful, awful risk.
Turning from youth and vigour to old age and treachery, another possibility being bandied about is veteran right back/midfielder and Canadian national captain Paul Stalteri. Stalteri is under contract to Borussia Monchengladbach until the end of the 2010-11 season, when his terms with the 2.Bundesliga team expire, and given his near-complete absence from the first team of late it's safe to say he won't be getting a new contract. It's an open question where Stalteri can fit in around Europe these days. There might be another 2.Bundesliga or Serie B or even an Npower Championship team willing to take a flyer on the Diesel, but the paycheques are certain to be shrinking and the minutes growing harder to come by.
Getting the captain of the senior national team would be a feather in the Whitecaps' cap, but the big question marks about Stalteri have always been age and salary. In spite of his years Stalteri has been fairly durable, so to tell the truth I'm not worried about him being unable to cope with Major League Soccer athletically. He's not what he used to be, and expecting him to star in MLS would be altogether too much (signing Stalteri to Designated Player terms would be sheer madness regardless of his professional pedigree). MLS doesn't necessarily require a great deal of speed from its defenders so long as they are alert and can play physically, which Stalteri is more than capable of. Meanwhile, his wage demands must be shrinking in time with the interest he's receiving from European clubs. If the Whitecaps could add him on a one- or two-year deal at Carl Robinson money, he could provide magnificent veteran influence, poise on the pitch, and help the Canadian national team keep one of its better players in shape just in case he is needed again.
I would be enthusiastic to sign Stalteri as anything short of a designated player, almost unreservedly.
And, like the true attention-grabber I am, I save the biggest talking point of al for lastl. David Edgar currently plays at Burnley - well, when I say "plays" I mean "sits on the bench a lot and inspires angsty posts on the Voyageurs board". The former Newcastle prospect was captain of Canada's U-20 team when we hosted the Youth World Cup, played an impressive number of Premier League games for a teenager, scored more goals than striker Junior Hoilett has managed so far, and generally impressed the hell out of everybody. Then last year he signed for relegation-bound Burnley and, in spite of an avalanche of defensive injuries and hopeless incompetence from their back four, Edgar barely saw grass.
So far this (early) year, with Burnley in the Npower Championship, Edgar has been on the bench but still not kicked a ball in anger. There's been no buzz out of Burnley surrounding Edgar. It seems to be they just don't have much of an opinion of the kid. For those of us who were hoping for Edgar to be the new Stalteri, to be someone who could anchor our national defense for years to come, it's a bitter pill. He's already been passed by the likes of Andre Hainault, Dejan Jakovic, Adam Straith, and even Nana Attakora. His career is going down when it should be going up.
So perhaps now is the perfect time for him to move home. Take a step down the ladder, to a level he can get regular playing time on. Move into a league where he can thrive and impress. It was a good enough career path for the likes of Landon Donovan, so why could Edgar complain? Even if Burnley still rates Edgar too highly to lose him they might be willing to send him on loan for the summer of 2011, where he can strengthen his professional resume at Vancouver's expense. Certainly the Whitecaps would be wise to take him.
There are always those who would look askance at a young Canadian moving down in the soccer world when they'd prefer he'd be moving up. But you have to walk before you can run, and Edgar's steps have been awfully stumbling lately. He's not likely to wind up a Whitecap either permanently or on loan, but of all the players on this list he's the one I'd most like to see.