This is left back Alain Rochat, then of FC Zürich. And kinda still of FC Zürich, come to mention it. For Alain Rochat has been signed to a contract by the Vancouver Whitecaps, but he will remain in Switzerland for the next four months, until after the conclusion of the USSF D2 calendar. What we have here is the first player expressly signed for Vancouver's 2011 Major League Soccer campaign.
Alain Rochat is Canadian. Or, at least, he's Canadian as far as Major League Soccer is concerned, born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (hometown of Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jeff Deslauriers). However, Rochat is Swiss by descent and everything except birth. He's even a cap-tied former member of the Swiss national team, having made one appearance in World Cup qualifying against the mighty Faroe Islands on June 4, 2005. He's been living and training in Switzerland since his early teenage years, with the exception of one season with Stade Rennais in the French Ligue 1, having come up with the FC Gransdon and Yverdon Sport FC youth systems. He is also the only signed, sealed, and delivered member of the Vancouver Whitecaps roster to have ever played in the UEFA Champions League.
There's very little to criticize about this signing. Rochat is a fine player who has been an outstanding part of a very good FC Zürich team in the very good Swiss first division. He's entering the prime of his career and has a lot of years left to make an impact. As a natural left back, he isn't exactly coming in at a position where the Whitecaps need help, but as good as Zourab Tsiskaridze is, Rochat is clearly a significant upgrade. He's a defensive lynchpin with good size, good speed, and some scoring flair, and while he won't star in MLS he'll certainly be a major contributor.
The only thing I can criticize is that we won't get to see him sooner.
Of course, Rochat's status as a domestic player for MLS purposes is important. He counts as Canadian to Major League Soccer, even if he never counted as Canadian in any other sense. Rochat was in the Swiss youth setup from day one and at one time was very highly thought of indeed, playing in its U-17 setup starting in October 1999 and actually captaining their U-21 team for a time. In his first major tournament with the Swiss U-21s, the 2002 European U-21 Championship, Rochat was the youngest player on manager Bernard Challandes's team by almost a year and a half as Switzerland made a surprise run to the semi-final. His first and, so far, only appearance with the Swiss national team came when Rochat was just twenty-two years old.
Unfortunately, that was the point when Rochat's star started to fade. Rochat transferred to State Rennais FC in France that year, and in one of his first matches with the first team Stade Rennais got wiped out by lowly AS Nancy, just promoted from Ligue 2, 6-0 (still the biggest win in Nancy history). Rochat took a heavy part of the blame for the drubbing and wound up struggling for minutes with Stade Rennais. The French side sent him on loan back to Zürich, the transfer became permanent, and there Rochat has remained until this day.
Rochat has mostly played left back with Zürich, although some sources suggest that he can also play central defense. I have seem him only in passing, but a glance at the FC Zürich fan boards reveals positive reviews: Rochat comes in for wide, if not quite universal praise [German], including being called "invaluable", and later in the same thread fans were dismayed to see Rochat leave [still German]. The Swiss league is a serious one, at least MLS quality, with Switzerland currently boasting a UEFA coefficient of 30,395 (thirteenth). Picking up a near-star from a league that good on a free transfer is always a good piece of business, particularly if he counts as a domestic. This is a very good signing, and has the potential to be a great one.