With the recently-announced signing of Alain Rochat, the Whitecaps have moved one step closer to filling their domestic quota for 2011. That's only seven spots to go. Six, if you're generous enough to count Terry Dunfield. And in spite of my confident look at the Whitecaps' current Canadian content a couple of days ago, nobody expects the Whitecaps to already have loaded up all their Canadians.
Of course, it would be terrific if the Whitecaps could load up entirely on star-quality players, fill in the gaps with brilliant prospects, and go on to take Major League Soccer by storm. But let's face it, that's probably not going to happen. There's a salary cap, and some of the best Canadians aren't going to want to come to Vancouver, and you may be able to attract nine defenders but no strikers, and there's all sorts of reasons why Tom Soehn is going to have to compromise building this team.
So today, we're going to look at the other end of the Canadian spectrum. Players who aren't all that good, who haven't got the pedigree and talent of the men in yesterday's series. But young players with the prospect of improving and just enough interesting about them to, potentially, be worth a flyer to fill a hole in Major League Soccer next year. They're young, they're mediocre, but they're available. Some are from lower European divisions, others are currently without a club altogether. Nobody on this list is likely to be a difference maker on his own, but given a few years maybe one or two will turn out.
Massih Wassey was born in Germany. His mother was born in Afghanistan. He's played his entire footballing career in Germany. But his mother married a Canadian after he was born and that allowed him to get a Canadian passport. So not only is Wassey a domestic for MLS purposes but he's also a twice-capped member of the Canadian men's national team, having appeared against Jamaica and Venezuela earlier this year. Heady stuff for a kid who's never played above the German fourth division, and particularly impressive since he didn't look bad. He delighted the Jamaican announcers with his name and was active in the play, while in the game in Venezuela he was fairly good in a tightly-fought affair.
Unfortunately his club form appears to be less impressive than his international, as his contract was not renewed by FC Schalke when it expired this summer. Wassey had been playing, and supposedly playing well, with Schalke II but the big club apparently had no faith in his ability to raise his game a level. More's the pity for them. Might be good for us, though, if Wassey can be lured over. He was a prolific scorer out of central midfield for Schalke II and, in the international games, showed more defensive awareness than usual for a kid his age. At twenty-two years old he has time to improve and Wassey certainly has the physical gifts. He's probably the best outfield "hole filler" on this list.
Another player that may be scooped from the German divisions is young Jonathan Bourgault, recently signed to SC Preußen Münster of the German Regionalliga West. Bourgault is best remembered in Canadian circles for his substitute performance in goal at the U-20 World Cup in Canada when the Canadian keeper was sent off for foolishly handling the ball outside the area. But he's also making a name for himself in Germany, having won some first team time from FC St. Pauli last year and looking like a potential core player for Preußen Münster. He also has two international caps, coming on as a substitute against Macedonia last year and Venezuela earlier this summer.
Bourgault is primarily a defensive midfielder, although I've seen play in all sorts of central positions. The Whitecaps haven't tended to use a defensive midfielder under Teitur Thordarson but, then, they haven't really had a player suitable for the role either. Bourgault, athletically, hasn't been quite to MLS standard when I've seen him. Certainly he doesn't appear to have the strength or the hard-tackling style one associates with a defensive midfielder in MLS. But the skills are all there and if Soehn is looking for a good, reliable central midfielder at what would hopefully be a low price, Bourgault is at least worth investigating.
I mentioned him briefly on Thursday, but it's worth bringing up the name "Adam Street" again. Street grew up in the youth system of West Ham, where he was considered a goalkeeper of promise both at home and abroad. Street has not yet played for his country at a senior level but has been a starting goalkeeper for Canada as a U-17 and seven times as a U-20. However, when West Ham released Street at his own request rather than offer him a senior contract, he vanished off the face of the earth. Only a trial at Toronto FC and his continuing presence at Canadian youth training camps testified that he still existed.
Street has gotten all the praise there is to get for a young Canadian goalkeeper: indeed, he has been unofficially anointed Canada's goalkeeper of the future by more than one amateur pundit. His Toronto FC trial failed, but if the youngster wants to live in Canada while playing as a professional, Vancouver would be a good choice. It'd be a solid move for the Whitecaps, too: they'd be adding a superb young goalkeeper who could back up Jay Nolly or whoever winds up starting in MLS while taking up a domestic spot and learning the tools of the trade. If his time as a youth player is worth anything, Street could turn into an MLS starter sooner rather than later.
An interesting hypothetical choice out of England would be Lincoln City striker Gavin McCallum. McCallum is a twenty-two year old who has been on a slow but remarkably steady climb up the English league and non-league ranks: he's moved from Southern League Weymouth to Conference South side Havant and Waterlooville, up to League Two with Hereford United and now Lincoln. McCallum also got his first international appearance this summer, looking good even before he scored Canada's dramatic last-ditch equalizer against Venezuela.
McCallum is under contract until the end of the 2011-12 season, which is an obstacle: Lincoln would in all probability demand a transfer fee. Of course, League Two transfer fees aren't anything to write home about but it would still be an unlikely course for fee-shy Major League Soccer to take on quite an average 22-year-old striker. But the Whitecaps strike force, as it currently stands, is quite weak. There aren't many young Canadian strikers out there either, so Vancouver would have the choices of either running out a sub-par lineup, playing only foreigners up front, or paying a bit of money for the likes of McCallum. It's a possibility certainly worth mentioning.