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Have the Whitecaps Got Their Priorities Straight?

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A rare photo of Ricardo Sanchez being allowed to actually play for the Vancouver Whitecaps. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
A rare photo of Ricardo Sanchez being allowed to actually play for the Vancouver Whitecaps. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)

Willis Forko, Cody Arnoux, Davide Chiumiento, Alain Rochat, a shot at Omar Salgado, Terry Dunfield, Kyle Porter, Alexandre Morfaw, Jonathon McDonald, Blaise Mobulu, and Alex Elliot. Eleven names, all added (or attempted to be added) to the Whitecaps roster since June 1 of this year. Most professional clubs don't have that sort of turnover in an entire off-season, yet the Whitecaps have gone that far in the middle of the USSF Division Two campaign.

You don't need me to tell you the reason. It's to get ready for Major League Soccer. The savaging team chemistry will be taken will all be worth it if it makes the team better in 2011 when the games really start to count. It may hurt the team in the short run, but who's interested in that?

I am, for a start.

While everything about the organization screams "get ready for next year", it's easy to forget there's a "this year" too. Our performance against FC Tampa Bay was a good case in point; the Whitecaps may have had a tonne of talented players on the pitch but they had just started playing with each other and as a unit couldn't match Tampa Bay's relative cohesion. Soccer's a team game, and players who have a familiarity with each other and can predict each others' moves have an advantage over those thrown together on the spur of the moment.

Many of these players (I'm looking at you Morfaw, McDonald, and Mobulu) have to be considered outside shots to make the eventual MLS roster. Guys of that calibre - guys who are inferior to what the Whitecaps already had! - have been brought in to ruin the chemistry of a team that had been second- or third-best in the league, the leaders in the NASL Conference, and a team with a better-than-outside shot at making a second division final for the third year on the trot.

MLS is all well and good for the future, but must we suffer in the present to get there?

It's not just the players they brought in, but the ones they cut lose. Marlon James is gone and didn't play much when he was here. "Health" was the excuse, as it always was with James; a 33-year-old St. Vincentian who could finish maybe even better than Charles Gbeke when he was healthy but who just wasn't healthy enough. But James's exile requires more than that for an explanation. During the Voyageurs Cup, James was left on the bench or even out of the lineup in favour of the ineffective Marcus Haber or whatever young gun appealed to Teitur that week but James also swore up and down to a Southsider he spoke to that he was fit and ready to go when Vancouver desperately needed a goal in Montreal to keep him alive and opted for the unblooded Residency pup Doudou Toure instead.

Midfielders like Ansu Toure and Justin Moose were never going to be good enough for the MLS team, and everybody knew it. But at the USSF D2 level both were valuable enough components and Toure, in particular, was having a fine season. Now, Moose is gone and Toure is at an undisclosed location while everyone expects him to be all-but-officially released. Also gone are Jonny Steele and Ricardo Sanchez, understandable on a level - for neither looked terrific in limited opportunities in Vancouver - but bewildering on another, for both are former USL-1 MVPs who have gotten a new lease on life in Tampa Bay and can clearly play this game a little.

All these moves probably conspire to make the Whitecaps better in the long run. Bringing in kids like Porter and veterans like Dunfield won't make any difference if they can't play. If Cody Arnoux plays a few games for the Whitecaps this season and gets onto the team next year one way or another, that'll be better for Cody Arnoux and the 2011 Whitecaps than if he'd simply shown up at the beginning of the season. And ultimately, even I cannot dispute that MLS is where the excitement is. It's a reason this blog exists, for one. It's the reason there's so much enthusiasm over each of these frequently rather pedestrian signings, and the reason the more spectacular ones are possible. Ignoring MLS to concentrate on USSF D2 would be an even worse strategy than the reverse.

But we have a championship team here, or at least had one. That seems like an awfully big thing to throw away lightly.