This afternoon at 4 PM, attacking midfielder Davide Chiumiento will finally make his first appearance in a Vancouver uniform when the Whitecaps reserves take on Trinity Western University. It's not a glorious way for Chiumiento to debut, but given that we signed the talented attacker back in mid-August it's a relief to see him at all. A 25-year-old winger/attacking midfielder, Chiumiento scored in quantity with Lucerne in the Swiss Super League for the last half-decade and is the sort of player the Whitecaps don't see many of: perhaps the delay was simply Teitur Thordarson trying to figure out what he'd do with an actual attacking midfielder.
There's no official word on when Chiumiento will get into the Whitecaps first team: with only two regular season matches left against arch-rivals Montreal and Portland he's fast running out of opportunities. It's a shame for Chiumiento, who could use a few impressive performances in USSF D2 to drive up his stock with the Whitecaps faithful, and for the Whitecaps themselves, who have been absolutely starving for the sort of creativity and scoring touch the talented Chiumiento could provide. Their leading scorers are a defender, Greg Janicki, and two midfielders, Martin Nash and Blake Wagner, who have four goals each. Three of Wagner's came in a single game. Among strikers, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, Nizar Khalfan, and Cornelius Stewart are the team's co-leaders with two each. That's every bit as bad as it sounds, even accounting for the massive rotation on the Whitecaps' roster this season.
Goal-scoring is Vancouver's key weakness; despite running first in the NASL conference in points they are only fourth in goals for, ahead of just tight-playing AC St. Louis and moribund Crystal Palace Baltimore. Their league-best 19 goals against has propelled them into championship contention but at some point, as we saw Saturday against Minnesota, you have to score goals to win soccer games.
If Chiumiento somehow gets into mid-season form in record time and starts providing for the Whitecaps, that would solve the team's only major short-term problem. But that's not likely to happen, so is there anyone on Vancouver's roster who can be counted on for an infusion of goals as the playoffs approach?
I wouldn't look to any of the new players. Neither Cody Arnoux nor Jonathan McDonald have given any signs of being able to solve the problem. Arnoux bagged better than a goal every two matches in his collegiate days at Wake Forest and was a dynamo when he cameoed in the USL PDL but never impressed in limited action for the Everton reserves and came up short in a trial with League One Plymouth. Certainly, his Whitecaps form hasn't impressed anybody hoping for an athletic American striker capable of harnessing his European training. McDonald scored seventeen goals over five years with Club Sport Herediano in the Costa Rican first division and was touted by a somewhat infamous YouTube video that showed McDonald embarrassing seemingly completely oblivious or incompetent Costa Rican defenders but may be the least effective player to see action with the Whitecaps all season.
As for Ridge Mobulu, he's certainly shown hints of being a very capable professional striker indeed. But he's raw; surprisingly so given his experience in the middle and lower Swiss leagues. I'm impressed by his talent and athleticism but not yet by his consistency. He's attractive as a prospect but isn't yet in a position to be relied upon, though as a supporting option he's far more attractive than Arnoux or McDonald.
We've had this problem from day one. Veteran Marcus James scored for Vancouver in the past but achieved nothing this season until he was unceremoniously released. Loanee Marcus Haber, last year's pleasant surprise, was even less effective. James's countryman Cornelius Stewart and the Tanzanian Nizar Khalfan were both moderately effective but also deregistered at the end of the last transfer window, making them unavailable for the rest of the season. This places Vancouver in a rather appalling position if Teitur Thordarson decides to play a consistent front line rather than rotating his strikers constantly. I'm told Alex Elliott can play forward, but given the horrifying display of finishing he put on against Minnesota I'm not sure I want to see that.
The best scorer on the Whitecaps this season, amazing as it is to say, is actually Randy Edwini-Bonsu. It's true Edwini-Bonsu has only two goals but he's also played only 491 minutes, giving him a strike rate of .367 goals every 90 minutes; to put it another way, Edwini-Bonsu averages a goal every 245.5 minutes. Stewart, by contrast, scores .135 goals every 90 minutes, actually a little behind Khalfan's .167. Ridge Mobulu currently scores .291 times every 90 minutes. Edwini-Bonsu's lead over his competitors is pretty clear, though that's more an insult to the competition than a compliment to Edwini-Bonsu.
Using Randy Edwini-Bonsu as a primary striker would give the Whitecaps their best chance of scoring goals and winning games. For the second striker I would prefer Ridge Mobulu, but the competition there is less clear-cut: to be honest, my ideal is an in-shape Davide Chiumiento playing back as a number ten laying balls onto a sprinting Edwini-Bonsu for ninety minutes of petrifying terror for enemy defenses while Terry Dunfield and Martin Nash orchestrate precise passes from central midfield and put the fear of God into the opposing goalkeeper as he deals with threats from literally every possible angle, but that may be too much to ask at this stage of the season.
While Edwini-Bonsu is the best of a bad lot, I feel the urge to emphasize just how bad the lot is. Nizar Khalfan's goal every 543.5 minutes is less than Greg Janicki's goal every 483.25 minutes, for example. Edwini-Bonsu's scoring rate isn't bad, but it's not what you'd hope for from your best striker on a team trying to win the championship and given that Edwini-Bonsu has gone over seventy minutes only twice this season there are understandable questions about his ability to physically lead an attack. All the same, Edwini-Bonsu has a clear lead over the competition, he's far outplayed either of the decrepit McDonald and Arnoux who supposedly ought to have supplanted him, and as a 20-year-old who's seen only limited minutes this season he certainly has something to prove if he wants to make the MLS roster in 2011. Playing Edwini-Bonsu extensively would serve the Whitecaps' interest in both the short and long-term. It's the perfect storm, and hopefully Teitur Thordarson realizes it.