To harp on the most broken record in Canadian soccer today, the Vancouver Whitecaps need freakin' strikers. It's getting ridiculous. We kick off in less than two months and the team hasn't got a soul we can trust to score goals when we need them. I'm not talking about a good MLS journeyman such as fans of MLS teams have ignorantly complained about since the beginning of time. I'm talking about anybody. Any sort of upgrade on the likes of Nizar Khalfan. Somebody who we can count on for three goals next season.
So I don't blame us Whitecaps fans for seizing on the least scraps of good news. Robbie Keane, the Tottenham Hotspur striker who teased us by seemingly weighing a Whitecaps transfer last year, is back in the news as the manager of the Irish national team has suggested Keane move to MLS. And Toronto FC, having previously brought in Canadian striker Andrew Ornoch, have informed Ornoch that no, actually, they aren't interested in him after all. D'oh! So much for Toronto grabbing anybody who'd played in the Netherlands at the drop of a hat.
Whitecaps fans have discussed these two pieces of news at length. The excitement over a potential Keane signing had died down when he was pursued by Birmingham and West Ham, but both of those deals have fallen through and he still looks like an awfully tempting choice. Ornoch, meanwhile, is Canadian, relatively young, and a veteran of the European leagues. This is a big opportunity for the Whitecaps to correct past wrongs, take advantage of a rival's mistake, and build up their strike force. Right?
Please. I wouldn't even be writing about it if it were just that simple.
Keane's situation is the simplest. I want to sign him. He's be a first-class MLS striker, a big name, and a highly credible designated player. If the Whitecaps got Keane it would be a brilliant piece of business almost regardless of what the contract terms said. The ownership might disagree, but in MLS it's a player's salary cap value that matters. A designated player could be paid in tonnes of gold bullion, but his cap hit would be the same.
Unfortunately, I can't imagine Keane will join the Whitecaps no matter what his national manager says. The truth is that Keane has no need to flee Europe with his tail between his legs, and Tottenham has no reason to accept a low-ball offer for his services. Until the Birmingham transfer fell through over Keane's wage demands, Tottenham was in line for a £6 million transfer fee. There are still rumours that West Ham is interested in Keane, and even if he didn't move to West Ham Keane could certainly find a ride in the Premier League or the Championship if he moderated his wage demands. Meanwhile, MLS is unlikely to agree to massive wages for a player with name power short of Thierry Henry's and they are famously stingy on paying transfer fees.
The reason Keane won't be a Whitecap isn't because he wouldn't be brilliant. It's because he has no reason to come over here. Why would he play at a lower level for probably less money than he has to, and why would Tottenham take less money to get rid of him? I'd love it, but it won't happen.
Ornoch is a different bag of chips. He's played in Hungary, Denmark, and the Netherlands, made three appearances for the national team, and is a tall but versatile player. Though a striker by trade, he can play some midfield and has the athleticism to get up and down the pitch fairly well. He is, in short, a decent professional striker. Toronto FC was highly enthusiastic about him, and his signing was rumoured to be all but a done deal until the team's new regime quashed it.
So why am I so skeptical? Because Andrew Ornoch, to put it harshly, isn't that good.
Ornoch is 25. He's going to improve as a striker but he's by no stretch of the imagination a prospect. But the last time Ornoch was anything like a reliable professional scorer was on his first professional contract with Lombard-Pápa TFC in the Hungarian league. Ornoch scored ten goals over his three-season career with Lombard-Pápa: a decent haul considering he was coming up as a teenager. It got him a move to Esbjerg in Denmark, where Ornoch's touch almost completely deserted him. Since leaving Hungary Ornoch has scored only four league goals across three teams: three of those goals came in his last season with BV Veendam in the Eerste Divisie. The Eerste Divisie is a decent league but it's not MLS quality. Veendam liked Ornoch well enough and played him semi-regularly, but by no means was he a leading player.
Ornoch is better than the likes of Rob Friend in that he can contribute even when he's not scoring: he's athletic enough to run back and play good defense, he can pass fairly well, and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Even when he's not an asset, he's not usually a liability. At the same time, his ability to score in MLS is very questionable. If Ornoch came cheap he might be worth a domestic roster spot and I have no doubt he could contribute at this level, but if the Whitecaps intend to compete for a playoff spot then players like Ornoch are best on the bench.
Besides, it's not like the Whitecaps are unfamiliar with Ornoch's ability. Vancouver took Ornoch on trial this past summer and apparently didn't see enough to outbid Veendam for his services for a USSF D2 contract, even with the team's glaring forward shortage. Why would it be different today?
The Whitecaps need strikers. They could probably get Andrew Ornoch, but he wouldn't solve their problems. Robbie Keane would be seriously helpful, but he's also borderline unattainable. Nobody said cheering for an MLS expansion team would be easy, but at this point it's like the soccer gods are mocking us.