It's strange to say this, but Tom Soehn's been in the newspapers for exactly the right reason. After Sunday's snoozer of a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps coach told Bruce Constantineau of the Vancouver Sun that he was looking to rotate his squad in the remaining games. Players who might not have gotten much playing time but are hungry for a chance and training hard instead of complacent, established underachievers? The only thing to complain about is that Soehn didn't have this revelation two months ago.
It's probably too late for some of the team's youth; I don't know how the MLS roster freeze affects the Whitecaps' ability to play Residency players but I doubt it's positive. In general the Whitecaps' first team has not looked to its youth this season. Hopefully 2012 will be an improvement, for there are a number of quality Residency players the Whitecaps have overlooked this season and who, with two roster slots hanging open like a stoner's mouth, could have earned valuable experience building towards a professional career.
There are also underserved use on the MLS roster. I'm not referring to people like Bilal Duckett, who I don't think anybody excepts Mama Duckett believes will be a useful MLS player, nor those like Nizar Khalfan who have actually enjoyed real minutes in Major League Soccer this season. I'm talking about those who have hardly played, or who haven't played at all, or who have been limited to keeping the bench warm late in the season when getting them experience would have been most valuable.
If we're going to see some squad rotation, let's rotate in players who might do some good long-term. After the jump, five younger Whitecaps with the first team and with the Residency who could use, or have used, MLS experience to close out the season.
Philippe Davies. Well, why the hell not? Davies had a solid season in USSF D2 last year as a teenager, and while he wasn't going to convince anybody he's the next Frank Lampard his ability to move the ball and generate offense would be a boon to this offense. Playing with the Whitecaps Residency, Davies seemed to be working hard on his defensive positioning and contributed well at the PDL level in a more box-to-box role than I've been used to from him. He's a native central midfielder but he's played most of his professional games on right wing, and while he isn't the greatest crosser he's got some ability.
Davies already spends time on the bench for Tom Soehn, although he seems unlikely to get off it unless Peter Vagenas and John Thorrington both actually explode. The fact that Soehn is playing the 33-year-old American Vagenas over the 20-year-old Canadian Davies with nothing to play for is definitely going to be one of the key charges in Soehn's eventual trial at the International Court of Justice.
Michael Nanchoff. Let's pretend that you're a soccer team whose wingers are free-stylers who don't stick to any position you gave them, forwards, Shea Salinas, and an injured Canadian Soccer Jesus. Let's also pretend that you have a 23-year-old left winger on the bench with decent athleticism, a killer left foot, great performances in the NCAA and some good ones with the Whitecaps Residency and Reserves, and all the pedigree in the world. Wouldn't you at least be curious?
I don't think Nanchoff is the answer and at 23 years old he isn't all that young by soccer standards. He is, however, an interesting player who'd bring some width this team is sorely lacking. If you put Davide Chiumiento on the right wing (it doesn't really matter what position he plays since he'll do the same old thing anywhere) and Shea Salinas in his rightful spot on the bench, I'd say Nanchoff makes this team look better. At the very least, you could get a good look at the guy at game speed instead of in a handful of cameo appearances and you learn whether you want to give him another chance in 2012.
Omar Salgado. Listen, I know lots of you love Long Tan, but let's look at the facts. Long is 23 years old, is playing his second professional season in North America and his fifth overall, and I'm not sure we're going to get all that much from him. Long brings energy but he brings a lot less skill or intelligence; he's made a few dandy plays and I'm not writing him off out-of-hand but I think even the best-case scenario for Long is as a limited but useful impact offensive substitute.
Salgado, on the other hand, just turned 18 and has nowhere to go but up. Like many big men he sometimes looks lazy on the pitch but he can cover a lot of ground while he's doing it. His problem is that he's a step slow sometimes, his reactions a hair short of where they should be, in short that he has to get used to the speed and physicality of MLS. He's quick, intelligent, shoots like a dream, and dribbles well for a kid his size... I know which one of Omar or Long I'd like to see getting prime development time.
Some fans are perturbed by the way Salgado openly wants to go to Europe but I bet even Russell Teibert would sign in La Liga if they wanted him. There's no denying Salgado has a bit of an ego but striker is famously the most egotistical of all positions. I could live with some arrogance if it makes him more confident to go for goal and charge where angels fear to tread. Salgado needs every opportunity to prove himself and if we sell him to some European club for a chunk of allocation money, is that so bad?
Ben Fisk. Listen, this season is done for. We may as well bring along some of the promising Whitecaps Residency players and Fisk is the best choice. The 18-year-old Fisk bagged four goals in USL PDL this past season, second on the Residency scoring charts. He's athletic, enthusiastic, has good striker's instincts, and plays wide well enough that I could live with him as a winger. Sound like something we could use?
I don't think Fisk is the Residency's best prospect, but I do think he's one of the better ones and that the team could use him. I wouldn't predict a bag full of goals if Fisk came up to MLS, or that he'd immediately surpass Camilo Sanvezzo if we played him forward. I do think that the experience would do him a lot of good and he'd bring energy and enthusiasm which, you may have noticed, this team's been a little short on lately.
Derrick Bassi. Hey, Tommy boy, you're looking for a vocal voice in central defense? You shouldn't have to look too far.
I exaggerate, of course, I don't really expect a 19-year-old Bassi to grab control of the central defending from Jay DeMerit. On the other hand, giving Bassi a chance in the first team would have a lot of advantages for the Whitecaps. Bassi's among the Residency players who have been training with the first team, meaning that he's as familiar with that defense as anybody. Letting Bassi earn his stripes at centre back would allow the Whitecaps to improve a position where they're absolutely crying for depth: I get chills at the thought of Alain Rochat returning home to left back.
Of course, a young Bassi would get turned a few times. There would be goals against. But Bassi's an intelligent, athletic player who could probably keep his head above water in limited MLS minutes and the experience would make him that much more valuable in the years to come. Bassi is too old for the USSDA development team, meaning that he won't be playing any competitive matches except with the first team or the Reserves until next summer. What's the worst that could happen, we miss the playoffs?