Editor's Note, 14:55 PST: I have been informed that "waiver draft" is just MLSese for "claimed off waivers". There was a lot of confusion about this on the Twitters but there was no specific draft; Khalfan was just waived and bagged by Philadelphia.
Did you know there was an MLS Waiver Draft today? I bet you didn't. There's no mention of it on the MLS website, no mention of it on the Vancouver Whitecaps' website, and even when I Google for things like "MLS waiver draft" I just get references to the one back in March of this year. It's like the executives of Major League Soccer were on the phone for the expansion draft and said "hell, while we're all out of bed let's throw a waiver draft too!"
If Bob Lenarduzzi, Tom Soehn, and Martin Rennie agreed to that then they made a mistake, for only one player was lost and it was ours: midfielder Nizar Khalfan is off to the Philadelphia Union.
Khalfan is 23 years old and a current Tanzanian international. He joined the Whitecaps for the 2009 USL First Division season and won the faith of Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson, becoming a fixture as an attacking midfielder. He split the 2010 season between midfield (where he was effective) and forward (where he was less so), but still stuck with the team into Major League Soccer. As such, Khalfan counted as a homegrown player and the Whitecaps weren't on the cap for his $60,000 2011 salary.
He's always been infuriating, Khalfan. His inconsistency is maddening: I coined the phrases "Good Khalfan" and "Bad Khalfan" to describe the way he could alternately be Vancouver's worst player and its most brilliant. He was the instrumental player in the Whitecaps' famous three-goal comeback against Sporting Kansas City in the second game of the season, had a good run late in the year, and provided a whole lot of nada in between those milestones.
I'm sorry to lose Khalfan, who could be electrifying and had a lot to offer as an impact substitute. I'd certainly rather have Khalfan, with all his warts, on the wing than the consistently underwhelming Shea Salinas. I won't pretend he was a core player or that his absence will send this team into a death spiral... but he was helpful and he'll be missed.
Khalfan had a few good assets on an MLS soccer field. He could play both wings effectively and if you used him as a withdrawn forward he wouldn't embarrass himself: versatility in MLS is a good thing. He was above-average with the ball at his feet and had a good eye for dangerous passes and crosses. Next to Russell Teibert and Alain Rochat he was probably the third-best natural crosser of the ball on the 2011 Whitecaps.
Khalfan is also quick, both in terms of straight-line speed and in terms of acceleration and shiftiness. He's generously listed at 5'8" and plays even less physically than that implies but he's turned around a few slower fullbacks in his day. Finally, although he didn't unleash it often enough in Vancouver, Khalfan boasts a booming shot from long range which can spook the hell out of goalkeepers.
So, what are Khalfan's weaknesses? He is, defensively, a non-entity: worse even than Davide Chiumiento when tracking back. Khalfan also seems to check out of games sometimes and his endurance has always been questionable, thus the preference for him as a substitute. For all his above-average offensive skills they don't quite add up to a dominant package and he just makes the wrong decision too often, leaving him in bad positions he can't play out of.
Interestingly, Khalfan wasn't in town when Martin Rennie held his post-season Whitecaps evaluation camp: he was on international duty trying to quality for the African Cup of Nations. Rennie would know Khalfan a little from his Carolina Railhawk days but he may never have gotten a chance to evaluate Nizar in person. How this might have impacted the decision to waive Khalfan, or whether that's a decision Rennie got much input into, is the stuff of speculation.
He was, on balance, an asset for the Whitecaps and one I'd have been happy to keep going forward. I think Philadelphia Union fans are going to like Nizar if they can get past his flaws, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him hammering down the wing and embarrassing the Whitecaps a few times going forward.