The Vancouver Whitecaps surprised nobody earlier this morning when they announced that they have declined club options on goalkeepers Joe Cannon and Jay Nolly, defender Greg Janicki, and midfielders John Thorrington and Peter Vagenas. In addition, fullback Jonathan Leathers's contract has expired. All six players will be available in next week's MLS Re-Entry Draft unless they opt out, re-sign with Vancouver, or are traded.
This does not necessarily spell the end to any of their Whitecaps careers. Vancouver has until Friday to re-sign any of those players in advance of the Re-Entry Draft, and if they pass through the draft all together they may still wind up back with the team. Bob Lenarduzzi has said the team will try to keep a few of the players exposed. Some of those six players are more likely to return than others and we can say with confidence that a few true Whitecaps have come to the end of the line in Vancouver.
The distant observer may be surprised at a few of the names: Leathers was a near-automatic starter when healthy, Vagenas played heavily down the stretch, and of course both goalkeepers with MLS experience are taking the pipe. The departure of Leathers and Janicki leaves the Whitecaps short on experienced depth, although of course there's plenty of time to change that.
But this is probably the right decision for most of these players. I have a quibble with one of the declined options, but for the most part it's a good early sign for how Martin Rennie intends to do business.
The presumptive departure of Jay Nolly hurts most. The 29-year-old Nolly has been a fixture in the Vancouver soccer community since he joined the Whitecaps in 2008. He's one of the only surviving links from the 2008 USL First Division championship team, as every other player as well as all the coaches have moved on.
With a 2011 guaranteed salary of $65,000, Nolly was hardly overcompensated. He provided league-average goalkeeping for a reasonable price. He's popular with the supporters and, by all accounts, a positive influence in the dressing room; he was the Whitecaps' vice-captain in 2010. He's also the one of the six I would have kept. A good, reliable backup goalkeeper who comes cheap isn't the most important thing, but it's worth something: given that he and Joe Cannon are very equivalent goalkeepers, I'd prefer Nolly because he's cheaper and younger.
Not that I'd have a lot against keeping Joe Cannon if he just wasn't so expensive. Cannon, like Nolly, is a league-average goalkeeper. Like Nolly, he's a good individual and a leader who doesn't look out of place wearing the armband. Unlike Nolly, Cannon has a 2011 guaranteed salary of $209,756 and turns 37 next New Years Day.
Declining Cannon's option doesn't necessarily mean the Whitecaps are certain to get rid of him. With his vastly out-of-scale contract, I'm willing to bet that the Whitecaps are going to try and agree on a cheap contract extension with Cannon, running out a 2012 goalkeeping platoon of Cannon, Brian Sylvestre, and a new guy (Carolina Railhawks goalkeeper Brad Knighton seems like an intriguing possibility, although I'd leap on either Evan Bush or Bill Gaudette if the Montreal Impact are unwise enough to trust Donovan Ricketts). Nolly's contract needs no improvement, so if the Whitecaps were planning to keep him they would have accepted his option; Cannon might be old but if he signs for $65,000 I could live with him going into 2012. I also think he's the most likely to stay.
The second-most likely is John Thorrington, for the same reason: he's a veteran whose main problem is that he makes too much money. Thorrington has some serious injury problems which prevented him from being a meaningful contributor in 2011, but when he was on the field he actually looked reasonably good. He'd have to come in very cheap indeed but if he was willing to ink for Peter Vagenas money he'd be worthwhile depth.
Ah, yes. Peter Vagenas. The 33-year-old Vagenas came in at a bargain basement $48,000: it's safe to say the Whitecaps aren't trying to chisel down his contract. Vagenas played almost a thousand minutes in 2011 and Tom Soehn seemed to love him; nevertheless, we can pretty much kiss him goodbye. Frankly, he will not be mourned as he very rarely looked worth the roster spot.
Jonathan Leathers is a more interesting case. Like Vagenas, Leathers was cheap ($42,000) and he was left dangling in the expansion draft. Leathers played a great deal when healthy, was pretty much the club's automatic right back, and showed a fair bit of quality for his cost. However, the Whitecaps didn't have an option on Leathers and his contract expired outright. It could be as simple as Leathers and the Whitecaps differing on his value.
Then again, Jonathan Leathers looked useful under Teitur Thordarson but out of his depth under Tom Soehn, and he had a reputation for unreliability before joining the Whitecaps. He wasn't being challenged hard for his starting place once Wes Knight was exiled, with only Jeb Brovsky pretending to be up to the job. If Lee Young-pyo joins the Whitecaps and plays right back then that would put Leathers onto the bench; if Jonathan wants too much money for a backup with occasional injury problems then I can understand letting him go.
Finally, we have Greg Janicki. As one of the few remaining division two Whitecaps he's a sentimental favourite but I won't pretend he has a place on this team going forward. I think he's MLS quality but not on this team: as a big, slow, strong guy who's good in the air he's useful but not as useful as Michael Boxall. No team can afford to carry too many slow central defenders in a league as athletic as Major League Soccer; Jay DeMerit is already slow enough.
So, while I agree with Janicki being cut loose, I feel bad for him. He's one of the Whitecaps I'll be wishing all the best whereever he ends up.