In what has been a very busy couple of days that are making me rue my decision to get an actual career, the Vancouver Whitecaps kept up Crazy Tommy's End-of-Season Extravaganza by trading winger Shea Salinas to the San Jose Earthquakes for allocation money.
The 25-year-old Salinas actually began his career in San Jose under head coach Frank Yallop, spending two seasons with the Earthquakes before being shipped to the Philadelphia Union in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft. Salinas then joined the Whitecaps in our own expansion draft.
Salinas missed the early part of the 2011 season with an injury but wound up being a key part of Tom Soehn's jigsaw: he played 1,696 minutes in MLS plus 191 more in the Voyageurs Cup despite missing the first seven games of the season. He scored one goal and added three assists in that time playing predominantly on the right wing.
Salinas is pacey as hell and attacks like his life depends on it: he's an easy player to like. When he was healthy in the pre-season he drew rave reviews from everybody who saw him and there was open mockery of the Union for letting Salinas go for free.
However, what you see on the surface is pretty much all there is with Salinas: he's an exciting but remarkably limited player with the nasty habit of running straight into trouble, making the wrong decision almost every time, and with very few tricks besides beating defenders in a straight line. His defense is fair but nothing special, and while Salinas has his uses on a soccer field the fact that the Whitecaps had to give him so many minutes is one indication why the Whitecaps were so bad this past season.
The Whitecaps got Salinas for free, got some use out of him, and are now sending him off for an asset. That's not a bad piece of horse trading and Salinas isn't a bad piece of horse. But he is utterly replaceable. The only question now is how the Whitecaps are going to replace him.
Organizational depth on the right wing is very limited right now. Throughout the season, Salinas's backups have been Wes Knight and Nizar Khalfan, neither of whom are with us any longer, as well as spot appearances from Davide Chiumiento. Chiumiento's a two-footer and could probably do the job full-time in 2012 if need arose; this would also nicely allow us to play Russell Teibert on the left wing. It's still not the greatest situation I've ever seen.
The regular Whitecaps U-18 right winger is Wesley Cain, a good young prospect; Ben Fisk has also done the job from time to time. Fisk is borderline ready for MLS while Cain, who missed almost the entire USL Premier Development League campaign with injury, is talented but needs more seasoning. In any case, I don't think we can rely on either one for more than depth and the occasional Omar Salgado-esque run out onto the first team.
I'm willing to bet money the Whitecaps aren't going to stick with Chiumiento and Fisk, or Chiumiento and some MLS journeyman. We're probably going to see an outside-the-box signing to fill Salinas's shoes; hopefully this trade means that such a signing is almost imminent (and Lee Young-pyo isn't it). If the team is counting on improvising their way to an improved right wing then they're living dangerously, for in Major League Soccer allocation rules and salary caps combine to make that a difficult proposition, as Tom Soehn learned when he tried to solve Vancouver's defensive depth issues on the fly in 2010.
Shea Salinas may be a replacement-level player, but the Whitecaps have to make sure they actually have a replacement.