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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Camilo?

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Camilo Sanvezzo is sad. That's all we know. It isn't stopping the speculation.

Scuttlebutt from around the team is that Camilo is looking for a raise on his 2011 contract, which saw him earn $130,420 to produce twelve goals, of which ten came in open play, in 2,484 minutes. It's a good season which at the MLS market rate was worth more than $130,420. However, it is also Camilo's first year of competent high-level soccer: his only previous success had come in the low-quality Maltese league, and he completely washed out of Gyeongnam of the South Korean K-League in 2010-11. When he signed with Major League Soccer after a promising trial, Camilo opted for security rather than ambition, signing a two-year contract with a two-year club option.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are said to be discussing the possibility of a raise with Camilo's agency, although as is the Whitecaps' habit nothing official has been announced. In any case, there's no sign negotiations are going well. There's also no sign that Camilo is threatening a hold-out or to otherwise dishonour his contract: if there's one thing Camilo proved during the trying 2011 season it's that he's very happy to prove himself and to work under adversity.

Relations with star players who think they're underpaid can always be tricky, as Toronto FC fans will tell you. So should the Whitecaps give Camilo what he wants?

MLS Leaders, Goals/90 Minutes, with Base Salary
C. Davies DC 11 0.64 $184,620.00
E. Renteria CLB 8 0.62 $120,000.00
A. Mendoza CLB 13 0.58 $500,000.00
L. Donovan LA 12 0.56 $2,300,000.00
T. Henry NY 14 0.56 $5,000,000.04
C. Wondolowski SJ 16 0.54 $175,000.00
L. Rodgers NY 9 0.52 $180,000.00
D. De Rosario TOR/NY/DC 16 0.52 $425,000.00
A. Saborio RSL 11 0.51 $250,000.00
E. Hassli VAN 10 0.48 $900,000.00
C. Ruiz PHI 6 0.47 $260,004.00
F. Montero SEA 12 0.47 $500,000.00
T. Bunbury KC 9 0.46 $85,000.00
A. Fernandez SEA 9 0.44 $300,000.00
C. Sanvezzo VAN 12 0.44 $127,920.00
Mean Base Salary $753,836.27
Mean Base Salary (Without Henry/Donovan) $308,272.62
Mean Base Salary (Without DPs) $215,318.00
non-Whitecaps statistics from; accuracy not guaranteed

It's hard to deny that Camilo provided great value for the 2011 season; one of the very few Whitecaps who did so. Camilo's twelve goals finished tied for fifth in Major League Soccer. His goals-per-90-minutes was less spectacular: fifteenth among MLS players with at least 1,000 minutes, but as shown by the table on the right he still came in with a salary well below the average for players ahead of him. Of players with a superior goals-per-ninety-minutes than Camilo according to MLS statistics, only one-year-wonder Emilio Renteria of the Columbus Crew and Generation Adidas player Teal Bunbury of Sporting Kansas City made less bank than Camilo in 2011.

Camilo is younger than many of the players on that list and, while he brings less of an all-round offensive game than players like Dwayne De Rosario or Landon Donovan, if he can continue to provide 0.42 goals per 90 minutes while staying healthy he's definitely worth in the $220,000 per year range. That's just what forwards of his calibre tend to make in MLS.

However, there are a few reasons to be concerned that giving Camilo such a contract may not be wise:

  1. We don't know that Camilo can keep up this pace. His tenure in South Korea, as mentioned, was a failure and that was his only previous crack at high-level soccer. He did very well picking up Eric Hassli's load in the second half of the season when Hassli slowed down, but Hassli's struggles were largely down to a hapless midfield which was unable to push the ball forward to a less mobile striker who spent too much time holding up the ball with his back to goal. In the hypothetical universe where the Whitecaps have a decent ball-moving midfield in 2012 and Hassli starts knocking in goals again, will Camilo be as valuable?

    My opinion is that he probably will. Camilo's not much in the air but he's better than his size indicates, and a spark plug who can beat defenders and finish reliably is always worth something. However, it hasn't been proven and I can't blame Martin Rennie if he won't tear up a high-value contract on a hunch.

  2. We also don't know how much Camilo wants to remain in Vancouver. If Camilo plans on being a Whitecap long-term then yes, it might be worth sacrificing some short-term salary cap space to keep a productive star happy. The $100,000 in cap space the Whitecaps might lose in 2012, 2013, and 2014 might repay itself with a few more years of a happy, still-young Brazilian forward scoring goals.

    That said, Camilo and his agency spent most of the year flirting with would-be suitors in the Middle East. No sale happened and Camilo seems content to remain in Vancouver, but making a sacrifice to ensure the long-term happiness of a star isn't worth it when the star's not going to be around long-term.

  3. Besides, the Whitecaps haven't got much salary cap space to give. Young-Pyo Lee was an expensive luxury for Martin Rennie and if the Whitecaps burn enough money to sign a quality journeyman on a player they already have, that's a problem. The Whitecaps need more proven professional players in goal, on defense, and in midfield. Even a $75,000 raise for Camilo takes signing the Patrick Ianni type we so desperately need off the table.

    I don't want Camilo to be sad, but forward is really the only position we don't need help thanks to him, Hassli, and hopefully Long Tan and Omar Salgado. If Camilo is feeling down and scores a goal or two less, hopefully Tan will make up the gap. If Camilo is happy but we can't get a central midfielder that's going to cost us a lot more than a goal or two.

  4. In the past, I've suggested selling Camilo might not be such a bad thing. However, his consistent scoring form and obvious ability with his feet has turned me into a fan. With decent tactics and passing, the Hassli - Camilo combination will rival Henry - Rodgers as the league's best. It brings every tactical possibility to the table with two upper-half scoring forwards, one of whom is still young.

    So yes, the Whitecaps should keep Camilo unless they get blown away by an offer. However, that doesn't mean they should mortgage the team for his sake. Camilo looks like a professional and I hope he gets what's coming to him when he's proven he deserves it, but for now there are just too many question marks.