Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced the signing of midfielder Matt Watson, late of the Carolina Railhawks, to a Major League Soccer contract.
The 26-year-old Watson fills a position where the Whitecaps need help as an attack-oriented midfielder with a decent eye for goal and good, though not spectacular, playmaking instincts. Watson scored three goals and added two assists with the Railhawks last year, the best goal-scoring total of his second division career. Though born in England he's spent his entire career in the United States, including two years of college soccer with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and should count as an American for Major League Soccer purposes.
When we discussed names that the Whitecaps might potentially pull from the Railhawks roster, Matt Watson didn't come up too much. He had a good reputation in the second division but not a fantastic one: solid, reliable, occasionally a good eye, decent athleticism, but not the sort of person you'd build an NASL team around. While he was a consistent producer in Carolina he was never the straw that stirred the drink. Etienne Barbara, Pablo Campos Jr., even Jonny Steele... those guys got on highlight reels. Matt Watson just sort of got the job done.
Not that that's necessarily so bad. There's much to be said for the Whitecaps bringing in a steady hand rather than a one-dimensional offensive threat; a Luca Bellisomo rather than a Dever Orgill. Watson, like Rennie, has worked his way up through the ranks of American soccer. He's played college ball, he's played indoor, he's played USL-2, and now he's at the top of the American pyramid. After leaving college soccer Watson has never really been a superstar at any level, but he's kept advancing and he's kept being a core part of increasingly good teams.
If Martin Rennie can work as a coach, I don't see why Matt Watson shouldn't work as a player.
|Matt Watson Career Outdoor Statistics|
What can I tell you about how Matt Watson plays soccer? I honestly need to search my memory; he just doesn't leap out. Watson has been a Railhawk since 2008; I might have seen him play twenty games on my computer and in person in that time. Yet very few of his moments have embedded themselves in my mind.
Watson has predominantly played a central midfield role, though his job in the Railhawks lineup has varied. In 2011, when Carolina's strategy was to run with every opponent and turn their big guns loose for 90 minutes a game, Watson played with some emphasis on attack (although never a true forward and never as much of an attacking midfielder as the aforementioned Steele). Other years he's sat back as a playmaker in the vintage Martin Nash role, although his offense is his greatest strength and if he's not producing scoring opportunities then Watson likely isn't contributing.
This isn't to say that Watson's a black hole defensively, but I'm sure there are going to be a few awkward moments when Fredy Montero or Landon Donovan blow by Watson, who's just a half-step too slow, and we all say "oh". The Whitecaps, of course, have Gershon Koffie and John Thorrington who can carry a lot of the mail in that department, meaning that Watson should be fine in a spot role, coming off the bench or as an injury replacement to provide good ball movement and a bit of offensive spark at a low cost.
That's probably all this is: a depth signing to shore up a weak position. With his history and lack of individual accolades Watson can't possibly be an expensive signing and the MLS free agent pool is short on quality ball-moving midfielders. I might have preferred Ryan Pore, now a free agent and presumably entertaining any offers, but then again Watson brings more of an all-round game than Pore's hell-bent-for-leather attack does. Besides, Rennie is comfortable with Watson and knows his capabilities and that can count for a lot. Greg Janicki looked positively competent in MLS until Teitur Thordarson got sacked.
We probably won't see too much from Matt Watson on an MLS field this year, but he still fills a valuable role. He's a fringe player in a position where we could still use a first-class starter, but all the same I applaud this signing. We needed this spot filled and Watson looks like a good choice to fill it.