If I had one wish for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the new year, it would be that they sign some Canadians.
This is partially out of nationalist pride: I am a great supporter of the Canadian national team and enjoy seeing the club I cheer for doing their bit for Queen and country. Toronto FC had a 2011 MLS season only a little less miserable than ours, but their fans enjoyed the development of Matt Stinson and Ashtone Morgan from prospects into fringe national team players. Whitecaps supporters had only the consolation of seeing Russell Teibert hurt his toe, Philippe Davies rot on the bench, and Alain Rochat look brilliant without being eligible to play for Canada.
However, I also want the Whitecaps to sign Canadians because they can win soccer games. Major League Soccer teams are finding with Canadians south of the border, headlined by Dwayne De Rosario, Will Johnson, Andre Hainault, and Dejan Jakovic. Canadians count as domestic for us, Toronto, and the Montreal Impact, meaning that signing Canadians adds roster flexibility: we can go get that big foreigner because we didn't waste his international slot on Alexandre Morfaw. If a Canadian player comes from the Whitecaps Residency team and signs as a homegrown player, he can provide a high-value contract off the salary cap.
Players such as De Rosario, Jim Brennan, Patrice Bernier, and Terry Dunfield shows that some Canadians are willing to take discounts to play at home. Moreover, if the Whitecaps can build up their contacts in the Canadian soccer community they can get the drop when it comes to diamonds in the rough and discovery claims; the Joseph di Chiara types who never got a chance on a national stage but are undeniable talents.
We shouldn't sign bad players because they're Canadian, but we should sign a good Canadian rather than a good foreigner. That's all I ask, and there are plenty of good Canadians available.
It's not like we're desperately short on qualified candidates. On the Residency team, forward/winger Ben Fisk and striker Caleb Clarke have made a case for MLS contracts; both saw MLS Reserves time in 2011. I could also name, off the top of my head, four Canadians in the North American Soccer League who have never played in Major League Soccer but deserve a look: FC Edmonton defender Paul Hamilton, midfielder Shaun Saiko, and forward Kyle Porter, as well as Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Mozzi Gyorio. If one wanted to extend the definition to "never held a Major League Soccer contract" I'd add NSC Minnesota Stars defender Jack Stewart, who had a fine run on loan to FC Dallas last year.
Looking overseas, you can find some more interesting players. In light of Wednesday's article on goalkeepers I received some Twitter comments about Canadian international Milan Borjan, late of Sivasspor in the Turkish league, who left his team earlier this week in unclear circumstances. I'd also like Paul Stalteri, last with Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany and recovering from both knee surgery and a year without soccer, to receive a short-term contract offer from the Whitecaps as coverage at fullback and right wing. There's a good counter-argument to be made that Stalteri wouldn't want to play in Canada again, wouldn't want to play on artificial turf, or wouldn't sign cheap enough to be a worthwhile depth player, but surely he's at least worth asking. His options in Europe seem to be running down.
Forward Jordan Webb is playing at a low level in the Singapore league but is only 23 years old, set his team's scoring record, and obviously needs a chance in some league or another (think of Camilo Sanvezzo in Malta). It's unconfirmed, but I've read that long-time Eighty Six Forever favourite Luca Bellisomo is looking for a new ride after a good season in Finland. Other Canadians such as forward Julian Uccello, midfielder Pedro Pacheco, and goalkeeper Haidar Al-Shaïbani have received call-ups to senior Canadian national teams and, while currently under contract, may be looking for a fresh start sooner rather than later.
It's a great big world of Canadian players out there, a world far bigger than the well-known MLS community we tap every time we grab a Kevin Harmse as injury cover or talk about trading for Jakovic or Johnson. Neither of them came from the most glorious European leagues: Johnson washed out of Holland while Jakovic struggled badly in Serbia.
The Whitecaps are already carrying more than the minimum number of Canadians: Major League Soccer requires three per team and the Whitecaps have Rochat, Davies, Teibert, and Bryce Alderson under contract. It's a good sign, and let's hope Martin Rennie takes it to its natural conclusion. More Canadians, please. Let's have a more competitive team which does something for the game in this country besides sell tickets.