I turn my back on this team for just a week and what happens?
Er, nothing, actually. Or at least not much. No new signings, no big news. Far from adding that striker we're all worried about, we've actually lost one as Cody Arnoux is off to Real Salt Lake. The team is still training, everybody's still making the same old generic optimistic noises. The Empire Fields seating chart for season ticket holders is coming out in a week and a bit. Single game tickets are on sale soon. And the Whitecaps are clearly a little ways short of their season ticket goals.
Wow. Stop all the presses, this is heady stuff.
The team did sign Nizar Khalfan and Gershon Koffie, which deserved a better writeup than I gave it (no writeup). Khalfan has always struck me as basically Ansu Toure. Little, fairly quick, plenty of flash but not much technical ability, and the positioning of a tin can. He can be a hell of a spark plug and will produce moments of transcendent quality. He will also give up more goals his own way than he will create. If you're relying on Nizar Khalfan, you have problems. We saw relatively little of Gershon Koffie last season, but what we did see was promising and I fully support the Whitecaps adding him to the bunch.
Then again, these guys are both very young men. Neither will be core players in 2011; if they're going to be major MLS contributors, it'll be well down the road. Even that news isn't big news.
I suppose the Arnoux news is the biggest, since it was news at all. This young man was a victim of MLS's perverse insistence on controlling the lives of its players. MLS tendered him a contract a couple of years ago but so did Everton, as in Premier League Everton. Which would you pick? So did Cody, and he went off to England. It didn't work out for him and Arnoux signed in North America with the Vancouver Whitecaps, then of the USSF D2. Major League Soccer had already agreed that the Whitecaps could bring as many players off their second-division roster into MLS as they liked but not, apparently, Arnoux. Like a bratty child on the playground, MLS insisted they had "dibs".
So instead of bolstering an expansion team with no scoring force, Arnoux is off to one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. So much for forced parity. And all to avoid the seemingly very dangerous precedent of a young player going to Europe, coming up short, then traveling back to a second-division club on the verge of promotion into MLS as clearly a very practical means of circumventing an MLS draft that, frankly, is an abomination in the first place.
So much for forced parity.
In case it wasn't obvious, I think the way MLS handled Arnoux is ridiculous. Part of the insanity is that it's taken so many months to resolve Arnoux's future when he should be training hard and getting ready for a new MLS season that starts in a month. The Whitecaps, earning full marks for being gentlemen if not necessarily for being competitive, have kept Arnoux training with the Residency squad even as MLS made it very clear that Arnoux was being taken off their roster one way or another and they'd literally have to win the lottery to get him back. This is a 22-year-old man trying to get his career on track. Being yanked around isn't going to help.
Second, it's insane that MLS is so determined to regulate player movements to this extent. It's not news, of course. With the SuperDrafts and the Supplemental Drafts and the Re-Entry Drafts, MLS has more drafts than the Vietnam War. Plus there are the age-old rules on where released players can sign after their MLS contracts are terminated, the assorted home-grown player laws and discovery laws... the only consistent rule appears to be "if he's famous he's allowed to sign with either the Red Bulls or the Galaxy" and apart from that you're taking your chances. Why yes, now that you're asking since you know I'm an Edmonton Oilers fan, I do feel the same way about the NHL draft. Except the NHL, at its worst, is nowhere near as bad for locking down its players as MLS is.
Is it the famous "forced parity"? Omar Salgado probably would have signed a big-money contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy if he'd had a choice, so send him to the Vancouver Whitecaps who need all the help they can get? Well, I'm all for forced parity, but I'm also pretty sure that's what the salary cap is for. Not even the Galaxy can sign everybody, and with that sweet cap room they have the Whitecaps could have outbid Salgado right out from under them. Anything more is just power tripping from old men in cheap suits thinking they have a better idea of what's good for a player than the player does.
My objection to Arnoux leaving is entirely on principle. I think it's awful that MLS jerks around its players in this fashion. I'm certainly not worried about how it'll hurt the Whitecaps on the field, because the truth is that Cody Arnoux, er, isn't actually that good.
Arnoux was a big scorer in his college days, averaging just over one goal every two appearances. He also tore the USL PDL to bloody pieces in spot duty with the Carolina Dynamo. It was figures like that which got him a look from Everton in the first place. However, we got a fairly good look at Arnoux last season when he signed with Vancouver: he wound up playing in seven regular season games with the Whitecaps. The final tally: 332 minutes, one goal. His goals-per-minutes ratio compared disfavourably to Randy Edwini-Bonsu, who is younger and in exile. He's behind Ricardo Sanchez, who you may remember we literally gave away to FC Tampa Bay. He's behind Terry Dunfield and Blake Wagner, who are midfielders. He's not much ahead of Marlon James, an old man made of glass who was so poor he was actually released even though we had nobody to replace him.
It was a lousy performance any way you slice it, and Arnoux was every bit as bad as the numbers imply. He never looked like scoring except for that one time when he did. It's true that he joined the Whitecaps mid-season and out of match form, which is awkward. But you'd think seven games and plenty of training time would help him out, yet he looked as bad as ever at the end of the season. When Arnoux went out injured in the playoffs against Puerto Rico, the Whitecaps hardly missed him.
Arnoux wasn't all bad; for example, he was a lot better than Jonathan McDonald. He works very hard at all times, tracks back extremely well, and shows a surprising amount of fight to win the ball for a forward. His problem, professionally speaking, is that he's a "tweener". At 5'10" and without much strength or aerial ability, he's obviously not big enough to be a big, solid target man. At the same time, he's neither quick enough nor a skilled enough ball handler to beat players on the dribble or get opportunities with guile and agility. His finishing always seemed to come up short: he can hit the ball with plenty of power but not much accuracy and the kid just has no first touch. Standing in the Southside I could see the frustration on Arnoux's face as he messed up against USSF D2 midfielders, or couldn't take advantage of the half-chance one of his teammates had gotten him. He never stopped running and when he failed it killed him. I actually quite liked Arnoux apart from the fact that he was a poor striker. But, well, he was a poor striker. His head's in the right place but his body isn't up to it.
And when I say "his head's in the right place", I should probably remember Arnoux's one goal in Vancouver: in our last regular season game against Portland, Kyle Porter jogged down the wing and drilled a hard cross towards Arnoux, who dove out full-force to head the ball past Steve Cronin. It was a terrific goal against a blood rival that almost made watching him the rest of the year worthwhile. It was great hard work and self-sacrifice to score from Arnoux, and even then the cynic in me couldn't help but notice that all the skill and athleticism had been on Porter's end.
Arnoux turns twenty-three in April. In soccer terms he's not a youngster anymore. He's only three months older than Will Johnson, who's played 63 regular season MLS games with Real Salt Lake. If he hasn't got it now, it's hard to imagine he ever will. The Whitecaps are no worse off for having lost him. But that doesn't mean Arnoux didn't deserve better than to have his fate decided by the suits in New York.