The Vancouver Whitecaps are fast becoming known for their Swiss content. They feature Alain Rochat, who is a Canadian-born Swiss. They feature Eric Hassli, who is French but best known for playing in Switzerland. Trialists and Residency players like Ridge Mobulu and Bedri Gashi also have Swiss connections. And, of course, there's the man who was once called, quite seriously, the "Swiss Ronaldinho", Davide Chiumiento.
Except there's a bit of doubt about that last one.
With less than two weeks to go until the start of the season, Chiumiento is still unsigned. There's no doubt about his merits: his qualifications in Switzerland are impeccable and during the Arizona exhibition matches all observers agreed that he was one of the Whitecaps' top performers. But an ankle injury took him out of the Supporters Summit, there's still been no word on the contract front after more than a month of training camp, and it's time to start growing a bit concerned.
The oft-repeated rumour is that Chiumiento received a huge salary for his brief appearance in non-salary-capped USSF Pro Division Two, and in exchange he agreed to moderate his contract demands for Major League Soccer. Maybe he and the Whitecaps have a different idea on what that means. Or maybe Chiumiento is seeing former league comrades like Hassli, with playing histories no better than his own, signing four-year designated player contracts and saying "why not me?"
Whatever the case, the Whitecaps have in their possession a blue-chip international-calibre offensive player and he seems to be slipping through their fingers.
One has to feel for the Whitecaps in this situation, of course. Chiumiento is a lovely player in theory, but in practice he had a hell of a time in the second division last year. He had trouble getting into shape and was ineffective whenever he got onto the pitch, which wasn't that often. Since then he's looked great in friendlies but, well, those were friendlies, where the tackling is easier and the substitutions unlimited. Who knows how well that'll translate to MLS for a mercurial, undersized offensive player? He might be Jeff Cunningham with more ball skill, or he might be Julian de Guzman with less defense.
Expensive mistakes in MLS can cost you more than money. If Chiumiento demands a designated player's salary, the Whitecaps give it to him, and Chiumiento shows his second division form then that'll set us back for at least one season. Even if Chiumiento just wants a lot of money, that hypothetical $300,000 could buy a lot of serviceable, proven MLS players. Major League Soccer is all about value for money, as Tom Soehn well knows, and if Davide Chiumiento wants a lot of money then he's poor value.
So fine, then, let him go. Except oh my god he's just so good. Seeing Chiumiento on the ball could be a cure for leprosy, that's how talented this guy is. He shouldn't be worried about the physical pounding because he can make space so easily, and find the right pass nineteen times out of twenty, and even when he's ineffective (as he was in the second division) you can see the wheels turning, constantly slipping from position to position like a wisp of smoke, ready to be there when his teammates need him to turn the attack into a real scoring opportunity. Unlike so many one-dimensional players, Chiumiento is active without the ball. He jogs back towards his own half too often for my liking, but when the Whitecaps get it back he's all action, looking for passing lanes and trying to be in just the right place. So much of that ineffectiveness in division two was that his teammates simply weren't used to him and were playing, well, they were playing like a division two team with no chemistry yet: hoof it down the field and try to get on the end of it.
Yes, the Whitecaps just scored three goals off the Seattle Sounders, who aren't exactly pokey. But of the goalscorers, one of them can't play for us until September and the other two aren't under contract. Of every attacking player on the Whitecaps only Russell Teibert can even come close to matching Chiumiento's combination of technical ability and athleticism, and Teibert is still very young and has much to learn. Chiumiento would give this attack dimensions: we could come at you in so many different ways, particularly if we combined him with Teibert and Atiba Harris on the wings. With Hassli up front... I'm getting chills. That actually sounds good. But it all depends on Chiumiento playing to his full ability.
The Whitecaps face a hell of a decision with Davide Chiumiento. He obviously wants a big payday, and who can blame him? Meanwhile, he not only hasn't proven a damned thing in North America but has actually looked rather poor. I'm sorry to say that, in defiance of my usual ethos as a know-it-all, I don't have an easy answer for this one. Either decision could be the right one, and either decision could be the one that dooms the Whitecaps to a failed first season. This is why I'm not an MLS general manager.