The very day that the Vancouver Whitecaps signed former Carolina Railhawks goalkeeper Brad Knighton, it appears that the pipeline between Cary and Vancouver is still open.
Earlier this afternoon, the Whitecaps selected former Cruz Azul left back Gienir Garcia second overall in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft. Garcia is a lanky 22-year-old left back who played in the Mexican Premiera Division with Cruz Azul: good pedigree, but in spite of two league games he washed right out of Mexico and made himself available to Major League Soccer, where he wasn't even an attractive-enough option for the main MLS SuperDraft. Based on the briefest of Googles I was moderately interested in Garcia, but not so interested as to be excited.
Barbara, on the other hand, needs no introduction. He is 29 years old, turning 30 in June, and one of the better North American second-division strikers of the past decade. In 2011 he was very good, of course, winning the NASL scoring crown and Most Valuable Player awards, but in 2010 he had a fine all-round season with the Railhawks as he made his North American debut. He's played at the highest levels with the Maltese national team but has no first division experience.
Barbara's done a lot more in his professional career than Garcia has done in his. But Garcia was all-but signed, sealed, and delivered, while Barbara still has no MLS contract and won't be coming for the minimum; indeed, he was in the news just last week bemoaning the low-ball contract offer he'd received from Montreal and the discovery claim system which lets teams grab Barbara's rights without his involvement. Barbara and Rennie had a good working relationship, of course, but money talks and bullshit walks so don't expect the Maltese veteran to take a big discount on those grounds.
I daresay that the Whitecaps wouldn't have traded for Barbara if they didn't think they could sign him. There are plenty of connections with Barbara in the Whitecaps locker room; Rennie, Knighton, Matt Watson, assistant manager Paul Ritchie, all probably have him on their speed dial. So what does this trade mean for the Whitecaps, presuming that the deal gets done?
I think Barbara deserves a chance in MLS; he's proven his quality. I'm not sure the Whitecaps are the best spot for him, though. Barbara's not the quickest player on two legs and doesn't dazzle technically; he gets his goals with smarts, a powerful, accurate shot, and quality positioning. He won last year's scoring title on the strength of an excellent attacking midfield led by former Whitecap Jonny Steele that allowed him to sit up front and poach to his heart's content: in short, Barbara did the job that Eric Hassli can do for the MLS Whitecaps at a higher level. There are teams who need a forward that can just get the ball into the goal any way they can but the Whitecaps aren't one of them.
Hell, the Whitecaps have lots of forwards of every stripe. Hassli, Camilo Sanvezzo, Omar Salgado, Darren Mattocks are the guys who should be locked in as pure forwards; Long Tan and Atiba Harris have only played up front for the MLS Whitecaps but have experience on the wing. Add Barbara to the mix and this is an incredibly crowded position for a league with such tough roster restrictions.
So is this part one of a series of moves? I wouldn't mind bidding Harris farewell and if one of the other guys is drawing trade offers in exchange for his value then Barbara would make a useful replacement? Rennie was never really a big horse trader in his NASL days; I truly believe this is a coach just acquiring a player he really liked. "There is no such thing as too much quality" is a pretty sound principle, after all, although MLS strains it.
Barbara's a good utility player himself. He can play at either wing and as an attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker in a pinch. In 2010 he was more of an all-round forward, laying on passes and playing an advanced linking role in midfield as Carolina had fewer quality ball-movers behind him. He did extremely well and would have gotten heavy consideration for league All-Star honours if Ali Gerba hadn't shown up mid-season and devoured the whole division.
Players who can do a lot of things well like Barbara are prized in MLS. With all of our depth, the consequences if Barbara fails aren't exactly dramatic. As with the Knighton signing, I don't think this is the best possible use of Whitecaps resources but it's not exactly a bad acquisition. The price we paid for these rights was certainly very low, although I doubt the contract will be so forgiving.
I will admit that, if Barbara signs, it will be nice cheering for him rather than against him for a change. But we may be acquiring quality reinforcements for a position that doesn't need reinforcing.