On January 13th, the Vancouver Whitecaps made UConn Huskies (right back) defender Jakob Nerwinski the 7th overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Some were surprised by this selection, as there were other right backs rated higher, such as Chris Odoi-Atsem. However, predictions in the SuperDraft are rarely reliable. Moreover, Odoi-Atsem did not perform as well during the combine, while Nerwinski did. The acquisition of a right back was certainly needed, as it was seen by many as a blackhole last season. While the Caps had traded for Sheanon Williams in December, to fill the RB void, there was no additional depth at RB with Jordan Smith returning to Saprissa and Fraser Aird to Rangers.
There remains nervousness about the RB position, as Williams is perceived as MLS-average while his backup is a rookie, however, there are reasons to be optimistic about Nerwinski. We all know that the SuperDraft can be a bit of a crapshoot and only a handful of draftees make an MLS roster, let alone an impact. Yet, the Whitecaps have had reasonable success with their first-round selections. Over the previous four seasons the Caps selections have been Cole Seiler (16th), Tim Parker (13th), Christian Dean (3rd), Andre Lewis (7th), Kekuta Manneh (4th), Erik Hurtado (5th).
Seiler had a strong rookie season playing for the ThunderCaps, and did not look out-of-place in his non-MLS appearances for the Whitecaps. Parker was seen as a bit of a surprise pick (reach) in 2015, but has proven himself to be worthy of the selection. While Dean has not really performed for the Caps yet, there are lots of reasons to believe he could do well. Lewis was a bit of a misstep, for a multitude of reasons we will not cover here. Finally, the 2013 duo of Manneh and Hurtado have been staples in the Whitecaps lineup. As a result, I had confidence that Nerwinski would be a useful player for the squad.
Although not officially signed, Nerwinski featured heavily in Wales. Of course, this was at least in part due to Williams being injured. However, the injury emphasizes the importance of Nerwinski being a capable defender for the Caps. With David Edgar being sidelined until September, Parker will be expected to start regularly at CB, meaning shifting Parker to cover at RB is undesired. Getting back to Wales, Nerwinski played the most out of any Whitecaps, with 230 minutes over the three matches, and even contributed offensively with an assist. As I highlighted in my summary of the Wales trip, you cannot read into the games too much as it was a) the beginning of preseason and b) against weaker opponents. Nevertheless, Nerwinski reaffirmed my initial confidence in his selection, as he did not look out of place and certainly showed that he belongs on the squad. Depending on how Williams performs, we might even see Nerwinski challenge for that starting position come mid-season. Even if he is not in the Starting XI conversation, I believe that Nerwinski will provide the necessary cover at RB, with the potential for more.
What are your thoughts/hopes for Nerwinski?