The Vancouver Whitecaps have confirmed six signings so far this offseason with a seventh, Efrain Juarez, expected to be officially announced any day. Fans aren’t necessarily on board with the direction Carl Robinson has chosen to take the team in but there seems to be a general agreement that they have made progress towards Robinson’s vision. However what people often go on to say is that the rest of the Western conference has also improved and the ‘Caps are in danger of being left behind. This wisdom is so common that I think it’s time that we ask a very fundamental question: ‘Yeah, but have they though?” I mean, I know it’s early days yet but people are acting like the Whitecaps have already been eclipsed. Let’s examine what the other MLS teams have been up to and see for ourselves.
Major Arrivals: Cascante (Saprissa)
Major Departures: Nagbe (Atlanta) Mattocks (D.C)
Summary: I think it’s fair to say that so far the Timbers have actually regressed. They conceded quite a lot of goals last year so they’ll be hoping centre back Julio Cascante can help with that but Darlington Nagbe is a player who will be hard to replace. They are currently linked with Peruvian winger Andy Polo who has been good for that national team but who’s club career is in a bit of a rut. Portland are still a good team, there’s no doubt about it, but with the loss of Nagbe and a defensive unit that’s still a little suspect, I don’t think they are significantly scarier than last year (yet).
Major Arrivals: Francis (Columbus)
Major Departures: Alonso (probably) Miller (LAFC) Jones (Darmstadt)
Summary: Another team that’s still good but so far hasn’t really added anyone. Of course the Sounders don’t really need to overhaul anything as they made it to MLS final but not making major signings can lead to stagnation. Of course it’s still early but there’s no real reason to be terribly scared of them yet.
Major Arrivals: Seitz (Dallas) Alvarez (Chicago) Cabezas (Loan from Cali made permanent)
Major Departures: Alex (Suwon) Deric (Prison...maybe)
Summary: Houston were one of the biggest over performers, on paper at least, for the 2017 MLS season. Influential midfielder Alex has left for Korean side Suwon F.C and Tyler Deric is facing domestic abuse charges. Seitz is a perfectly reasonable MLS keeper but nothing special, they basically already had Cabezas, and Alvarez is the wrong side of 30. It’s shaping up to be a tough year for MLS’ lowest spenders.
Major Arrivals: Croizet (Mechelen) Shelton (NYCFC)
Major Departures: Abdul-Salaam (NYCFC) Feilhaber (LAFC)
Summary: Ok, SKC are actually looking pretty decent. Shelton is a decent player, Croizet looks to be a good signing and the team are apparently planning to bring in two more DPs before the window is over. An already pretty good team is about to get a lot better.
Major Arrivals: Qwiberg (Brommapojkarna) Eriksson (Djurgardens) Hoeson (Loan from Gronigen made permanent)
Major Departures: Bingham (Galaxy) Urena (LAFC)
Summary: Eriksson looks a pretty good signing but the backline is still a shambles, and an aging shambles at that.
Major Arrivals: Maurer (NY Cosmos) Ziegler (Luzern) Nedyalkov (CSKA Sofia)
Major Departures: Zimmerman (LAFC) Seitz (Houston)
Summary: Dallas have certainly added some quality to their backline, which should more than make up for the loss of Walker Zimmerman (that and the mountain of Garber bucks). If they play the way they can Dallas could be quite good next year but it remains to be seen if they will return to their former heights.
Major Arrivals: Henly (Blackburn) Ortuño (Cadiz)
Major Departures: None... yet
Summary: Real Salt Lake have added Adam Henly, a right back who lost his place in the team with league 1 side Blackburn Rovers and Alfredo Ortuno, a decent Spanish journeyman striker. Unfortunately for them key players like Nick RImando, Kyle Beckerman, and Yura Movsisyan are all out of contract and not getting any younger. I don’t see any evidence that RSL will be any better than last (but this is MLS so they’ll probably win the cup).
Major Arrivals: Pangop (Union Douala) Mears (Atlanta)
Major Departures: Venegas (loaned to Saprissa)
Summary: Yeah, it’s not looking great for Minnesota. Pangop might be good but he comes from the Cameroon league. Whitecaps fans will be asking questions about weather Anthoney Blondell can recreate the sucess he had in the Venezuelan league but at least there’s an online record of goals scored in the Venezuelan league. Minnesota also has the oldest average age in the league. They’re old and they’re crap, nothing to fear from Minnesota at this time.
Major Arrivals: Price (Wolverhampton) Castillo (Monterrey) Wynne (Vancouver) Grella (NYRB) McBean (Galaxy)
Major Departures: none
Summary: Colorado have certainly improved. Unfortunately they were really, really, bad to start out with. New coach Anthony Hudson says he wants to play a 3-5-2. Currently the two top strikers at the club are McBean and Badji. Between the two of them they have 24 career MLS goals. With Gashi in limbo I don’t see where the goals are going to come from on this team. They are apparently in for Ola Kamara which would certainly help but even then there’s just to many mediocre players who will be asked to play big roles
Major Arrivals: Bingham (San Jose) Kitchen (Randers) Skjelvik (Rosenborg) Sylvestre (North Carolina)
Major Departures: Pretty much all of their academy products
Summary: After years of success the Galaxy came dead last in MLS last year. When you come in dead last you have to make serious changes. So far the additions the Galaxy have made have been kind of meh. They’ve adressed one problem, getting Clement Diop as far away from their team as possible. To replace Diop they’ve added David Bingham. Bingham is often quite hyped but frankly he’s a very average MLS goalkeeper. Now average is a big step up from shit but is it really going to be enough to lift the Galaxy to the playoffs? I’m not convinced. Kitchen is a good signing but he’s not going to turn the team around by himself. Skjelvik seems alright but Rosenborg aren’t all that far above MLS level. The Galaxy look to be building a solid base but they may not be able to build much more. Sigi Schmid told MLS’ Andrew Weibe that the Galaxy don’t have the TAM/GAM to sign Ola Kamara. Kamara is a good player but if you can’t afford him you’re basically saying you can’t afford to bring in another top end MLS talent. So the Galaxy have brought in some good players but i’m not convinced they are drastic enough to see the major resurgence that people are expecting. In fact, hot take, I predict the Galaxy won’t make the playoffs this year either.
People definitely have a bit of anxiety about LAFC. They’re another big spending expansion side and that feeds into people’s anxieties of the Whitecaps being a have not. While LAFC have built a solid base with DP’s Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi and MLS vets like Laurant Ciman and Jordan Harvey, I don’t think they’ll be the Atlanta of the West, at least not at the start. Their backline is solid but very much on the old side, and Whitecaps fans should know better than anyone that just because someone scores goals in Uruguay they aren’t guaranteed to be a success in MLS. Their midfield currently doesn’t exist, beyond a Benny Feilhaber that looks very much past his best, and their goalkeeper has two career MLS appearances. They also are starting training camp in eight days and only have 11 players under contract which should be interesting. Now will they sign more players? Obviously, but at this point I don’t know that they’ve shown they’ll be the titans people are expecting.
Obviously these teams will continue to add and things can change fast but right now there’s no real reason to be worried about the Whitecaps being eclipsed. Might this change? Sure, it could but there’s no reason to worry about it until it’s actually happened. Right now i’d say the three teams who both meet the criteria of having significantly improved and being good teams are the Whitecaps, Dallas, and SKC. Are there some legitimate concerns about the ‘Caps management strategy? Absolutely. Might teams like Seattle, Portland, and LAFC make some huge signings and put ‘Caps playoff hopes in jeopardy? Sure that could happen. But people are acting like it already has and I think that’s silly. Keep in mind to that the Whitecaps aren’t done. They often bring in players in February and Robinson said in his first interview that he’s still looking to bring in 2-3 more players. I suppose my conclusion, if there is one, is this: relax, see what happens, try not to worry until there is a reason to, try to enjoy silly season.