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What Will Marc Dos Santos’ Whitecaps Look Like? | Part 2: Defensive Players

In this part I discuss some of the potential transfer targets Marc Dos Santos could look at. This shouldn’t be seen as a list of likely transfers, rather it should give you a sense of the type of player Dos Santos might target based on his history and the type of players potentially in the ‘Caps price range.

Goalkeepers:

Cheap option:

Richey/Melvin/Hasal and to the victor belongs the spoils. I’ll start by saying this is the best option in my opinion. LAFC went young and cheap in goal and it payed off big time for them. Spencer Richey is currently the best keeper in USL and is ready for a shot at the big time (or as big time as MLS gets). Sean Melvin was, at one point, looking like he might surpass Richey with WFC2 but at time of writing this he hasn’t played any competitive football in 2018 so who knows where he’s at now. Still though he clearly has some quality. Hasal hasn’t shown he can do it against men yet but has been a star in his age group. The Whitecaps still have an option on Stefan Marinovic but, as much as I like him, he has been statistically one of the least effective goalkeepers in MLS this season (in fact so was Brian Rowe). Richey, Hasal or Melvin would cost less than a 3rd as much, wouldn’t take up an international spot, and i’m beginning to suspect they may be significantly better. Richey would probably be the best of these three but I say let them compete in preseason and whoever shows best gets the proverbial #1 shirt. This strategy might require adding a veteran keeper who’s ok with being second choice as the ‘Caps may want to loan out one or both of the players who don’t win the starting spot (i’m specifically looking at Melvin here who will probably need to get some games in to rediscover his 2017 form) but one of those is invariably available through free agency.

Medium option:

Twice Marc Dos Santos brought in goalkeeper Romauld Peiser. Peiser began his career as a youth player with big clubs like PSG and Bayern Leverkusen. Alas it didn’t really work out for him and he bounced around various European leagues. Dos Santos gave him a chance with Ottawa Fury and he was a very solid NASL keeper. Peiser is now 36 so I doubt there will be a reunion but if Dos Santos does want to bring in his own man it will probably be somebody with a similar story. Dos Santos has contacts in Portugal so I imagine if he were to bring in an international it would be a keeper from Liga NOS who’s a bit down on his luck and needs a new challenge, perhaps on loan. Benfica’s Bruno Varela stands out to me but i’m sure there are plenty of keepers in that league who would do well in MLS. I still think sticking with the young guys is the best option though.

High end Option: Spending big on goalkeepers in MLS has generally gone poorly. Does anybody even want this?

Right Wing Backs:

Cheap Option:

The Whitecaps already have Jake Nerwinski in this position. His assists took a bit of a dip in 2018 but there was no real change to his underlying numbers from the 2017 season in which he got 5 assists. Nerwinksi is also solid defensively and, importantly, has the physicality needed for a wingback to run up and won the pitch for 90 minutes. The ‘Caps also have promising youngster Jake Ruby in the residency. Ruby is also an attacking full back who would probably be well suited to a wing back role. Ruby is young and has another year of eligibility for the academy but CPL side Cavalry F.C have had fielded him in an “Al Clasico” game so their interest may make getting Ruby under contract a bit more urgent. They may wish to sign him regardless of if they plan to actually play him just to avoid losing him for free. Canadian right back Emile Legault has looked quite good for the U20s and is currently available on a free transfer having previously played for the academies of Celtic and Auxerre.

Medium/outside the box options:

Sometimes in a 3-5-2 playing two more natural fullbacks on the wing doesn’t give you enough firepower going forward. In this instance it can make sense to use a winger who is also defensively responsible. There are two players who Dos Santos has experience with who I could see doing well in this role. Minnesota United are apparently shopping Miguel Ibarra. Why they are doing this i’m not sure, they’re afraid of success I suppose. Ibarra has played all over the field, having played everywhere from right back to a number 10 role. He’s put up 7 goals and 7 assists which would have made him Vancouver’s 4th most productive player behind Davies, Reyna, and Kamara. his 1.4 key passes per game would have put him tied for second on the ‘Caps. His defensive numbers aren’t amazing but they are certainly above average for an attacking player. Perhaps most exciting for our purposes, Ibarra’s production didn’t slow down when he was moved to a defensive role. In fact he got 3 goals and 2 assists in 5 matches as a right back. Dos Santos will be familiar with Ibarra from his NASL days and may make a play for him. The ‘Caps will have a lot of GAM this year and Ibarra only has a cap hit of 300k. He’d certainly be a dynamic attacking option.

Another option in this mold would be Fluminense winger Pablo Dyego. Dos Santos had Dyego on loan with the San Francisco Deltas. Dyego’s career was stalling somewhat but his loan to San Francisco seems to have done him some good because this past year he’s played 22 times in the Brazilian league, scoring 3 goals. Information on Dyego in english is limited but he has played as a right back and is a contributing player in a league that’s a good deal better than MLS. His highlights package also proclaims him “the new Hulk” which i’m assured is not an unreasonable comparison.

High end option:

If the ‘Caps want to go for a premium option at right back then I would go after Atlanta United’s Julian Gressal. He’s probably the best in the league at the wing back position so why not break out the GAM the Whitecaps will be sitting on after the transfer of Alphonso Davies and the high possibility of a transfer of Kendall Waston?

Centre Backs:

We’re going to need a lot of these if Dos Santos plans to run a 3-5-2 or a 3-3-1-3. probably 5 or 6. Generally in the back three you want the player in the centre to be the best on the ball while the two on the sides are more old school cinder block types (though ideally all three would be comfortable on the ball). The player they currently have that makes most sense to keep is Doneil Henry. He’s cheap, he’s domestic, his stats are pretty good (despite some...unfortunate moments), and he has 85% passing success which is 3rd best on the team. He’d be an ideal stopper in the 3 at the back formation. Kendall Waston plays as a stopper for the Costa Rican national team but he has said he wants to leave repeatedly. Aaron Maund and Jose Aja are not bad on the ball but they haven’t been terribly convincing this season and keeping Aja will mean giving more TAM to Orlando so i’m not sure you’d want to bring them back. Perhaps Maund just to have an extra warm body. Roberto Dominguez is allegedly good on the ball but we haven’t seen him play so I doubt the ‘Caps pick up his option. Thus the Whitecaps need a lot of centre backs at all tiers of pay:

Cheap options:

In the past the Whitecaps have signed former residency players after they’ve played a few years in college. They’ve done this with Ben McKendry and David Norman. There are a couple of decent centre backs they have the option to do this with. This includes Mac Hermann Shortlisted Alex Comisa, Joel Harrison who played a few games for WFC2 before it folded, and Vana Markarian. One or two of those guys would provide some good cheap cover. Another guy I think would be worth looking into is Derek Cornelius. Cornelius currently plays in Serbia. He’s a 20 year old Canadian who turned some heads at the Toulon Tournament. He was a regular starter in the Serbian first division last season and players from that league have done well in MLS in the past.

Medium Option:

Use some GAM and TAM to get centre backs from within the league. Justen Glad and Lalas Abubakar stand out to me as options from within the league who are both good defenders and good on the ball.

Given Dos Santos’ background it would not be shocking to see him make a play for Canadian/Portuguese centre backs Steven Vitoria and/or Ricardo Ferriera. Ferriera is certainly the more exciting of the two as he’s 25 and currently plays for Braga. He has played a game for Portugal but as it was a friendly he is not cap tied. His passing accuracy is consistently very good. He has, however suffered a couple of quite serious knee injuries which could prove problematic. That being said though his contract is expiring and if you can get a consistently good Liga NOS centre back who counts as a domestic for free how do you say no? Vitoria is 31, plays in the Polish top division and has previously played in MLS for the Philadelphia Union.

Expensive option:

An interesting option, in my view, is 30 year old Portuguese centre back Luis Neto. Neto currently plays for Zenit St. Petersburg. Due to Russia’s increased restrictions on foreign players they’ve had a harder time fitting him in and he’s been out on loan to Fenerbache. He’s on an expiring contract so he’d be free though he would command high wages. He’s very good on the ball with a consistently high passing accuracy and one imagines he’d only be better with the lower standards of MLS.

Left Wing Backs:

Cheap options:

The Whitecaps currently have three options at left wing back. All have upsides and downsides. Firstly there is Marcel de Jong. de Jong on the surface would be an excellent choice. He’s a fairly solid left back who’s good going forward. The thing is though, De Jong was never the quickest and, at 32, may very well just not have the pace or stamina to run up and down the wing for 90 minutes. This is less of a problem in a formation that also utilizes wingers because then he has some cover but if he’s asked to hold down the wing by himself then troubles may arise. I’m also not a huge fan of how he often seems to just kind of lump the ball into the box without much forethought.

People are generally down on Brett Levis but statistically speaking the differences between him and de Jong are marginal. Levis is marginally worse at defending and marginally better at holding on to the ball. Beyond that there’s really not much difference. Levis is younger and fleeter of foot than de Jong but he notoriously struggles to complete 90 minutes and thus can’t really be relied upon as a starter at this time.

In the residency the Whitecaps have Gabriel Escobar. Escobar is an attacking fullback who recently got a call up to the El Salvador u-20 team (he has also played for Canada at youth level). AFTN describes him thusly:

“Escobar is an energetic left back who is able to run up and down the pitch for the full 90 minutes. He looks to attack the final third every chance he gets with his ability to take on defenders making him very dangerous. Has a very strong athletic presence.”

So it sounds like a perfect fit. The thing is though Escobar is also regarded as a bit of a liability defensively. If that comes out at the u-19 level one imagines it would be more pronounced in MLS.

Medium Option:

While we’re getting crazy with GAM, i’d be interested in Canadian winger/fullback Raheem Edwards. He’s bounced around quite a bit after being selected by LAFC in the expansion draft but he offers some qualities that make him interesting. His defending stats are better than both De Jong and Levis and has been a much better creator than either with 1.2 key passes per game.

Another option would be Peruvian Miguel Trauco. Trauco currently plays for Brazilian side Flamenco where he has struggled somewhat in getting into the first team. Flamengo are interested in loaning him to MLS to raise his value so they can get a decent transfer fee for him. I think this represents a good opportunity for Vancouver. In limited time Trauco has managed 1.7 key passes per game, 0.7 dribbles, and 4 assists. This is in the Brazilian league which is well ahead of MLS so I imagine he’d only be better. He also scores the occasional long range screamer which is always exciting.

Expensive option:

Dos Santos is a big fan of the Portuguese league. Before he deleted his twitter he was always commenting on the latest fortunes of the various teams. So I figured i’d head on over and have a look at what kind players he might be pursuing with all that Davies money. I looked to see who was leading Liga NOS in key passes and I was shocked to discover that it was a left back! Porto F.C’s Alex Telles has dropped off a bit in recent weeks but at time of writing he is still averaging 3 key passes per game. For context in MLS this total would put him tied for 3rd in the league with Diego Valeri and Federico Higuain...And he’s a left back! Good googly moogly! There is almost no way the Whitecaps could afford him (though it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility) but I felt compelled to mention him because it would just be so sick.

Next time We’ll move on to the midfielders.