In both formations Marc Dos Santos has used previously, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3, the midfield involves a grouping of three. This three would be anchored by a more defensive midfielder with a more box to box midfielder and a playmaker in front of him.
How about the players they already have. Let’s start with that. One of the biggest decisions Dos Santos will have to make when it comes to player options is that of Aly Ghazal. Ghazal is very good defensively but he doesn’t create much, seems to have one awful pass per game (despite a generally high passing average), and can not be credibly described as dynamic. He’s also one of the highest paid players on the team at $700,567 guaranteed in 2018. He’s very good at what he does but it’s a very specialist role. It’s kind of hard to see how he would fit into a pressing style. Perhaps as a centre back, but he hasn’t played so well there. One role he’d be very well suited for is the holding midfielder in a 3-3-1-3. With so many players being thrown forward, a midfielder who’s extremely conservative is perhaps not totally unwelcome.
In terms of youngsters the Whitecaps have David Norman Jr. and Michael Baldisimo who have both played this position before. Baldisimo has gained huge plaudits for his passing ability at the CONCACAF U20 World Cup qualifying. His ability to pick out a long range pass reminds one of Pedro Morales. Defensively he’s no slouch either as he plays very physically for a man of his stature, though this sometimes gets him into card trouble. While I think he’s best in this position in the long term, because it allows him to see the whole field better, it may make more sense to start him in a more advanced position where he has a little less defensive responsibility. Norman Jr. has also been in a rich vein of form for Queen of the South playing as a defensive midfielder. He’s not as good of a passer as Baldisimo but is a bit more physically sturdy and a bit better running with the ball.
Marc Dos Santos was key in bringing Mark Anthony Kaye to LAFC. He had a season ending injury but before that he put in sterling performances as a 6, 8 and 10. He’d be a very dynamic option in the defensive midfield role.
Another dynamic option within MLS would by Orlando City’s Yoshimar Yotún. Despite Orlando finishing dead last in the league, Yotún made an average of 2.8 key passes per game as a defensive midfielder good enough for 7th in the league. Now that’s dynamic! Unfortunately his actual defensive stats are not that great so it’s a bit of a trade off.
Stephen Eustaquio is a 21 year old Canadian Portuguese midfielder who has had a meteoric rise in his career over the past few years. He’s currently playing for G.D. Chaves and is considered one the top young midfielders in Liga Nos. Dos Santos has also had his brother with Ottawa Fury in the past, so it seems like a match made in heaven. There is just one tiny snag. Chaves recently gave Eustaquio a new contract with a 10 million Euro release clause. Damn! Do you suppose MLS’ pledge to help Canadian clubs bring back top Canadian players still stands? Would it count if the player ends up playing for Portugal?
The type of playmaker Dos Santos will want to peruse will change depending on the formation. In a 4-3-3 it will have to be a real all action type who can create chances while still performing some defensive responsibilities. In the 3-5-2 he would hang back a little more as his work would be supplemented by one of the strikers who would also carry out some playmaking duties (rather like Dennis Bergkamp did with Arsenal). In a 3-3-1-3 the playmaker has much fewer defensive responsibilities and sits in an advanced position to find the runs of the three strikers.
The Whitecaps of course already have Felipe. Despite mixed reviews, Felipe was actually quite good in terms of chance creation. Before Dos Santos deleted his Twitter it seemed he was something of a fan. Thus I wouldn’t be surprised to see Felipe back in some capacity. He’d make a lot of sense in the 4-3-3 or the 3-5-2. Perhaps, however, he’d make less sense as a #10 in a 3-3-1-3 as he likes to roam more than you want from the #10 in that formation. Felipe is probably as cheap as you’d want to go in this role as it’s quite important. One of the advantages of going with Felipe instead of a new DP would be that it allows you to spend more money elsewhere while still having, in general, quite a good playmaker.
When looking at players on expiring contracts a name that stood out to me is that of Portuguese playmaker Tiago Rodrigues. Rodrigues currently plays for CSKA Sofia in the Bulgarian league, who are regularly at the top of the table and in the Europa League. His career hasn’t exactly been mind-blowing but players from those types of leagues have done well in MLS before. He used to play for Porto (a club MDS clearly admires), and, perhaps most importantly, he was brilliant for me in Football Manager. He had 8 goals and 12 assists in the 2017/18 season so he offers goals from the midfield. He’s also reasonably good defensively so he’d be a good choice for a 4-3-3.
Dos Santos has brought up the South Korean league a number of times in interviews. It’s always in the context of “I don’t care where the players come from as long as they’re good” but the fact that his brain keeps going there suggests to me that there may be something to it. South Korea, despite heavy investment from Japan and China, is generally considered to be the strongest of the Asian leagues. Also there are a lot of Brazilians there. There are a few players who stand out to me as potential good options (some of which will be discussed later). One who stands out to me as a #10 is a Brazilian playing for Daegu F.C. by the name of Cesinha. He can play as a striker, a winger or as a #10 and has consistently been at around 10 goals and 10 assists in the K-League. Based on his highlights he seems very exciting to watch as he’s always pulling of extravagant flicks and tricks. He also has an incredibly hard shot and has scored several long range free kicks reminiscent of the one’s Camilo used to smash in back in the day. He clearly has some vision but my concern would be that, rather like Yordy Reyna, he would get assists but would be kind of shoe horned in to a #10 role. Double digits in goals and assists in a decent league is not to be sniffed at though. Plus watching his highlights was fun. Having some players who are fun to watch is going to be important to win back the alienated fan base.
The natural thing to do when you’re trying to figure out who a Portuguese-Canadian coach with Brazilian connections might sign as a #10 the natural thing to do is see who’s leading those leagues in key passes. The mononymous players in question are Luan in Brazil and Pizzi in Portugal. Both are crazy pipe dreams who would be very expensive and almost certainly won’t happen. AND YET! in both cases when you squint at them in just the right way they don’t seem so crazy. The Whitecaps are in a position where they have some funds for a really big signing. Pizzi is 28 years old, the age when teams start to look to move those players on in order to maximize their profit. It’s also the age when players start to look for a new challenge (it’s the age Giovinco signed for Toronto). Pizzi also wasn’t bought for all that much money so Benfica wouldn’t need to get that huge a fee to turn a profit. Look, it probably won’t happen but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibilities is all i’m saying.
Luan was not too long ago being linked to the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal. But he’s 25 and that move has yet to materialize. This means he’s of a similar profile to Pity Martinez, who Atlanta have managed to pry away from River Plate. Interestingly, he’s also an investor in a B.C. based company. So Luan, come to Vancouver, keep a close eye on your assets, and help the Whitecaps win a cup! In all seriousness, like Pizzi, this probably won’t happen but the chances of it happening are not 0%.
Box to Box Midfielders:
In both the 4-3-3 and the 3-5-2 a box to box midfielder who does some of the dirty work while still providing some creativity will be needed. If the formation is a 3-3-1-3 is used then a box to box player isn’t really needed.
Craig Dalrymple moved Russel Teibert into an advanced role and he looked pretty good. That being said though if the team wants to challenge for the MLS Cup Teibert probably shouldn’t be a starter (though he should definitely be on the team in my opinion). However, if the Whitecaps do manage to pull off a Pizzi or Luan type of player then I think it would be fine to use Teibert as a budget option to facilitate that.
Since his bizarre departure at the end of 2017, Nosa Igiebor’s camp have periodically agitated for a move back to Vancouver. It would certainly be very weird but in a small sample size he was pretty good in 2017.
An option that most likely flew under the radar, because his team was totally crap, is Minnesota United’s Rasmus Schüller. He lead MLS in tackles in 2018 while creating at a not unreasonable pace. He’s also on a very decent contract.
A name that stands out to me in the Portuguese league is Argentine midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia. He tackles hard, is a decent passer and has played for Argentina. He’s also great in Football Manager! Not to say that means anything necessarily. He also plays for Sporting, a team which has had some turmoil recently so Vancouver could potentially offer him a more stable place for a footballing home.