The three formations i’ve discussed thus far constitute two different ways of setting up strikers. In the 3-5-2 Dos Santos used with the San Francisco Deltas he employed Tommy Heinemann and Kyle Bekker as his two strikers. That is to say a classic target man and a more withdrawn forward who also has some playmaking duties as well as looking to score goals. The 3-3-1-3 and 4-3-3 also utilize a target man but with wide forwards alongside. Make no mistake, the wide forwards are certainly forwards, not wingers (at least not in that traditional sense). They will stay further forward and drift more centrally and allow overlapping runs from wing backs to provide the width. They won’t have as much defensive responsibility as we saw Alphonso Davies have in 2018 for example. So the types of forwards the Whitecaps could potentially be looking at are centre forwards, withdrawn forwards, and wide forwards.
Cheap options/what they’ve already got:
The Whitecaps currently have Kei Kamara, Theo Bair and Anthony Blondell who can play this position. Blondell has just come off an awful season and will probably be loaned out to see if he can recapture his form. Bair has a lot of talent but is not yet clinical enough to be a starter in MLS, based on what i’ve seen. I think the best thing for him is a loan to somewhere he can get as many reps in as possible because once his finishing improves he’s going to be deadly. Bair is, however, a more intriguing option in a wide forward role where his ability to play well in both central and wide areas could make him ideal and his hit and miss finishing won’t be as big of a deal because he won’t be asked to be the focal point of the offence.
Kamara on the other hand is the reigning Whitecaps top scorer. He’s getting a bit long in the tooth but 14 goals is not to be sniffed at. He seems to like Vancouver and it’s probably worth keeping him for another year. If Dos Santos wants to replace him he’d better be damned sure that the replacement can at least equal 14 goals.
Marcos Vinicius Amaral Alves (Marcão) is a very big man. He stands at 6’5, the same height as Kendall Waston. He also scores a lot of goals. Since joining Gyeongnam FC the 24 year old has scored 49 goals in 65 appearances while adding 12 assists. As we’ve previously discussed on this series, Marc Dos Santos has expressed interest in the Korean League so it’s quite possible he’s had a look at Marcão. Due to his size, one naturally imagines him standing in the box and smashing in headers over undersized Korean defenders. Well there certainly has been some of that but his highlights also reveal that he has quite good vision, he presses, and is pretty fast for a man his size. Once he gets going you can almost see the terror in the defender’s eyes as he bears down no them. I still think it’s probably safer to go with the known quantity in Kei Kamara but I have to admit Marcão seems like a pretty perfect fit for what Dos Santos seems to be trying to do (in that he’s basically a souped up version of Tommy Heinemann). Whitecaps fans are naturally skeptical of strikers from asian leagues after a failed experiment with Masato Kudo but the South Korean league has a much higher coefficient than the Japanese league and Marcão has a strike rate more than twice as high as Kudo’s throughout their respective careers.
A name that will be familiar to Whitecaps fans is Cyle Larin. Larin has struggled at Besiktas after a bright start and they are apparently fed up with him to the point they want to ship him out. Larin has had success in MLS before and is a big talent but there are question marks about his attitude. We don’t want a repeat of the chaos that ensued on media day. That being said though, one of the oldest ways to get undervalued players is to sign talented but troubled players and help them through their issues.
Another league that Dos Santos has brought up, in his interview with AFTN, is the Chinese Super League. the CSL is also full of Brazilians, though much more expensive ones. It would be nearly impossible to pry away a foreign striker by paying a transfer fee as Chinese clubs just have to much financial power. A Chinese striker would be even harder to get as any Chinese player of any quality is worth a ton of money in shirt sales and advertising. Thus CSL golden boot winner Wu Lei (the first Chinese winner of the award in over a decade) is almost certainly an impossibility. A striker on an expiring option, however, might be more attainable. This is where Brazilian striker Alan Carvalho comes in. His contract expires at the end of the year and he boasts an impressive goal rate in China, Austria, and Brazil. In the 2018 season he averaged a goal every 73 minutes. Obviously the Chinese league is not the highest quality, especially in terms of defending, but, as players like Paulinho have shown, success there isn’t necessarily impossible to replicate at better levels. Of course Alan is not without his troubles. This past season he served an eight game suspension for elbowing another player. He’d also command high wages after his time in China. He is not perfect but players who are don’t end up in MLS. What he would be is a very effective option.
It is worth noting that previously discussed players like Cesinha, Pablo Dyego, Theo Bair and Miguel Ibarra could all do a job in the position. Current Whitecap Yordy Reyna could also play there, though I think he’d be better as a withdrawn forward. Some collection of these guys probably constitutes the cheap options.
Thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Kamara was frequently shunted out to the wing. He was actually pretty decent there and with a 4-3-3 or 3-3-1-3 where the wide forwards drift into the middle a little more he could thrive. L.A Galaxy are rumoured to be brining in Dario Benedetto into an already top heavy side and that could make Kamara expendable.
A statistical analysis of all the wingers in MLS by Harrison Crow found that Alberth Elis was the second most effective after only LAFC DP Carlos Vela. It would be difficult to pry him away from the Houston Dynamo but with all the GAM on hand it could possibly be done. Nobody can truly replace Alphonso Davies but Elis’ talent, physicality, and taste in Marvel films make him a worthy alternative.
Since he’s the only MLS player Dos Santos is on the record saying he admires this speculation wouldn’t be complete without having a look at Latif Blessing. LAFC’s young Ghanaian can play both centrally and in a wide position. His 2018 season saw a solid improvement over his 2017 season and at 21 there’s still plenty of time for him to improve. He’s more of a goal poacher than some of the other strikers mentioned here, with many of his goals being scored as a result of getting on the ball in a goal mouth scramble or ghosting in at the back post to tap the ball in. He also is a pretty decent creator, putting up 1.3 key passes per game (which would have put him tied for 3rd with Alphonso Davies on the 2018 Whitecaps). LAFC are overloaded with strikers and because of that Blessing played a decent chunk of his minutes as a sub. If His G+A/90 had held and he’d played every minute of game he would have been pushing double digits in both goals and assists. If the Whitecaps play him as a regular starter, in a team boosted by some proper DPs (I know), he could be a sneakily good pick up.
One of the top attacking wingers in the Brazilian league this year has been Everton of Gremio. Everton is 24 which makes him the type of player that MLS has been more and more capable of attracting in recent years. That is to say, good enough to be a top player in a good South American league but a little to old for the top clubs in Europe to be calling.
This role is only really utilized in the 3-5-2 formation. Essentially the withdrawn forward plays off a centre forward as half striker and half playmaker. It’s similar to the role that Dennis Bergkamp used to play for Arsenal.
The Whitecaps seem to have this role pretty well covered with what they’ve already got. Yordy Reyna fills this role very well and Simon Colyn showed some quality in his debut and should be a reasonable backup. If they decide to loan Colyn out (I don’t necessarily think they should as he can still play for the residency for another two years so if he needs games to stay sharp there will be plenty available to him) and need some cheap depth then the player Dos Santos used in this role for San Francisco, Kyle Bekker, would probably be available. Bekker had an unsuccessful stint in MLS previously but he’s been tearing it up in USL and NASL lately so perhaps he’s just a late bloomer.
Dos Santos has some connections at Brazilian club Fluminense. They’ve got a pretty solid player who plays this role by the name of Everaldo. Everaldo is 24 and has put up pretty respectable numbers in all attacking stats with 6 assists, 1.5 key passes per game, 1.6 dribbles per game and 1.6 shots per game. With MLS being a weaker league one would expect those numbers to rise. New York Red Bull’s Kaka, for example, put up very similar numbers in the Argentine league and had 6 goals and 11 assists in the 2018 regular season.