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The Transfer Strategy of the Vancouver Whitecaps

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MLS: Chicago Fire at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s just over half way through the 2018 MLS season. The Vancouver Whitecaps have been wildly inconsistent both in terms of results and style of play. One month they’re to boring and defensive, the next month they’re leading the league in scoring but leaking goals like a sieve. They are perhaps the only team in history that both has “the most pursued teenager in the world” and also feel like a chore to watch. Suffice to say it’s incredibly difficult to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with the team. One area that gets a lot of focus is the signings and squad building strategy of the management. A while back the Whitecaps caught a lot of flack for saying they wanted to be the most efficient team. There is nothing inherently wrong with this goal, being efficient is good, but fans are concerned that efficiency is being pursued at the expense of big signings. Efficiency can certainly help a team be better than teams with bigger budgets but usually to win a championship at least a certain degree of spending is required. The Oakland A’s may have introduced the concept of moneyball but it wasn’t until the Boston Red Sox combined the strategy with a large budget that a team using the strategy actually won a championship (keep in mind the Whitecaps have stated in multiple venues that the goal for this season is to win the MLS cup). So with these factors in mind we should evaluate the signings the team made in the offseason on two fronts. Firstly weather or not they have made the team better and secondly if it was the most efficient thing to do.

Jose Aja

Quality Rating: 6/10

Aja has been an average MLS Centre back. His defensive numbers are all fine but not overly impressive. He was billed as a ball playing centre back but his numbers aren’t much better than any of the ‘Caps other centre backs. But after the departure of Tim Parker a decent centre back was needed and that’s what Aja provides

Efficiency Rating: 8/10

Aja was purchased for 125k in TAM with a 100k add on if Aja remains on the team in the 2019 season. Assuming that add on is paid this will represent about half the money the Whitecaps got for Tim Parker. Aja’s numbers both in terms of passing and defending are very similar to Parker’s so this move looks pretty good from an efficiency perspective. Aja does make almost twice as much as Parker but considering the Whitecaps were trying to sign Parker to a TAM contract extension Aja is probably cheaper in the long run.

Myer Bevan

Quality Rating: 1/10

It’s hard to judge Bevan’s quality as he’s yet to play for the first team. He’s just come off a loan spell where he scored at a respectable rate (3 goals in 8 matches) for Husqvarna FF, a team at the bottom of the Swedish 3rd tier. If Bevan plays in the Voyageurs Cup and smashes in some goals then this rating will come right up but for now he hasn’t really proved himself at a good level.

Efficiency Rating: 10/10

Bevan makes league minimum and has some potential. If he makes it then they have a good striker that the can sell on for a profit or just keep. If he doesn’t make it then they didn’t really lose anything by giving him a chance. Despite being a New Zealander, Bevan also has a Canadian passport so he doesn’t require an international spot.

Anthoney Blondell

Quality Rating: 5/10

Blondell has been put in some difficult situations. He often comes on as a late sub for Kamara and on a number of occasions the team has found itself down to 10 or even 9 men with Blondell upfront. The result of this is that he’s only scored one goal. His expected goals suggests he’s been a tad unfortunate to not have one or two more but he hasn’t exactly been prolific. Of course he hasn’t exactly been put in a position to be prolific either. Blondell has looked good based on the eye test and it does sometimes take players a while to adapt to MLS. At 24 Blondell isn’t likely to hugely improve but if he’s put in better situations then I think it’s possible he has a lot more to offer.

Efficiency Rating: 3/10

The ‘Caps spent over $1,000,000 on Blondell. This is a sizeable part of their annual transfer budget on a player they don’t really play that much. If next year Blondell is the first choice striker (and maybe has a DP or two to set him up) then it’s possible this rating will look very different but for now it doesn’t look particularly efficient. If you’re a team with a low budget and you’re going to spend that much money on a TAM striker then you should put him in a situation to succeed, sell high, and reinvest. If Blondell were to lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 and Davies+2 DPs were setting him up for tap ins every game then how many goals would he score? How much would the teams in Europe and South America who were interested in him before be willing to pay if he recreated the success he enjoyed in Venezuela in MLS? We won’t know this year and if Blondell is never put in a position to succeed we may never know.

Simon Colyn

Quality Rating 0/10

Colyn hasn’t played a minute of professional football yet. This 0 shouldn’t be seen as a commentary on his ability only that he’s yet to contribute anything.

Efficiency Rating: 10/10

Like with Bevan, Colyn makes the league minimum and has the potential to be a good player. If he does then the ‘Caps have a homegrown Canadian star that they can sell high on or just keep. Colyn is only 16 so excitement for him is high.

Sean Franklin:

Quality Rating: 5/10

Franklin has been nothing special on either side of the ball. He’s not bad he’s just fine.

Efficiency Rating: 5/10

Franklin was a free transfer and only makes 150k. This is pretty standard for what he provides. That being said though they also could have signed Kadin Chung or Lucas Stauffer to backup Nerwinski. Both these players would have been cheaper and have higher upside. Of course this would also mean two inexperienced right backs which didn’t work out great in 2016. Chung wasn’t great defensively even at the USL level and Stauffer hadn’t played at all at the pro level so it would have been a courageous choice to go with either of them. At the end of the day though i’m not sure I would have been brave enough to make that choice so maybe I shouldn’t come down so hard on people who’s jobs (allegedly) rely on the Whitecaps being good.

Doneil Henry:

Quality Rating: 8/10

In a small number of starts Henry has been outstanding. His defensive numbers are good and he’s the best passer amongst the Whitecaps’ centre backs.

Efficiency Rating: 9/10

Came for free and does all of the above for only 140k.

Kei Kamara:

Quality Rating: 9/10

Kamara has 8 goals and 3 assists in 15 appearances. He also wins more headers than anybody else in the league. His expected goals suggest he’s actually been a bit unlucky to not have more.

Efficiency Rating: 7/10

The ‘Caps got Kamara for a first round pick and a second round pick (so a future MLS replacement player and a future office worker) which is a pretty good deal for the production they are getting from him. At the same time though his signing put up a roadblock for Blondell who, as mentioned earlier, took up a lot of the transfer budget. If the Whitecaps want to be a team that signs players cheaply and sells them on then signing 33 year olds, even very good ones, that block the playing time of those players may not be a great idea in the longterm. Still though, in the short term, Kamara has been about as good as you could ask for.

Efrain Juarez:

Quality Rating: 5/10

Juarez is coming off a fantastic performance against Chicago but for the most part he’s been very average. He apparently offers a lot off the field and is a likeable character but the results on the field have been bang average

Efficiency Rating: 3/10

Juarez makes a base salary of 525k. An awful lot of money for likability and veteran leadership. With his on field performance being so mediocre one has to wonder if David Normon Jr. who is 10 years younger, Canadian, doesn’t require any TAM and makes a mere 54k couldn’t do basically the same thing.

Felipe:

Quality Rating: 9/10

After a bit of a slow start Felipe has been tremendous over the past few months. he averages 2.2 key passes per game which is 15th in MLS. Considering he plays a deep lying midfield role this is tremendously good. His defensive stats are also pretty good.

Efficiency Rating: 10/10

The Whitecaps got Felipe, 450k in various allocation monies, and an international spot in exchange for Tim Parker (a player they were about to lose anyway). That’s the kind of move that will make you the most efficient team in MLS. Felipe fills a need, has a pretty reasonable salary at 425k (and 4 cents), and the player the ‘Caps lost was quickly replaced with a comparable player who will be less expensive in the long run. Quality move.

Sean Melvin:

Quality Rating 10/10

Melvin has taken on the role of 3rd choice keeper, a role that was previously held by literally nobody. If my math is correct that’s an improvement of infinite proportions.

Efficiency Rating: 10/10

Makes league minimum and is a young Canadian who already has a senior cap. Doesn’t get much more efficient than that.

David Norman Jr:

Quality Rating: 0/10

Hasn’t played any professional soccer since 2017. Like with Colyn the 0 isn’t a comment on his ability, only that he hasn’t helped the team at all either by playing or increasing his value.

Efficiency Rating: 10/10

Norman is on league minimum, there’s basically no risk. There is big potential if they ever actually play him.

Jordon Mutch:

Quality Rating: 6/10

Meh. Mutch has been injured for much of the season so far. He’s shown some good flashes for sure but I wouldn’t describe him as dominant. He’s more of a box to box player than Aly Ghazal or Felipe but its hard to shake the feeling the ‘Caps got him because they could, not because they had an idea of how he was going to fit in.

Efficiency Rating: 6/10

The Whitecaps got Mutch for basically nothing. He’s on loan and Crystal Palace is paying most of his salary. From a money perspective it’s great but that’s not the only part of being efficient. Mutch is a roadblock for players like Norman and the Baldisimo brothers that doesn’t really need to be there.

Brian Rowe:

Quality Rating: 8/10

Rowe has been pretty much as good as you could ask from an MLS backup. he’s been forced to play a lot more than the ‘Caps would like and has done pretty well.

Efficiency Rating: 3/10

Rowe has played well but that does not mean that having him on the team is the most efficient course of action. The Whitecaps gave up a second round draft pick (most likely the future owner of a small landscaping business) and pay him 135k a year. This isn’t bad on the face of it but when you consider they had Spencer Richey who is free, is younger, makes half as much and is basically the same player it looks pretty baffling. You could even just give the role of backup to Sean Melvin and probably not see a serious drop in quality. These minutes that Rowe is getting could be going to a goalkeeper the ‘Caps are developing and could potentially sell high on if they did well.

Average:

Quality Rating: 5.5

Efficiency Rating: 7.2

Conclusions:

Based on my, admittedly subjective analysis, the Whitecaps offseason signings have panned out to be reasonably efficient but lacking in quality. However, just because many of the signings are efficient does not mean the players are being deployed in an efficient manner. Buying cheap players from South America and signing Residency players to league minimum deals are efficient but if the players never play it’s a total waste. And the signings that aren’t efficient are woefully inefficient. There are a few players on a lot of money who don’t provide much more than average play. These are the types of players you want to phase out in favour of academy products if you want to be a development team. All in all the Whitecaps don’t seem to quite know what they want with their player acquisition strategy. If they’re going to spend money on established players, great let’s commit to that. If they’re going to be a development club that buys low and sells high great commit to that. But this weird Frankenstein’s monster combination of the two strategies must be seen as a big part of the reason the team likely won’t make the playoffs this year.