The Vancouver Whitecaps will have to rebuild for the 2019 season. This is well known. Just as important as who will be brought in is who should be kept. A lot of the players have been quite inconsistent and thus fan opinion is divided on many of them. For this list i’m choosing to focus on players who are quietly having a good season. Everybody knows that Kamara and Davies have had brilliant seasons. I’m choosing to focus on players who i’ve seen people express disappointment with for the purposes of this list.
5. Jake Nerwinski
I think for the most part people appreciate Nerwinski quite a bit so perhaps he doesn’t belong on this list. But one thing that’s floated around out there is that his offensive production has dried up. Last year Nerwinski managed 3 assists and this year he hasn’t managed any in league play (though he has one in the Voyageurs Cup). What is the cause of this? A change in system? A sophomore slump? Well actually Nerwinski’s underlying numbers are almost identical to last years. He has exactly the same number of key passes per 90 (0.5) and puts in almost exactly the same number of crosses per game (0.5 in 2018 vs 0.6 in 2017). So Nerwinski’s drop in offensive production is not due to any fundamental change in the way he plays, it’s simply a matter of his luck changing.
4. Doneil Henry
Again, I think for the most part people appreciate Henry. However since he’s just scored an unfortunate own goal, and I don’t think just how good he’s been is talked about enough, I thought i’d give him some love. He wins almost the same number of aerials as Kendall Waston (2.5 per game vs 2.6), Makes twice as many tackles per game as Waston (2.1 vs 1.1), makes more interceptions than Waston (2 per game vs 1.6) and has significantly more clearances per game (6.9 vs 4.4). In addition to making more defensive actions than Waston (for about a 5th of the price I might add) Henry also boasts an 87% passing accuracy. This is the best passing accuracy of all Whitecaps defenders and 3rd overall on the team. I’ve seen a few people blame the Whitecaps defensive woes on the loss of Tim Parker but statistically speaking Henry crushes Parker in almost any category you care to mention.
3. Yordy Reyna
Reyna exploded onto the Whitecaps scene at the end of the 2017 season. He averaged almost the same goals+assists per 90 as Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron. Reyna had a slow start to the year but has steadily improved. I’ve seen some, including people who’s opinion I respect greatly, suggest the Whitecaps should move on from Reyna. But, like with Nerwinski, Reyna’s underlying numbers are not significantly different. In fact in some ways they have improved. Reyna has taken slightly more shots per game and is successfully completing more dribbles than last season. His key passes have dropped very slightly but he also averages more passes per game and has a much higher passing accuracy. Reyna probably shouldn’t be totally relied on to run the offence but he’d be a fabulous supplementary piece to a high calibre DP #10.
Felipe is the latest caps player to catch the ire of Whitecaps fans after a straight red card against Toronto F.C. But for the most part Felipe has been pretty much everything you’d want in a deep lying playmaker. He leads the team in key passes by a large margin (2.0 per 90). This is good enough to make Felipe the 18th best creator in MLS. Of the players ahead of him most play in more advanced roles. The only centre midfielders who create more chances than him are New York City’s Moralez (who plays half his games as an out and out #10) and Orlando’s Yotún. He completes the most passes per game of any Whitecaps player and has posted an impressive 86% passing accuracy. Defensively Felipe is obviously not as good as Aly Ghazal but he is competitive with more explicitly defensive midfielders like Efrain Juarez and Russel Teibert. Some have argued that the Whitecaps have conceded a lot more this year with Felipe in the team but I view this as being more down to systemic problems than with individuals. In closing I will simply as that if you want the Whitecaps to play a more possession oriented game then getting rid of their best distributor and chance creator is probably a bad place to start.
1. Aly Ghazal:
Even the manager doesn’t properly appreciate how good Ghazal is. Defensively he is an absolute monster. Despite being rotated and played out of position for god know’s what reason, Ghazal has still managed an admirable 2 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per match. This is actually a big regression from Ghazal who last year was managing 3 per match in both statistics. He’s also dribbled past only 0.9 times a game which is pretty good for a defensive midfielder. Matias Laba, for example, regularly had seasons where he was dribbled past almost 3 times per match. His reputation as a poor passer is totally unwarranted as his passing percentage in his two years has been 84.3% and 82.5% respectively. It is true that he doesn’t do much in terms of creating chances but that isn’t his role. Ghazal is a facilitator. He allows players like De Jong, Nerwinski, and Felipe to get into more attacking positions because they know he’s behind them like a big spider waiting to gobble up any opposition attacks. If you play a 4-2-3-1 than Ghazal makes it much easier for the team to play with attacking fullbacks and for the other player in the 2 to bomb forward.