Since the Vancouver Whitecaps announced a series of roster decisions on Oct 17th, news from the club regarding their preparations for the upcoming season has been scarce.
While Whitecaps Head Coach Marc Dos Santos has done a series of media appearances which have helped bring some insights in so far as his scouting plans and prospective candidates for the TD position, nothing concrete has been announced as of yet. So for the moment, the Whitecaps are still without their promised Technical Director, and with some important MLS offseason deadlines fast approaching, the club is going to have to get on with business, with or without their new found saviour in the Front Office.
The Next Month in MLS
For those who are perhaps unaware, or simply confused by the multitude of different deadlines and processes which are upcoming over the next month (I don’t blame you), here’s the outline of what the next month looks like in the MLS offseason:
Following the MLS Cup Final between Seattle and Toronto, the first important time period is a brief MLS trade window that opens on November 11 (10 a.m. PT), the day after MLS Cup, and closes on November 13 (5 p.m. PT).
If players like Jake Nerwinski, Yordy Reyna or Fredy Montero are going to be moved, there’s a possibility it might happen in this window - especially if the club already has a deal in place before the window opens. Dos Santos also suggested on the AFTN podcast that the club would entertain the possibility of trading their 4th overall super draft pick, and if that were to happen, the pick, perhaps packaged with a player, could be moved during that window as well.
Following that period, the next big date for the Whitecaps is November 21st. If the Vancouver Whitecaps are going to get deals done with their unsigned players (Doneil Henry in particular, no offense PC) then it needs to happen by this date. A club spokesperson indicated to me that there’s no rush to announce an option decision prior to this date, and that it behooves the club to use the time at their disposal. Yet at the same time, one can’t help but wonder what’s at play that prevented Henry from being re-upped on Oct 17th with the majority of starters who were option eligible for 2020.
Reading between the lines, I don’t think that Dos Santos is as high on Henry’s playing style as he is on his other three centre backs (Godoy, Cornelius & Khmiri). But at the same time, if Henry and the Whitecaps were to part ways, and the club was unable to acquire Godoy permanently from Argentina, the Caps could go from deep to thin at the centre back position very quickly - and that would definitely not be a good look for the club.
The last major date would be the opening of “Free Agency”, or the Re-entry process on November 25th, which could be a good opportunity for Dos Santos and his squad to bolster depth for the 2020 season at an affordable rate. Moves made through this process are unlikely to make or break your squad, but TFC was able to pick up Nick DeLeon from DC United in the 2018 Re-entry process and he just recently scored the goal that sent Toronto to the MLS Cup Final, so never say never.
After this period ends on December 3rd, the Whitecaps should have a better idea of what their MLS base roster looks like for 2020, and what moves are needed in the all important January transfer window.
The Newest Targets
With all that in mind, I’m going to turn my attention to two players the Whitecaps have been linked to so far this offseason: Fouad Bachirou from Malmo in Sweden & Stephen Eustáquio of Cruz Azul in Mexico.
Bachirou was first linked with the Whitecaps after Vanni Sartini was spotted in Sweden at a Malmo match, and rumors followed from Swedish sources confirming the Canadian club’s interest in the player. It’s also worth noting that Bachirou is represented by the same agency as Latif Blessing of LAFC, so perhaps there is a connection there through Dos Santos’ time with Bob Bradley.
Avslöjar: Fouad Bachirou jagas av Vancouver Whitecaps som förbereder ett bud. Tränaren Marc Dos Santos och hans assisterande Vanni Sartini var på plats på Tele2 idag för att titta på "Bach". https://t.co/JIK3hyJhyu— Anel Avdić (@AnelAvdic) October 20, 2019
For Bachirou, this is his second time being linked to an MLS club, as Kvallsposten (a Swedish newspaper) reported back in 2018 that the Loons were set to make a $1.2 million bid for the player. Interest in the player was buoyed at the time by his standout performances during the club’s successful Europa League group stage campaign that fall. Bachirou appeared in eight Europa League group-stage matches for Malmo in 2018 and helped the club advance out of the group ahead of Turkish powerhouses Besiktas.
Since that impressive run of form, Bachirou has started 20 matches for Malmo in 2019 Domestic play, and boasts a 87% pass completion rate while also recording 1.9 tackles per match. In his 2019 Europa League campaign thus far, the midfielder has started all 3 matches, and in his top perfomance of the three, had two key passes and an 88% completion rate in a 2-1 victory over FC Lugano on October 24th.
While the Comorian isn’t going to blow you away with his stats (he has just one assist and no goals so far this year), his proven ability at the European level as well as his likely reasonable price point make him an attractive target for the Whitecaps. Bachirou’s physical prowess and direct style of play also would fit Marc Dos Santos’ system far better than most, if not all, of the Whitecaps’ current midfield options. So in that context, it would be a great pickup. To make a long story short, Bachirou would be unlikely to solve the Whitecaps’ goal scoring woes on his own, but if brought in, he could help put the Whitecaps attackers in a much better position to succeed.
This brings us to the second rumored target (this one is more hypothetical at the moment than the last). While Fouad Bachirou would bring experience and consistency to the Whitecaps midfield, Stephen Eustaquio offers a different narrative, albeit from a very similar position on the field.
Eustaquio’s main selling point is an obvious one: he’s a shining example of the change happening within the Canadian Men’s National Team. Back In February, Eustaquio announced that after playing his youth football for Portugal up to the U21 level, he was committing to play for Canada internationally going forward.
This is my story Stephen Eustáquio #CANMNT pic.twitter.com/5lhGtJbTLF— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) February 22, 2019
While this was a huge coup for the National Team at the time, Eustaquio’s progress at Mexican Club Cruz Azul has been mixed, to say the least, since this announcement.
In what was hardly an ideal debut in Mexico, Eustaquio was both yellow carded and stretchered off this pitch in his opening match for Cruz Azul. The Canadian tore his ACL and ruptured his Meniscus in the match, and since returning to full fitness in September, Eustaquio has been relegated to Cruz Azul’s development/reserve side. Then, just under a week ago, it was reported that the club is already looking to move on from the player - as Cruz Azul is looking to clean house at the end of a very disappointing Apertura campaign (which concludes at the end of the month).
Stephen Eustáquio's game winning goal for the Cruz Azul reserves.#CanMNT https://t.co/RK98nqMUCG— It's Soccer Here (@ItsSoccerHere) November 2, 2019
According to ESPN’s León Lecanda, Stephen Eustaquio will be one of the outgoing players at Cruz Azul after the Apertura. Whether on loan or permanently is unknown but the club will attempt to sign another midfielder. #CanMNT— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) October 30, 2019
Given that Eustaquio made the choice to move to North America rather than staying in Europe when he joined Cruz Azul in January, the MLS would seem like a natural destination for him if Cruz Azul does indeed decide to move on. Additionally, one would think it would make sense for Eustaquio to join a Canadian MLS team as he rises to prominence within the National Team over the next few years, especially if he has the opportunity to play his club football alongside many of his National Team squad members.
From an outside perspective, everything points to Eustaquio being a player the Whitecaps should be targeting very seriously. What remains to be seen is whether or not such a move is a realistic proposition. This obviously depends on a wide array of factors, and one of those is tactical fit. Like the aforementioned Bachirou, Eustaquio is predominately a defensive midfielder that you likely don’t want to be relying on for goals and assists. So if the Whitecaps do end up taking action on either Bachirou or Eustaquio, it seems likely they’d acquire one, and not both players.
If Dos Santos already has one of his three prospective midfield roles occupied by In-Beom Hwang for next year, either Bachirou or Eustaquio could serve as the deep lying midfielder while Dos Santos & Co. continue to search for another more attack minded player, which could make for (in theory) an impressive, and much improved, midfield trio next season.
What, if any moves do you think the Whitecaps will pull off over the next month of the MLS offseason schedule? Of Bachirou and Eustaquio, who seems like the most realistic (or most promising) target?
As always, let me know your thoughts!