It has been reported by journalist Sofiane Benzaza that the Vancouver Whitecaps have signed Tunisian centre back Jasser Khemiri (21). If you’re reading this then he was right and I’ve hit publish (I mean, he has a blue check mark so that’s got to count for something). Is this a case of bargain hunting (100% what they’re saying on Facebook right now) or is he going to take up the mantle of Kendall Waston? Let’s find out!
Jasser Khemiri is a 6’2 centre back who has played his whole career for Stade Tunisien in the Tunisian league. He has played 38 games over three seasons, scoring 3 goals and adding one assist in that time. His strong play has drawn interest from clubs in Europe’s big 5 leagues, as well as from some of the wealthier clubs in Africa and the Middle East. He has also been a regular for Tunisia’s various youth teams and is a current U23 international.
Style of Play:
Marc Dos Santos has a clear idea of the profile he wants in centre backs. In keeping with this Khemiri is basically a really good version of Derek Cornelius. He is quick, plays a good pass and is aggressive, though he is more composed than Cornelius. He is a threat from set pieces though so far not to the degree Kendall Waston was (he’s scored at about half the rate the big man did so far but there is still time to improve).
Khemiri is a star in the Tunisian league. So the real question is...
Is the Tunisian League Good?
A fair question. After all, we don’t want to end up with another Anthony Blondell, who was a star in a less known league but couldn’t adapt to MLS. Nobody from Tunisia or the Tunisian league has ever come to MLS, as far as i’m aware*, so there isn’t a direct basis of comparison. But people have come from other African leagues and CAF has a member coefficient rating similar to the one in Europe so perhaps we can glean something from that. Players from the Ghanaian league, like Gershon Koffie and Latif Blessing, have had success in MLS. So if you’re a star in the Ghanaian league then the limited sample size we have would suggest that you should be good enough to be a fairly regular starter in MLS. The most recent coefficient ranks the Ghanaian league the 22nd strongest league in Africa with 4 total points. How does the Tunisian league rank? 1st overall with 116 points. Hot damn.
Players from the Tunisian league formed the majority of the national team that qualified for Russia 2018. Clearly there is quality there so Khemiri should be up to a good level. But if you remain skeptical then here are his touches from a game against Italy’s U23s in which he faced a number of the hottest prospects in Europe and players who have already played significant Serie A minutes:
So far all of the Whitecaps’ signings have been players who have upside but have question marks around them. At the risk of totally jinxing things, I think Khemiri is a fantastic signing and gives me a huge confidence boost for the ability of the new coaching staff to bring in talented players.
*Actually a player has come over from Tunisia. Columbus’ Harrison Afful signed from ES Tunis. He’s made 95 appearances for the crew and has consistently been one of the better right backs in MLS. Shoutout Kouichi Shirayanagi (@Whitewillow64 on twitter) for pointing that out.