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Lucas Venuto and What to do With Him

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MLS: Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

When the Vancouver Whitecaps signed Lucas Venuto Marc Dos Santos had the following to say:

“This is a player who left Brazil when he was young and was able to adapt quickly in Europe. We believe he’s a perfect fit for the way we want to play, and we are very happy to add him to our roster.”

And so far...

Yikes.

Bigger yikes.

The biggest yikes.

Venuto has not worked out at all. So what do you do now that you have this very expensive and not very good player? Can Venuto be rehabilitated into a player who’s worth the money the Whitecaps payed for him? Almost certainly not. But can he be a player who is overpaid but nevertheless a useful MLS player? The answer, my friends, is maybe.

You see, what Lucas Venuto is doing is not terribly dissimilar to moderately successful wingers of Whitecaps past. His production on a per90 basis is obviously garbage compared Kekuta Manneh and Cristian Techera’s best seasons but there is some underlying data that is encouraging. We’re grasping at straws a bit here for sure. I’m not saying that Venuto is secretly good but he may be a bit better than his 2 goals in 16 appearances suggests.

The best season by a Whitecaps winger in the MLS era was Kekuta Manneh in 2015 (discounting Davies in 2018 because he was on a whole other level). Manneh scored 7 goals and added 5 assists in 2015. Manneh had a shooting percentage of 8.5% which is well below Venuto’s 15.4% so far in 2019. The difference though is that Manneh had 87 shots and currently Venuto is on pace to take 26. Manneh managed to complete 74 dribbles while Venuto is on pace for only 50. But Manneh attempted 144 for a success rate of 51%. Venuto has attempted 44 for a success rate of 57%. You may be seeing where this is going. If Venuto had attempted shots and dribbles at the same level as Manneh and his success rates remained constant then he’d hit 13 goals and 82 dribbles (the second most dribbles by any Whitecaps since 2013 after Alphonso Davies). Like pretty much every Whitecaps attacker in 2019, Venuto has a volume problem.

It’s not really surprising that Venuto is struggling on the team that spends more time in its own end than any team in the league. Venuto has always been a player who relies on volume rather than precision. As Manuel Veth put it in his article when Venuto signed

“Venuto is a fast winger with the ability to take on players in one-v-one situations. This season, Venuto has averaged 12.79 dribbles per 90 minutes of which he completed 59 percent... The big question for Vancouver fans will be how those numbers stack up to Alphonso Davies, who was among the Whitecaps most prolific attacking players. Davies won 70.1 percent of his on average 9.81 dribble attempts last season...although Venuto goes into dribbles more often, he was less efficient in his completion rate than Davies in what is a relatively comparable competition. During Venuto’s most successful season at Austria two years ago, he won 66.1 percent of his on average 9.01 dribbles.”

Essentially this is just the latest in my line of public petitions for the Whitecaps to add a creative #8 who can help them keep possession, drive play and make playing a pressing game more viable. Seriously guys it will make a huge difference.

One might reasonably ask then, was Venuto a good signing? While I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him I think that the answer is no. At least not for the price they paid. Quick wingers with good enough technical skills to get by aren’t exactly thin on the ground. The Montreal Impact, for example, got the much more effective Omar Browne on loan from the Panamanian league of all places. Players like this should not be getting 600k salaries. It’s also worth noting that we have a tiny sample size for his attacking actions so it’s possible that he can’t keep these percentages up. After all a 15.4% shooting percentage turns into a 7% shooting percentage real fast with a few long range shots straight at the keeper when you’ve only taken 13 shots. I also think it’s a bit problematic that the Whitecaps have so many players who seem like they would be doing better if they were a part of a more dominant team but not many players who are able to dictate the tempo of a game. So seriously, please, a DP playmaker.