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Vancouver Whitecaps Rebuild Half Season Report | Part 2: Recruitment

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

In the first part of my three-part mid-season Vancouver Whitecaps review, we saw that the Caps were correct in the majority of the players they released during the off-season. However, to fully evaluate this, we need to see if the players they brought in to replace said departures have been better. In part two, I have a look at all the new signings under MDS and evaluate their season thus far. Let’s have a look.

In-Beom Hwang:

Has been mostly a success. He looks very tired and a bit overwhelmed by having to run the attack himself but he leads the team in chances created, is 3rd in shots, 3rd in passing accuracy, and has more tackles and interceptions than ostensibly defensive midfielders like Russel Teibert and Andy Rose. He is doing good stuff. Considering he’s been playing football almost non stop since March 2018 and is living abroad for the first time, you have to figure we’ll see what he can really do next season. In the meantime he’s done reasonably well.

Joaquin Ardaiz:

Um? It’s tough to say. I mean he always looks dangerous but looking dangerous doesn’t count on the scoreboard and Ardaiz has 0 goals. He’s on loan so they don’t have to keep him and honestly I probably couldn’t justify doing that. I can see why they took a flier on him but at a certain point there has to be an end product. He still has half a season to turn it around but to go from being the next Luis Suarez to 0 MLS goals in the space of two years is quite the fall from grace.

Erik Godoy:

The ghost! Godoy is always quietly very good and has been a big contributor to the much improved Whitecaps defence. He is also on loan but unlike Ardaiz his option should probably be picked up.

Jasser Khmiri:

Has been out with an injury so we can’t really judge one way or the other.

Scott Sutter:

Has been a big improvement over Sean Franklin as a veteran fullback to push Nerwinski. He also scored a goal which is nice.

Lucas Venuto:

I come to resent Lucas Venuto more and more with every passing game. The way he gives the ball away when the Whitecaps are on a break at what feels like unprecedented levels drives me insane. The Whitecaps, despite spending more time in their own 3rd than any team in the league, are currently credited with 0 counter attack goals by whoscored.com. A big reason for that is the two pacy wingers who were brought in have been terrible. Then again Venuto’s two goals have him second in team scoring so at least he’s doing Something. But consider also that the Whitecaps paid a fee for this guy! They never pay fees for anyone and one of the players they actually pay for in their big new rebuild to win back the jaded fan base is a guy who can run quickly in a straight line and nothing else. He’s on pace for 4 or 5 goals (he has no assists) which is below what he was averaging in the Austrian Bundesliga. If he was doing this as an 18 year old academy graduate that might be alright but for a player in his mid-20’s who was signed from a first division European league (even if it was Austria) it’s just not good enough. You can maybe cut the Whitecaps some slack because they had to assemble the squad in short order and there were no wingers coming out of the academy who were ready for prime time so perhaps they felt the needed to get someone. But every time he plays I feel like surely there must have been a better option out there.

Lass Bangoura:

Somehow Lass bangoura is doing worse in MLS than he did in La Liga. I don’t know how that’s possible but he is. I backed Bangoura to be a success when he signed but that was premised on the idea that when you move from a top 5 league to a league with notoriously bad defending you might put up higher numbers. But somehow Bangoura has totally defied that logic. Bangoura is taking fewer shots, making fewer key passes and completing fewer dribbles than he did in any of his previous years in the top flights of Spain and France. I can’t even really get too mad at the Whitecaps for this because every indicator was there that he should be a success or at least a good player. He was doing similar numbers to Pedro Morales and had some dribbling stats that compared favourably to Alphonso Davies. Fortunately Bangoura is only on loan so the Whitecaps aren’t stuck with him.

Jon Erice:

Is fine. The Whitecaps have two #6’s with bright futures in David Norman Jr. and Michael Baldisimo but neither is ready to be handed the reigns. So, the Caps need a veteran to come in for a year or two, to be fine, and allow Norman and Baldisimo to rotate in and get MLS match experience. Baldisimo and Norman have ended up injured, but in theory it was a good idea. Also, it should be noted I’m assuming this was the plan because that’s what seems most logical to me but you never know. Anyway, Erice’s stats are pretty good on both side of the ball. He was a perfectly reasonable signing.

Derek Cornelius:

Got off to a very rocky start but has looked a lot more composed in recent weeks as injuries have thrust him into the first team. At 21 he isn’t the finished article yet and could be quite a good defender in 2-3 years. At worst he’s good depth.

Andy Rose:

Meh. He’s delivered basically what was expected of him. He’s tall, tries hard, and can play multiple positions. He’s not a very good passer but there will always be a place for cheap versatile domestics. Ideally this sort of player would be phased out in favour of academy graduates but it’s hard to do that in year one when academy graduates who were ready were thin on the ground.

Victor Giro (PC):

PC was described by Orlando fans as “one of the worst players in MLS.” To be fair, he definitely hasn’t been that. He hasn’t set the world on fire either but he wasn’t really expected to. He’s been a serviceable depth player. Like Rose I’d hope this sort of role would ultimately be replaced by an academy graduate but I’ll give a pass on that for the first year. In the future when Marc Dos Santos looks down his bench for a winger/fullback the name he calls is Georges Mukumbilwa, not PC.

Zac MacMath:

He’s been a perfectly serviceable backup. If the Whitecaps have to use him I never feel like disaster is imminent. Can’t really ask for much more.

Maxime Crepeau:

Pretty much a slam dunk. Crepeau was brought in for dirt cheep and is outperforming Evan Bush (who Montreal gave a million dollar contract extension to rather than keeping Crepeau) by almost every statistical measure. We shouldn’t get to carried away because goalie stats tend to not be predictive of future performance (the aforementioned Bush went from being one of the worst GA-xGA goalies to one of the best back to being one of the worst in the space of 3 years for example) but Crepeau has been a really good find.

Ali Adnan:

Good enough that we’re actually contemplating making a left back a DP (although it’s possible they could make him a TAM player with some cap trickery). Yes he tries to do too much sometimes, but he’s one of the major drivers of offence on the team (which is much better news for Ali Adnan than it is for the Vancouver Whitecaps) and is one of the leaders in terms of defensive actions as well. He’s not without his warts but I’d say he’s a hit.

Fredy Montero:

Hasn’t been amazing but he doesn’t really have the proper support. He’s on pace for somewhere in the range of 10-12 goals and 4-5 assists which is pretty typical for Montero and for a borderline TAM/DP player. With proper support I think he could accomplish more but he’s performed at an acceptable rate so far.

So by my count of the 14 players there were 4 hits, 6 passes, 3 fails and 1 incomplete. Which is not terrible but also not particularly great. This brings me to the other thing which has been percolating in my mind this past week.

Do the Vancouver Whitecaps have ANY scouting infrastructure?

I went to the far corners of the internet to try and answer this question. I know we discussed this a bit in a previous article of mine but it just seems crazy to me that the Whitecaps have no full time pro scouts. It should be noted that just because there isn’t an online record of something doesn’t mean it isn’t happening but so far I haven’t been able to find any evidence of full time pro scouts. The Whitecaps did have John Park as head of recruitment for a bit but the one year they had him was one of the most disastrous recruiting periods in the club’s MLS history. I don’t know of any evidence he ever left the UK to help the Whitecaps sign a player and if your only scout is some guy watching game tape at his house then you might as well just let Glass City be head of scouting.

Naturally I began the search on twitter. I searched for tweets that contained the word scout as well as Whitecaps and/or VWFC. There are references to other teams scouting the whitecaps:

And some of the stars of Whitecaps twitter making some really good points about the need for a strong scouting infrastructure

And people lamenting that the Whitecaps AREN’T scouting tournaments

But there is not, as far as I can discern any references to Whitecaps scouts following a player. I also can’t find a single person who has Whitecaps scout in their bio. So if the Whitecaps do have scouts, they don’t tweet. There is a passing reference to “Provincial scouts” discovering Alphonso Davies but I imagine (though to be fair I don’t know for sure) that these are just local coaches who have connections with the Whitecaps.

But this still isn’t someone being paid to watch a professional soccer match with the aim of finding a player who could help the Vancouver Whitecaps win MLS games.

Yes it’s just twitter but if you do a similar search for the Montreal impact for example then right away a story about how they have over 20 scouts sharing knowledge between them and Saputo owned Serie A side Bologna. Montreal also has at least one scout who does tweet!

If you do this scout search with the Seattle Sounders then you can see Kurt Schmid (son of Sigi) works as a scout for them and an ESPN article on how they are putting more and more money towards scouting infrastructure.

But perhaps the Whitecaps scouting team is too busy for social media. So I went to their website. The Whitecaps have nobody listed in their technical staff as a scout or a head of recruitment. They have 3 video analysts, Andy Peat, Luke Summers, and Andrew Foster. It’s not clear if these guys are involved in scouting or just match preparation. Peat is a New Zealander and around the time he was brought in the Whitecaps had an influx of kiwis, so perhaps he does something but it might just be a coincidence.

There is also Steve Meadley, a former WFC2 assistant who has the job title “College Scout & Homegrown Player Manager.” So perhaps he’s doing some scouting, but not of pro players. It has been mentioned in the past on the AFTN podcast that since the departure of Alan Kock the Whitecaps have done all of their draft scouting based on the MLS combine so is Meadley actually doing anything? (Steve if you are reading this and you do actually do something then please accept my apologies but there really is no way for an outside observer to tell).

Back in 2014 the Whitecaps had a series called “scouting week.” Perhaps that will shed some light on the process. Let’s look at an article entitled “How did Whitecaps FC land Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston? Robbo explains.”

“...Just look at Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston. Those were two of Robinson’s most high profile acquisitions this past season. Not many had heard of them in these parts, but they were two of Vancouver’s most influential players. So, how did the ‘Caps find them?”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

“A lot of it has to do with Robinson’s network – along with that of assistant coach Martyn Pert and the rest of the technical staff. Robinson has over a decade of playing experience in the top two divisions in England, not to mention eight years of experience in Major League Soccer as a player and coach. Suffice to say, he’s built a few relationships along the way.”

Uhhhh...alright then. So were any scouts involved in this process?

“...Case in point: Morales and Waston were both recommended to Robinson by a close friend. In Morales’ case, Robinson was actually asked to give his opinion on the Chilean to an agent.”

Consider the implications of this quote. First of all, the Whitecaps seem to have been relying on Robbo’s conspicuously unnamed friend for player recommendations? Doesn’t sound like an exhaustive process. Secondly this makes it seem as though Robinson wasn’t even actively seeking a #10 when he signed Morales. His friend just happened to bring him up in conversation. This seems to suggest that the Whitecaps were wholly prepared to march into the 2014 season, the year after loosing Camilo, with Nicolas Mezquida tasked with being the primary creator in the team. That’s just dereliction of duty. This isn’t even the only time the Whitecaps signed a player because a friend of the coach gave him a call. Fredy Montero’s first stint in Vancouver was famously instigated by a text from Mauro Rosales. So in firing Robbo and (seemingly) not hiring any new scouts the Whitecaps seem to have relied on Marc Dos Santos having better connected friends than Carl Robinson did. There’s nothing wrong with using your connections as an avenue to find players but it looks like that’s the only avenue the Whitecaps are using.

As Aman “meme god” Loodu pointed out in the tweet above, If that’s all you rely on then your organization isn’t going to be able to maintain a clear direction. It’s shocking that people in charge of a multimillion dollar business don’t seem to understand that.