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What’s Happening with Jon Erice?

Once the captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Jon Erice has found himself stapled to the bench, sitting five of the last six, including the last four. What has led to this decision? We try to answer that question.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Following an embarrassing 3-0 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City, on July 13th, Marc Dos Santos expressed that he needed more from his veteran leaders Jon Erice and Fredy Montero. Since that statement, Erice has played in only one of the Vancouver Whitecaps five matches, and has sat out the last four, including the second leg of the Canadian Championship. It seems that Marc Dos Santos’ once captain has been sent past the doghouse and right into the outhouse.

Erice began the season as the team captain, starting the first seven matches, 10 of the first 11, and 18 of the first 21. In total, Jon has played (started) 19 matches, for a total of 1,617 minutes. During those minutes, Erice has been a calm shield in front of the back four, while being a focal point of the Whitecaps possession. At the end of February, against LA Galaxy, he had 116 touches and 101 pass attempts, both the second most all-time for the Whitecaps.

More recently, the defensive midfielder had begun to move forward more, jumping into the attack. In fact, his two assists this season came in the three matches leading up to the SKC match. Yet, on Saturday Marc Dos Santos felt that Andy Rose was the better choice; although I must admit that Rose played fairly well in the match.

While the decision might be a puzzling one, there might actually be a rationale behind it. Since Erice’s benching, In-Beom Hwang has occupied the position in front of the back four, and has played every minute. While not a defensive midfielder, In-Beom has shown himself to be a hard worker, tracking back and reacquiring possession. However, where Hwang is light years ahead of Erice is in his passing/vision.

To begin the season In-Beom was being played in a variety of locations on the field, as MDS was looking for the right position to deploy the talented South Korean. They even played him on the wing in an attacking three. While Hwang was certainly not the problem, he never looked comfortable in any of the positions that MDS put him. Why? Because it wasn’t his natural position. Since being moved to ‘defensive midfield’, In-Beom has looked fantastic, spraying balls all over the field and unlocking plenty of offensive opportunities for his teammates.

Hwang now plays a role that many Whitecaps should be familiar with. It was the one that Pedro Morales occupied in his tenure with Vancouver as a deep-lying playmaker. The only difference is that In-Beom can actually defend too! As a result, Erice has found himself on the bench. This is not necessarily because he is not good enough, but rather that having him on the field, along with In-Beom, seems to be redundant at the moment and takes away an additional offensive player. It appears that In-Beom is managing to hold down the fort in defensive midfield and now the Whitecaps have a player who can receive the pass from the defense, dribble past the first wave of opponents, and have the vision to find his teammates.

While my interpretation here is just a theory, it is the only real explanation I could come up with. Erice has been in the 18 in each match he has sat out, so he does not appear to be injured. The only answer we have received from the club is that Erice needs some rest. However, as a professional soccer player, if he is not injured but can’t play for a month because he is tired, then maybe this is not the right sport for him. Obviously, this is not the case, so there must be a strategic rationale for the move. While MDS has been willing to call out players when he expects more, he has also shown himself to give them a chance to prove they can do more. From what I have seen from Erice, it doesn’t appear that there would be an attitude issue. In addition, when you look at him on the sidelines, he seems engaged and communicating with MDS. However, it does signal that Vancouver did seem to overpay for a player that doesn’t appear to be in their plans any longer. The unfortunate thing is that there have been too many of those this season. However, if it means that we get more out of In-Beom Hwang, and the Caps can better utilize Montero, Ardaiz, and Erice’s salaries, then maybe some short-term pain is worth it.

What are your thoughts on Erice?