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Offseason Notebook: Still More Questions Than Answers as the Whitecaps Head Into 2021

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It’s been a quiet offseason so far, but things could be about to heat up.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, the end of 2020 was very quiet time. With no playoff matches and even less in the way of transfer news, there haven’t been many topics for substantial Whitecaps conversation in quite a while. That being said, things are looking like they are about to change. Whether it’s closing in on potential player acquisitions, the challenges of another contested collective bargaining agreement, or the daunting possibility of another prolonged home-away-from-home stint in the United States, the soccer news cycle in Vancouver is about to heat up - and for that I am very thankful.

Deiber Drama?

It’s been almost as poorly a kept secret as the Greg Vanney move to the LA Galaxy, but it looks like Deiber Caicedo is about to become the newest member of VWFC. While the reports were mostly of the murky and unreliable kind over the past few weeks, the intent of the club became much more serious on Friday morning when Tom Bogert of MLS Soccer dropped confirmation of the transfer in principle.

Tom is one of the most reliable sources in MLS, and wouldn’t drop a piece like this unless it was very close to being a done deal. After this article dropped, a club source confirmed that the Whitecaps intend to sign the Colombian, and that an announcement is being planned for next week, although the transfer is not yet a done deal.

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Ah, the vaunted number ten that has long been promised but never delivered, could it finally be coming to fruition? As first reported by The Province’s JJ Adams earlier this week. It looks like VWFC is closing in on its top three targets at the position, or at least that is what Axel Schuster is telling us.

Emerging from the discussion was the fact that the Whitecaps have closed in on one player in Europe, and two from South America. While there’s been little buzz on who those South American players might be specifically, it looks like Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt may have closed in on who the Whitecaps are pursuing in Europe.

A Portuguese media outlet is reporting that the Whitecaps have approached Benfica inquiring about a move for the 25-year-old, who is currently valued at 8.8 million USD. The attacking midfielder has spent almost all of his professional career in his home country, other than a very brief stint in the Croatian league, and had two goals and six assists in twenty five league matches last year for Benfica. The previous season, with Moreirense, he registered eight goals and seven assists in thirty-four matches.

If the Whitecaps were able to close in on this target, it looks like it could be a major coup for the club, and unlike anything else we have seen in the history of this MLS franchise. Chiquinho would instantly become one of the 25 most valuable players in MLS, and likely come close to doubling the franchise’s record transfer fee. It’s safe to say that I’m going to temper my expectations on this target until things get much closer to the finish line, but for those who like to live vicariously through potential signings, this will give you a sense of what Chiquinho has to offer.

The Elephant(s) in the Room

As much as it’s exciting to plan what the Vancouver Whitecaps’ roster is going to look like for the 2021 MLS Regular season, there are still a whole lot of details about the season which are very much unknown, especially for the three Canadian teams.

Before we can even get to logistics though, there may be issues once again in regard to the MLS’ collective bargaining agreement with the MLSPA, centered around the ever-pesky “force majeure” clause. Obviously, MLS owners aren’t terribly pleased about the way the pandemic has hammered them financially, and it was inevitable that they’d turn to the players at some point once again for their pound of flesh.

Since the above MLSPA statement over a week ago, the league has clarified their position, stating that they won’t pursue salary cuts for this upcoming season, but that as a result of the changing circumstances, the league would look to freeze compensation growth over the next two seasons under the current CBA agreement from last year. As a result, it could be up until 2027 before compensation improvements for players return to “regular” pre-covid levels, and importantly, the players would not be immediately profiting from new media and TV rights deals during this period in the way that they had hoped. Currently, the MLSPA has declined to provide additional comment on these proposed changes.

In terms of a scheduled start date, there are still serious concerns that the beginning of the MLS regular season may be pushed beyond its normal March kick-off. The longer the league waits, the more likely the possibility of supporters at matches becomes, at least in the US. Additionally, the Canada/US border looks unlikely to open anytime soon, and unless the Canadian teams are able to receive some sort of exemption (which feels very unlikely given the current precedent), the three Canadian teams could be looking at another stint inhabiting a stadium in the United States. So before you know it, we could be seeing Whitecaps banners donning the stands of Providence Park once again. What all of this will mean for Whitecaps supporters and media alike very much remains to be seen.

The Forgotten Frenchman

David Milinkovic, believe it or not, is still technically a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps. After falling out of favour with Marc Dos Santos in the latter half of the season, the club announced that they would be parting ways with Milinkovic in the offseason during a season-ending press conference. Later on though, Axel Schuster backtracked, clarifying that Milinkovic was actually under contract with the Whitecaps for the 2021 season, and that the player and his agent were currently on the hunt for a new destination, as the players expectations of his role did not align with how he was viewed by the club.

Since his departure from the team late in the the year for undisclosed reasons, Milinkovic has been unavailable for comment, only stating through a club official that he did not wish to speak to the media until his 2021 prospects became more clear. What makes this entire situation particularly odd to me is that Milinkovic was one of the Whitecaps’ best players in the first half of the season, and looked initially to be a stroke of genius by Axel Schuster and Co. after rescuing the Frenchman from the depths of Hull City’s squad in England. Milinkovic even went so far as to suggest that he had the intention of staying in Vancouver long term early in the year, so it’s obvious that at some point, something between the player and management dramatically shifted to the point where all parties felt it was best to part ways at seasons end.

The prospect of a new signing on the wing will only add to the intrigue, particularly if a newcomer such as Caicedo is unable to perform at a similar level to Milinkovic last season. If this does happen to be the case, it will be a real own-goal for this management group. Equally, what will happen if Milinkovic is unable to find a new club, will he simply return to the Whitecaps in a depth role, or could he refuse to join the squad? I’ve been backing the idea that he should look to return to Scotland, where he had his most successful season as a professional with Edinburgh-based Hearts, but only time will tell which markets the winger is targeting and what his prospects truly look like for 2021.

CANMNT, Eh?

The first Canadian Men’s National Team action in a very long time is set to kick-off in Florida today (Jan 9th), which will see the National team play two friendly scrimmages, as well as one inter-squad game. With a very busy and unique 2021 ahead, John Herdman’s side will be looking to prepare for not only World Cup Qualifiers, but also Olympic Qualifiers, as well as the Gold Cup. These commitments have been reflected in the roster selection, as many camp invitees might not be first-team regulars, but could see a role in competitions where U-23 status (Olympics) or squad depth (Gold Cup) will present the Canadians with a unique challenge. The Canadians are also looking to make up for lost time at this camp, as many of their CONCACAF rivals have managed to play friendlies or host camps of their own over the last three to four months.

For everything you need to know about the upcoming CANMNT camp, you can check out the latest episode of the Third Sub Podcast, which I host alongside Alexandre Gangue-Ruzic of Between the Sticks.