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Is Brian White Legit? Yes!

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Brian White put an exclamation point on a hot run of form with a hat trick against the San Jose Earthquakes. White has eight goals in his last nine games for the Vancouver Whitecaps in a very impressive turnaround from his early poor form with the club.

This red-hot goal-scoring pace has everyone who covers Canadian MLS teams asking one question: How good was Yeferson Soteldo on the weekend?

Ok, seriously, everybody else is asking the same question: Has Brian White made Lucas Cavallini surplus to requirements?

Matt Doyle had this to say in his review of week 29 of MLS action:

So the two big questions we have to deal with here are “is this run of form sustainable” and “if it is, what does that mean for Cavallini?”

The first question is answered pretty easily. Since the arrival of Ryan Gauld, White has played 866 minutes. This is almost the equivalent of 10 full 90-minute outings. In other words, he has played enough minutes with Gauld that we can be pretty certain his performance is not a fluke.

Since the arrival of Gauld, White has the 4th most non-penalty xG amongst MLS strikers with 0.6 per game. This total would be good enough to be in the top 10 strikers in the league every season since 2013. His performance is real and it’s very good.

Of course, we should remain clear-eyed about Why this performance is happening. Brian White is pretty much a pure goal poacher (that and he does the defensive side of being a striker well). All of his stats that aren’t shooting are basically in the mud. But he’s really good at getting on the end of chances that other people create for him. With Ryan Gauld in the lineup, that’s all a striker really has to do. White does it well enough to be a top ten striker in MLS.

So, what does that mean for Lucas Cavallini? The Canadian national team striker has only scored three goals this season, has struggled with injuries, and there are as yet unsubstantiated whispers that he wants out. Has Brian White made him superfluous? If he does want to leave is it even worth bothering to bring in another DP striker to replace him? These are the big questions.

By way of answering those questions- consider the following: If Brian White carried his Gualden era performance over a full season, where he played an average of 70 minutes a game, he would be expected to score about 15 goals. How many more would Cavallini, or some other hypothetical DP striker, have to score to justify their exorbitant salary and transfer fee?

Cavallini is paid almost 5x more than White and was acquired for 15x the amount of money. True, Cavallini was doing better than White before the Gaulden Horde arrived. So in theory, if he did get healthy and play a lot of games with Gauld, he ought to do even better than White. But would it be enough to justify that disparity in cost?

For another striker to be worth it, I reckon, they would have to be scoring a non-penalty goal almost every single game. That or they would have to also provide other significant benefits to the team alongside their goal scoring. It seems unlikely Cavallini can be that guy. It seems equally unlikely that such a player would be available to come to MLS. Basically, to be better enough than a top 10 striker to be worth millions of more dollars, you have to be unquestionably the best striker.

One thing that White’s breakout makes abundantly clear is that creating the chances that lead to goals is the most important thing. Before Ryan Gauld arrived, White’s xG per game was a 3rd of what it is now. It’s great that they have worked out so well together but this success is fragile. If the Whitecaps are going to take the next step and become a truly elite team, they have to build a squad that can survive without Gauld. They do not have to be as good as they are with Gauld, but the drop-off in quality can’t be nearly as steep as it is now. We’re yet to see him in MLS action but Pedro Vite should help in this regard.