clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Burning it All Down Would be a Big Mistake

New, 14 comments

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Real Salt Lake v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

I doubt people are particularly disposed to hearing this message at this time but I will do my best to get it across in any case.

Back in 2019 I wrote an article called “It’s so Much Worse Than you Think” about how Vancouver’s terrible on field performances were fuelled by a nonsensical recruitment policy that had all the worst parts of being a low budget team and of being a big budget team without a clear plan. It was Houston Dynamo meats Inter Miami. Today I look at the team and I don’t see that same level of top down failure. Some changes have to be made but overall the Whitecaps’ squad is not nearly as bad as they have shown on the pitch and the club has the infrastructure to make the necessary improvements.

The Squad:

I went over this a bit in my article on how the Whitecaps have spent their money, but Vancouver’s team is primarily composed of players in their early 20s who were brought in after playing well in leagues similar to or slightly below MLS in quality.

If we assume that Ryan Gauld is signed then the best XI probably looks like this.

Now, I will grant you, that team is not likely to win MLS cup. But I think there is enough talent there to be a playoff team. Every one of those players has shown at least competence, and in some cases even excellence, at an MLS level. That’s not to say that none of these players could be upgraded upon but there are no PC’s or Lass Bangoura’s who look like they don’t belong anywhere near an MLS pitch.

I will try not go on to long breaking down the squad in full but let’s just take a quick look at each position.

Goalkeeper:

I think most of us are pretty happy with Crepeau and Hasal. Crepeau has been a bit up and down this season but he’s had stretches of play where he has been a genuinely excellent goalkeeper.

Hasal has had some consistency problems in his young career but he has also showed some tremendous skill.

Defence:

Erik Godoy is really good.

Javain Brown and Cristian Gutiérrez are not the best fullbacks in the league but they certainly aren’t bad.

They could probably do with another centre back and some upgrades in fullback depth. That said though, a club who’s strategy is to develop players and sell them on for high fees should be able to get at least one MLS starter out of Cornelius, Veselinovic, Facchineri, and Campagna. I know none of those guys have shown consistently high levels in MLS (Facchineri and Campagna haven’t even debuted yet) but they are all 23 or younger so they are not done growing yet. Even Andy Rose is a perfectly fine guy to fill the role of 4th choice centre back/assistant coach/team dad. They really should stop starting him every game though.

Overall their defence might need an upgrade or two but they should be doing better than they have.

Midfield:

Caio Alexandre is above the league average in just about every stat you associate with good midfield play and that’s despite playing on the team in last place in the Western Conference. He is clearly pretty good and young enough that he could still improve.

Michael Baldisimo, if anything, has been even better than his rookie season. Every now and then I see some weirdo who doesn’t like him but those people seem to be a distinct minority.

Janio Bikel and Leonard Owusu have not quite lived up to expectations but both had excellent video and data before coming to Vancouver. Frankly I would be interested to see how both would do under a different manager. Between them, Alexandre and Baldisimo you should be able to put together a good rotation for those double pivot spots.

Damiano Pecile has showed some promise and Patrick Metcalfe is still around.

If Russell Teibert gets another MLS start as a centre midfielder I will go on a rampage.

Attacking Midfielders:

I have noticed a bubbling anti-Caicedo sentiment over vague notions about a lack of “end product.” But he creates a ton of shots relative to the number of touches he gets (10th percentile in touches, 62nd percentile in shot creating actions amongst wingers with at least 450 minutes). I am informed by people who are much smarter than me that young guys who create a ton of shots tend to develop into young guys who create a ton of goals. He may not be in the very top echelon of MLS wingers yet but I think he shows a ton of potential.

Ryan Gauld was a successful player on a terrible team in a league that’s better than MLS so there’s every reason to think if he signs (which seems likely at this stage) he will be a success.

I kind of think Cristian Dájome is a good candidate for an upgrade but he puts in a huge defensive shift every game and has enough skill that he can keep up with star players. He’s not a bad player by any means.

Kam Habibullah looks like an immense talent, Simon Colyn is still around, and Ryan Raposo is now doing stuff. So you’ve got some talents worth developing in these positions as well.

Strikers:

I know Lucas Cavallini is not the perfect player. But when he played with Fredy Montero, a guy who took the pressure off him to drop deep and get the ball, he scored at the rate of and had the underlying data of an elite MLS striker. We saw it happen, we can see it happen again.

Brian White might not be the most technically gifted or fastest striker but he has a pretty good goal rate in MLS. He can absolutely contribute in the right circumstances.

We’ve seen flashes of greatness from Theo Bair who is still young and David Egbo has some beastly underlying data after his first few pro appearances while on loan.

There’s lots to work with at the striker position if you can get those guys enough service.

Recruitment:

There is no doubt that some strengthening was needed, even if the squad has more quality than they have been able to show so far. Fortunately, the new recruitment department should mean that isn’t a problem.

Now, I fully understand why people would feel disillusioned with Vancouver’s overall transfer strategy. But we have seen two clubs using basically the same strategy in the New York Red Bull and the Philadelphia Union win the supporter’s shield in the past 5 years. It is a strategy that can work if done right and until pretty recently the Whitecaps were not doing it right.

There’s a famous scene from “the Office” where Michael Scott attempts to declare bankruptcy by simply screaming “I declare bankruptcy.” Between 2016 and 2020 the Whitecaps were basically doing the buy low, sell high transfer strategy equivalent of that. They were doing the buy low part pretty well but they didn’t have any of the scouting staff or infrastructure to actually find undervalued players.

Now they have Nikos Overhuel. I’m not sure enough people appreciate just how big of a deal that is. Overhuel has been involved with both Brentford and F.C Midtjylland, arguably the two most successful clubs of all time at doing what the Whitecaps have been trying to do for a decade. Brentford have gone from a middling League 1 team to the Premier league and Midtjylland have gone from a relatively small Danish club to winning multiple cups and qualifying for the Champions League group stage. These are two very strong case studies that show the recruitment philosophy Overhuel brings to the club works. If you want to know a bit more then I would highly recommend the most recent statsbomb podcast in which Ted Knutson reflects on being there at the start of Brentford’s journey. Overhuel draws specific praise for his ability to find underrated players who were languishing in the reserves of bigger clubs.

The Whitecaps have upped their spending on transfer fees lately so there are resources for him and his team to do their thing. I’m pretty confident that recruitment team can make a difference, though it’s the sort of thing you might not truly see the results of for a year or two.

Conclusion:

The Whitecaps have been a struggle to watch for most of the past four years. I understand fully why everyone is frustrated. But they have things in place that will allow them to start moving in the right direction. They should not throw that all away now, that’s only going to lead to more chaos and bad times.

Of course I don’t think they are seriously considering this. But I am noticing an increase in the number of people calling for them to get rid of all the players and sack everyone. I don’t blame people for feeling that way. You’ve got every right to feel fed up with a team that’s been awful both on and off the field. But my opinion is that this situation is eminently salvageable. I don’t know if you’re reassured by my opinion but that’s what I think. After moving in the wrong direction for so long it will take some time to turn things around and move back in the right direction. But at least in terms of the on field stuff (go read a marketing blog or something if you want analysis of the other stuff) I think they have at least turned to face the right direction.

Obviously some tweaks are needed. It’s probably not going to work out with Marc Dos Santos and separating is likely what’s best for everyone at this stage. They desperately need a #10 (Gauld seems all but done) and a couple of upgrades in other positions. My opinion is that should be enough to at least get them back to respectability.