The Vancouver Whitecaps made a trade this week. 175k in GAM for an international slot from Nashville. Their own Twitter account wryly called it a “huge trade” making fun of the fact that it’s a relatively boring accounting move. But if you think about this trade for a bit (and I have because there is something wrong with my brain) you realize that it might not be so boring after all.
You see, the Whitecaps have 9 international slots by default (8+ the one they got for a decade in their expansion year. Really a fantastic deal in hindsight). MLS has also allowed Canadian teams to count three foreign players who have been in the league for a certain period of time as domestic. This allows them to compete more fairly with American teams who can get players green cards after a relatively short period of time. The Whitecaps have 10 players under contract who count as internationals. This gives you two spots to work with but it seems likely that Caio Alexandre will be sold so that opens up a third. So it is noteworthy that they didn’t think that was enough for whatever it is they have planned. They must be planning to bring in quite a few foreigners.
This naturally leads one to wonder, what sort of player are they planning to bring in with all of those slots? Well, there are a few possibilities but, based on the information available to me, I find one answer to be most plausible.
It was revealed to me in a dream that the Whitecaps’ main priorities this offseason are goalkeeper, centre-back, and striker. This makes a lot of sense. The ‘Caps keepers collectively conceded 8-10 more goals than expected depending on whose model you’re using. Injuries and decline struck Erik Godoy and Florian Jungwirth, leaving them with very little depth beyond Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon. They also scored very few goals despite Ryan Gauld being awesome. We also know from Manuel Veth’s reporting that there was at least some interest in Bayern Munich’s Adrien Fein during the last transfer window. So perhaps we can add a midfield partner for Andreas Cubas to the list.
You would think the path to filling these positions needs to be straightforward. A domestic goalkeeper, and three internationals to fill the outfield positions. But the acquisition of a new slot would suggest that’s not the plan.
I’m pretty sure you can see where I’m going with this but let’s consider some other possibilities. Maybe the Whitecaps are planning to keep Caio Alexandre in addition to the positions outlined above. I suppose this is possible but, as Eighty Six Forever Boss Samuel Rowan has pointed out, “he’s a nice guy” is not really what you expect to hear about a player that’s in the long-term plans. Another possibility is that the Whitecaps want an international player who isn’t going to be a regular starter right away. That’s also a possibility but it would seem to fly in the face of what Vanni Sartini said about wanting to run a smaller squad and lean on WFC2 for depth when needed. Maybe the spot is to be used on some other position but when you look at the players the Whitecaps have under contract it isn’t really clear where that would be. They resigned Luis Martins and apparently Cristian Gutierrez is back in the fold so there’s no room on the left side. There’s only one right-back on the books right now, as Javain Brown appears to still be in their plans, but are you really going to get an international as a backup right back? Seems unlikely. There is already a bit of a log jam in the front four positions so another addition there beyond a new striker seems unlikely. So this leaves me with one explanation that seems plausible. The Whitecaps have an interest in an international goalkeeper.
This would be a very bold move. It’s generally perceived, not entirely incorrectly, that solid domestic goalkeeping isn’t that hard to come by. It’s true, through the draft, free agency, trades, and so forth. Furthermore, while a goalkeeper can win you a lot of points, goalkeeper performance is very volatile. Even Andre Blake, probably the best keeper in MLS at the moment, has had one season where he was amongst the worst in the league in terms of goals saved above expected. So expending lots of money and resources on a keeper, while potentially very rewarding, also carries a lot of risks.
But if you can get someone you are extremely confident would be elite, it’s kind of hard to argue it wouldn’t be worth it. Depending on who’s model you use, the ‘caps goalkeeping corps gave up somewhere in the region of 8-11 more goals than expected. So a guy who was not only average but genuinely elite by MLS standards would make an extraordinary difference. If you could get someone who could replicate David Ousted’s 2015 season, for example, that could be a 15-goal swing in Vancouver’s favour. That could very well be the difference between mediocrity and contender status.
I have mentioned before that the window to win with Ryan Gauld and Andres Cubas, two genuinely very good MLS players, is in the next 2-3 years. I have also mentioned, I think someone in water street has done that same calculation. We have seen an increase in prime-age players being acquired to fill out the team. Julian Gressel and Alessandro Schopf are the main examples of this, though the latter has not really hit his stride yet. If you are working within the framework of winning in the next 2-3 years then it won’t do to have possibly the best Whitecap of all time be anchored by an unreliable goalkeeping group. So maybe it makes sense to push some more chips in.
Having thought through all of this I started wondering what might be out there (it was at this point that I realized this should probably be an article). So I did a Wyscout search for goalkeepers 27 or under, with a transfermarkt value of 2 million euros or less, who had played at least 1000 minutes in leagues similar to MLS. To determine what constituted “similar to MLS” I piggybacked off of an article by @Minor_LS called “Finding the Right Market.” It’s definitely one of the best soccer articles I have ever read so I highly recommend it. I looked at leagues in the first four tiers identified in that article. This created a short list of 9 goalkeepers whose numbers suggested they could have a similar impact to the one Ousted had in 2015. Two of these can be eliminated right off the hop. Dong-Heon Kim of Incheon United is 26 and has not done South Korean military service yet as far as I can tell so he’s not really an option. Brazilian-born Goalkeeper Jean, of Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño, isn’t likely to be an option either as he moved within the last 12 months. So here are the 7 goalkeepers I identified and a few quick words on what I was able to find out about each of them after some quick googling and some Wyscout Data. Obviously, this is not an in-depth scouting report on any of them but, cut me some slack, this is technically an article about trading GAM for an international slot. That said though if the Whitecaps do end up signing any of these guys you are all honour bound to quote-tweet this article and shower me with praise. Ok, here we go.
Dani Figueira, as the goalkeeper for one of the non-glamour clubs in Portugal, is constantly peppered with shots and he stops a lot of them! So far this season he has hit even greater heights in terms of goals saved above expected than the career overview above would suggest. From the footage, I have seen he doesn’t look like he’s the most convincing on crosses but if he causes the ‘Caps to concede 15 fewer goals I am more than willing to give him a pass on that.
Altamirano spent last season on loan at Patronato from Banfield and was insanely good. If they don’t want him back he’s a good option. It seems he’s not so good with his feet but, again, if he can make the saves when you need them then it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
You might be looking at this and thinking “oh that doesn’t look so great.” But Couke is a testament to the volatility of goalkeeping. His early time in Belgium’s top flight saw him mainly performing below expectations. But over the past year and a half, he has been on an insane heater, causing his career numbers to be about average. Is that heater real? That’s the big question.
A 25-year-old veteran of the Spanish second tier who loves coming off his line. Soriano’s shot-stopping has been up and down over the years but he still comes out positive after an incredible season in 2021/22.
One of the youngest goalkeepers my search turned up, Brolin looks like a really good all-rounder. He spent last season on loan at Mjällby. Also, he’s 6’6 which is fun.
A 25-year-old Romanian playing for a small club in Hungary, Tordai is not the sort of guy you think of when discussing foreign keeper signings to turn your club’s fortunes around. But, man, this guy can apparently stop a shot.
A young goalkeeper who’s in his 3rd straight season of being a positive shot-stopper. The rest of his game might need some more work.
There you have it. Over 1700 words on a Whitecaps trade their own Twitter account mocked for being boring. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
Also, this is all wild speculation based on a trade and almost no inside information. So it’s possible this analysis is totally off base. In which case, nevermind!