We’ve reached the point of the year where everyone is making suggestions on what their favourite MLS team should do. Some of these suggestions will, inevitably, be a bit silly. I recently poked some fun at this phenomenon.
Best type of Whitecaps post is "it's time for this club to show some ambition and sign *absolutely unhinged suggestion*"— Caleb Wilkins (@wilkins_caleb24) October 28, 2022
But, I’ll raise my hand in acknowledgment, I’m throwing stones from a glass house here. I have been in this blogging game for six years now and some of my early attempts at that sort of content weren’t that great. But I’ve learned a thing or two in those 6 years and have access to more resources than I did in the past. So I’m hopeful that this Whitecaps sensible transfers series (a title that I certainly didn’t lift from a different popular series) can be a little less unhinged, and just maybe predict a signing.
But first, I think it’s helpful to establish what the areas of need are and what resources are available to address them. To do this I have written out the Whitecaps’ first and second 11, based on how frequently Vanni Sartini selected them when they were available, and I have also included their score per 96 minutes in American Soccer Analysis’ G+ model. I feel this gives us a good place to start when deciding the most important positions to upgrade. It does not exactly take Pep Guardiola to figure out that Ryan Gauld is really good and starting Russell Teibert every game is less than ideal. But it is helpful to put a number to how good or bad a player is, even if we then have to critically evaluate that number because it gives us a sense of what the biggest priorities should be. So, here is Vanni Sartini’s go-to starting 11. Obviously, we’re only considering players currently under contract. I’m also assuming Caio Alexandre and Derek Cornelius will be sold.
I do want to say a few things about a few players. Luis Martins’s 0.09 per game comes from a fairly small sample size and, while there is no doubt he was effective down the stretch last season, I kind of doubt he can maintain that level over a full season. Javain Brown briefly had allegations of domestic, including images, levied against him but MLS has put out a statement saying the victim has withdrawn their claims. I have to say, I do not find that statement particularly satisfactory, but I also have to admit, I suppose, that I don’t have all of the facts of the situation. For better or worse he seems to still be in their plans so I will continue to consider him a part of the team in these articles.
I also want to say a few words in defence of the play of Brian White, Tristan Blackmon, and Pedro Vite. G+ is a measure of a player’s on-the-ball contributions. But the whole appeal of White is what he does off the ball. So the G+ doesn’t really capture his full contribution in my opinion. The one category of G+ that comes closest to capturing what White does is “receiving,” a measure of a player’s ability to receive passes in dangerous areas of the pitch. In that category White is, without a tiny bit of exaggeration, one of the best players in the league. It’s just that he offers so little beyond that (except for defensive hustle) that he comes out negative. He’s really good at a few things, and not so great at everything else. We have always known this about him. Blackmon also comes out as narrowly negative, which is not necessarily a sign of a terrible player but is still worth remarking on. One of the main categories Blackmon is getting dinged in is “fouling.” I recall him giving away at least one penalty and committing a few other fouls in dangerous areas. But If he is a bit less exposed by the players in front of him I think he’s probably fine. Pedro Vite comes out negative but he is being significantly weighed down by poorer performances earlier in the year. Towards the end of the season, albeit in a small sample size, his numbers were elite. I don’t necessarily think he’ll keep that level up for a whole year but it’s probably fair to at least expect him to be an above-average starter.
But a couple of players are clearly well below the standard. Thomas Hasal had the worst G+ of any regular starter. Now, goalies usually have more extreme G+ numbers as a lot of points are directly won and lost by them. But Hasal compares poorly to other MLS starters (though it must be said he was way better than Cody Cropper and compares pretty favourably to a lot of backups). Goalkeeper is clearly an area where upgrades are required. Also, everybody’s favourite guy, Russell Teibert stands out as a weak point. -0.10 is really bad. Of the 91 centre midfielders with at least 1000 minutes played, Teibert ranks 85th. You have to think having a different player in there, even someone who was just an average starting-level player would make a significant positive difference.
A lot of people are keen on a DP striker. Despite my defence of White, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. A striker who can drive play to a certain extent and had a bit more pace would probably make a big difference for a team that thrives on transitions and didn’t score very many goals last season. Of course, there is a small cloud of uncertainty hanging over the striker position. The team is still in talks with Lucas Cavallini, aiming to bring him back at a salary that more reasonably reflects his contributions. Cavallini had a G+/96 of 0.02 which is good but far from the elite play you need from a senior DP. There are some whispers those talks are going well but nothing substantial as of yet. If you can get Cavallini back on a reasonable ticket then he, White and a DP striker would form a pretty formidable group.
Now let’s take a quick look at the second 11. Or in this case, the second 7 because the ‘Caps don’t actually have a ton of players under contract at the moment.
Again, we need to critically evaluate some of these numbers. Isaac Boehmer is a massive positive from the small number of games he played but I am not even slightly convinced that’s real because in a much bigger sample he was negative in MLS Next Pro. There are also two huge negatives upfront. But Caicedo is mostly getting dinged for receiving. Since he was nominally a striker Caicedo’s number is comparing him to other strikers. But in practice, he often played in wider areas and as such was less likely to receive the ball in those high-danger scoring areas. I’m not saying he was amazing, I just think that number is a little bit misleading. I’ve also put Alessandro Schopf in the forward line. I have seen people put him in the midfield next to Cubas but that just doesn’t match up with how Sartini used him or how he stated he planned to use him. Schopf was indeed very bad last year. But given that he showed up in offseason fitness levels, his wife had a baby shortly after he arrived, and his strong resume I’m willing to give him a mulligan on that one. Still, Vite has earned the starting spot as the withdrawn striker so Schopf will have to work hard to unseat him.
The rest of the players are all perfectly fine to be good backups (N.B Gutierrez is included because Sartini has said he’s out of the dog house and he was back training with the first team towards the end of the year). But the problem is there aren’t a lot of them. The Whitecaps don’t have a single backup centre-back who played MLS minutes last season under contract. They also don’t have a backup for that defensive right-back/wide centre-back role that Brown and Nerwinski played. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Marcus Godinho or Nerwinski on a lower ticket were re-signed but for now, there’s a hole there. There is also no backup centre midfield player beyond Sebastian Berhalter.
So this leaves the Whitecaps with the following shopping list (in no particular order)
- At least two centre-backs
- At least one centre midfielder
- a DP striker
- a defensive right-back/wide right centre back
To fulfill this shopping list they have
- 1 senior DP slot
- 1 young money player
- 4 international slots
- Approximately 3.5 million in salary is freed up by players who aren’t currently under contract (612.5k of which would have to be allocated to a DP striker)
- In addition to the salary that was freed up, about 1.5 million per year in transfer fees that were counting against the cap from acquiring Godoy, Owusu, and Bikel are no longer on the books
- I’m going to keep it real with you, I haven’t been able to keep track of all the GAM/TAM machinations but presumably, three TAM players and a bunch of other salaries leaving have freed up a fair amount of that as well.
So there is some space to play with. The ‘Caps only really have two bad contracts on the books. Cristian Dajome is still a good player, even if he is overpaid, and Russell Teibert is bad but only has one year left on his contract. It’s really important to not screw this up.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be bringing out articles analyzing what might be out there to fill the positions of need I have identified. I have already covered goalkeeper options, both domestic and international in previous articles. You can check those out below.