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Whitecaps Clean House on Option Deadline Day

As the Whitecaps say goodbye to Jake Nerwinski and Lucas Cavallini among others, their departure could signify a new attitude from Whitecaps management.

MLS: Houston Dynamo FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the Vancouver Whitecaps made waves on roster option deadline day by choosing to decline the options on several players that many expected to return for the 2023 season. Officially, the club declined options to extend Cody Cropper, Marcus Godinho, Leo Owusu, Jake Nerwinski, and Lucas Cavallini, while the club remains in talks with Tosaint Ricketts and Florian Jungwirth, who both might return to the club in non-playing roles.

Evidently, the two players which have drawn the largest reaction from this list are Nerwinski and Cavallini.

Nerwinski was the second longest-tenured Vancouver Whitecaps player, save for Russell Teibert, and was drafted 7th overall by Vancouver in the 2017 super draft. Nerwinski had a breakout rookie season, recording 5 assists, but through coaching changes and positional inconsistency, the New Jersey native struggled to find form in Vancouver from there on out. Nerwinski was a vocal leader in the Whitecaps locker room and also served as the team’s MLSPA player liaison, a role which was of particular importance during the recent collective bargaining negotiations between the players and the league.

SOCCER: MAY 30 Canadian Championship - Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps FC Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lucas Cavallini, meanwhile, came into Vancouver as their most expensive signing in club history. After strong seasons in Mexico and a growing role with the Canadian National team, hopes were high that El Tanque could be the reliable no. 9 the club had sought out for so long. While Cavallini did score 18 goals in 63 appearances over three seasons for Vancouver, injuries and discipline issues marred his tenure with the club. In 2022, it became obvious that Cavallini was a less-than-ideal tactical fit to complement the skills of the club’s creative players. As reported by JJ Adams, Cavallini’s contract option for 2023 was in the range of 2.8 million dollars, so at that price, it’s really no surprise that Axel Schuster & Co. decided to walk away.

Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps FC - 2022 Canadian Championship Final Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

What makes the Whitecaps moving on from players like Nerwinski and Cavallini particularly interesting is that it has been something the club has been very hesitant to do over the last couple of seasons. After their playoff push at the end of 2021, the messaging in that off-season was all about keeping the group together and improving from within. Evidently, the vision is not the same this off-season. It is clear now that anyone outside the key players this management group believes in have been deemed expendable, and that they won’t be afraid to walk away from players even when there’s an asset management loss, like there was with Cavallini.

I will be really interested to see what this means for Caio Alexandre, whose market value is still high despite the fact his relationship with the club is less than ideal. Will Schuster and Sartini give the Brazilian a second kick at the can in Vancouver or will they simply cut bait and move on? Given these recent moves, I am inclined to say the latter, but we will have to see as the off-season continues.

The only other of the declined options that I was a bit surprised by is Marcus Godinho. The Canadian was a consistent starter for Vancouver in 2022 and ticks a lot of boxes even as a role player. Good domestic players who don’t make a lot of money are generally worth holding on to. To me, this indicates that Vancouver is either finally going to take a stab at signing some CPL talent for the first team, or that they have faith in someone like Ali Ahmed coming up through their system. Either way, this is the only move I would say I outright disagree with from Monday, the Whitecaps did not have enough depth last season and shipping off someone like Godinho gives you yet another hole to fill for 2023. That being said, only time will tell if it’s the right move.

SOCCER: JUN 14 MLS - Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders

This is stating the obvious, but the Whitecaps now have a fair few roster spots to fill. Of the current players under contract, I think only 16 or 17 of them realistically will figure into the Whitecaps’ plans for 2023, with the others being youngsters, players on loan, or players on their way out. Brian White is the only remaining traditional no. 9 on the roster and Easton Ongaro just left the second team for Pacific FC on top of this. As such, the Whitecaps will need both depth and top-end talent up front for 2023. Goalkeeper is an equal position of need. Here, the Whitecaps will have to decide if Thomas Hasal is their guy. If he is, the Whitecaps could go young for a backup, but if he is not, they might look to use one of their available international spots to bring in a veteran. Finally, Nerwinski leaving the club means the Whitecaps have even fewer natural defenders than they did at the end of the season. One would think that the Whitecaps would want to add at least two traditional centre-backs to the roster before the 2023 campaign. One of those could be Derek Cornelius if they can manage to make a deal to bring him back from Greece, but failing to do that, Schuster and Overhuel will have their work cut out in that department.

Finally, something to note is that there were plenty of players who had their options declined across the league which could have some value to the Whitecaps. We’ve seen good teams like LAFC take players who ran their course at another club and give them a second life under a new system. With a good number of roster spots to fill, this is definitely something I think the club will be looking at over the coming weeks.

What did you think of the roster moves on Monday? What will you miss about the players departing the club? Let me know in the comments!