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Quick Thoughts on the Luis Martins Signing

Vancouver Whitecaps v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Fernando Leon/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed free agent left-back Luis Martins and I suppose we should publish an article about that fact. Martins is ok. He certainly won’t be the worst fullback on the Whitecaps. But I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with this signing. Perhaps it’s hypercritical to go in so hard on what is essentially a depth signing but I will tell you what I think and then you can decide for yourself.

Firstly, I don’t want to give the impression that Martins is a complete bum. That is not true. In fact, he provides one big positive at an elite level, progressing the ball. Martin’s passing and ball-carrying numbers are absolutely fantastic.

Data courtesy of fbref
Data courtesy of fbref

But his defending is not so good and he does not provide a lot of direct offence.

Data courtesy of fbref
Data courtesy of fbref

All of this adds up to a player who is fine. At 29, what you see is what you get. Martins is unlikely to show significant improvement. In fact, based on research into how age affects performance-it’s probably all downhill from here.

If I’m being particularly cynical, it seems probable that Martins will be forced to use his middling defensive skills a lot more on the Whitecaps and that it will probably be harder to make a difference going forward (something that already was not a major strength for him). But overall he is a decent MLS player that does help the Whitecaps a lot with something that is a problem for them (passing the ball forwards).

But when I look at the teams I admire (LAFC, Philadelphia, etc.) and see them filling the bottom ends of their rosters with players who are younger and have some upside-Players like Mamadou Fall, Kwado Opoku, Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbazio it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed. Indeed, this type of player (one who is excelling at a low level/ in a non-professional environment) carries more risk than an established veteran. But what is the worst that can happen? It can’t get worse than being in last place. Wouldn’t it be better to take a flier on a player who might be great than to settle for one who will be fine but never anything more? Is York United’s asking price for Diyaeddine Abzi so prohibitive?

What the Whitecaps are ostensibly trying to do is build a squad based on young talent, partly developed in their academy and partly brought in from abroad using their new recruitment team. It’s kind of hard to see how a 29-year-old that a much better MLS team (historically speaking at least, SKC are off to a rough start this year) decided was surplus to requirements. Slightly worryingly (and I emphasize slightly because at the end of the day these are fairly fringe guys) this is the second or third signing in a row of a player who is a proven commodity (but not that good of a commodity). Goalkeeper Cody Cropper, whose advanced stats have been tragic at both MLS and USL levels, was brought in to back up Thomas Hasal and Tosaint Ricketts earned another contract despite having scored just three goals in the last three seasons. Now, Martins is certainly going to have more of a first-team impact than either of those players, but it all feels a bit like the period at the end of Carl Robinson’s time as coach where it felt like they were singing players because they were around. It’s all a bit Efrain Juarez-esque. If the Whitecaps are going to pull off their whole young hard-working team who performs above their payroll thing then they need to be squeezing value out of every roster spot. These signings don’t do that.

Also, at the risk of getting all Whitecaps fan Facebook group, is anybody else a bit over bringing in all these players with sterling progressive passing numbers only for Russell Teibert (turned back into a pumpkin after briefly looking like a decent MLS squad player) to remain bafflingly undroppable? Almost every player brought in under Schuster excelled in two stats at their previous clubs: Progressive passes and pressure regains (times a player pressured the ball and his team won it back shortly thereafter). We can therefore infer that the ‘Caps are aiming for a team that plays a fairly direct passing style. But that project gets massively undermined when you refuse to drop a player who can’t play it forward consistently and therefore causes your team to be the one under pressure. Let’s see some commitment to this project in squad selection and then I will start getting excited about new additions.

Now, Martins may make this article look silly (pulling a Zator, as they call it in the streets). He does have some plus skills and it’s possible that used correctly, he could have a big positive impact. But the signing feels like a bit of a letdown for a team that would probably be better off taking some bigger swings.