Now that he’s been spotted working out at the training facility, it seems like it’s time to post this. The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed 28-year-old Austrian International midfielder Alessandro Schöpf on a free transfer. Schöpf has an excellent pedigree and provides a very different dynamic to Vancouver’s current midfielders.
Schöpf was snatched out of Austrian youth football by Bayern Munich. He was a star for their various youth teams and scored a lot of goals for their reserves in the german 4th tier. But he never broke through to the first team. He joined Nuremberg in the 2. Bundesliga and made 55 appearances for them scoring 11 goals and adding 13 assists. Notably, performances in the German lower leagues have translated quite well to MLS in the past. For example, Kacper Przybylko’s production jumped 25% when he moved to MLS. Przybylko is a striker and he moved to a really top team so it’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison but it does make Schöpf’s 0.44 goal contributions per 90 in the 2 Bundesliga quite tantalizing. Schöpf’s performances drew the attention of Bundesliga club Schalke, where his path crossed with that of Axel Schuster. It should also be noted that Schöpf’s first german club, Bayern Munich, is reportedly keen to forge deeper ties with the Whitecaps and has already loaned one player (the sporting director’s son) to WFC2. So there are a lot of connections with this signing. Schöpf didn’t score quite as often in the Bundesliga, which is to be expected, but he did make 143 appearances.
Schöpf has an extremely different profile from the Whitecaps’ current midfield group. Firstly, he has played in a lot of positions. He has been a #10, a box-to-box midfielder, a right winger, and even a wing-back. His attacking stats really stand out. Compared to other midfielders in the top 5 leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, and La Liga) he creates a ton of shots.
You have to imagine someone in the 92nd percentile of shot-creating actions in the big five leagues could have an impact in MLS. That said though, Schöpf has not been very involved in the build-up for Schalke. He has quite a low number of passes completed, touches, and progressive passes. He provides a bit more ball progression with his dribbling but even that is not extensive. Now, MLS is not as good as the Bundesliga so he may have more scope to be involved in the build-up for Vancouver. But, on the other hand, the gap between MLS and the top 5 leagues is the smallest it has ever been and is getting smaller all the time. So while we can expect some improvement in Schöpf’s performance it probably isn’t reasonable to expect him to be a totally different player. Schöpf does not do a ton of defending but the defense he does is good. He is rarely contesting dribblers but when he does they usually do not get around him.
What the Whitecaps have got themselves here is a box attacker. In many ways, this addition is very similar to the trade that brought Julian Gressel to Vancouver. He’s a very good player in the tail end of his prime, who adds some attacking prowess but is limited on defence. I outlined in my Gressel article that the Whitecaps’ window to win with their current roster was in the next couple of seasons. It would seem that someone inside the club has done a similar calculation. This is a win-now move that aims to address Vancouver’s difficulty scoring goals and supposes that their defence is strong enough to give up a little bit of cover in exchange for more firepower. With Gauld, Cubas, Veselinovic, and to a lesser extent Cavallini, the Whitecaps have a core that is good enough to challenge for MLS cup. Now it’s a matter of putting the right pieces around them. Gressel and Schöpf are very good pieces but their elevating effect will probably only last for another couple of years at most. So now is the time.
Personally, I am excited. Whitecaps fans have had to be patient for a long time. Going all in is risky and nerve-racking but at least it’s exciting. As for the next steps, I would say there are a few areas that stand out for improvement.
Firstly, a reliable goalkeeper. I was waiting to see how the Isaac Boehmer situation would play out but now that Cody Cropper seems to be back as the starter I have published an article on the ‘Caps goalkeeping situation that can be seen below.
Secondly another really good centre-back to partner Veselinovic (fingers crossed nobody snaps him up). It would be nice if this centre-back could be Erik Godoy but sadly his calves are just too unreliable at this point. The Whitecaps defence is already at a playoff level so if they can shore it up further with above-average goalkeeping and more quality in their back three they can become a nightmare for opposing teams to play against.
Thirdly a fast striker to partner Cavallini or White. Make those transition moments where Gauld is bursting through midfield against an unsteady defence sting all the more by giving him a more dangerous option for a ball in behind.