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The Case *Against* Alberth Elis


We stand at a threshold. As you will all know, our overlords at Vox are pulling the plug on the meager funding they were providing. We will, of course, continue in one form or another. But the times are changing nonetheless. With this in mind, I think we should take things back to the roots. I am going to write a rebuttal to a bunch of posts that I disagree with.

There is a big push on Whitecaps Twitter for the team to make a move for Alberth Elis. Elis, currently in the employ of Bordeaux, was previously a major star in MLS. He scored almost a goal per game on some woefully bad Houston Dynamo teams. He also managed this with a style that would fit in quite well with Vancouver’s budding counter-attacking style. He is (or at least was) quick, strong, and dynamic. So I totally see why people would want him. Hell, I’m about to argue against it and even I find the prospect kind of tantalizing. But ultimately, were I in charge and the opportunity was presented to me to sign Elis on a DP contract, I don’t think I would do it.

The main reason for this is that I’m just not sure he has it anymore. Elis suffered a Meniscus tear last year and he has not really been the same since. Elis averaged about 0.85 G+A/90 in MLS. He followed this up with 0.54 in the Portuguese league and 0.48 in Ligue 1. Considering he wasn’t on very good teams in any of those leagues, those numbers really are astonishing. But then came the Meniscus tear. This season, playing mostly as a striker, Elis has 1 goal and 1 assist in Ligue 2. His underlying numbers have fallen off a cliff. His 0.27 xG+xA/90 is about on par with what Cristian Dájome did as a wing-back last season. Considering Bordeaux are second in the league table, that really is pretty bad.

Now, maybe he just needs his confidence back or a change of scenery. But you would be taking a huge gamble on that being the case. With Ryan Gauld and Andres Cubas both about to be 27, you really cannot afford that level of risk. If the Whitecaps want to win something big with this core it needs to come in the next two-three years. You simply can’t risk being stuck with another dud of a DP striker for any of those years.

For a team like LAFC, who apparently tried to sign Elis, this risk is not so great. They have so many amazing attacking players on great contracts that it wouldn’t really matter to them if Elis was washed. They would just plug in Kwado Opoku and move on with their lives. But the Whitecaps do not have that luxury (incidentally, this is why finding impact players for cheap is just as important as spending a lot of money).

But beyond this specific instance, I kind of object to this sort of move philosophically. We all know the Whitecaps are not going to spend 10 million for a player (unless they’re going to really surprise us over the next couple of weeks). They are trying to copy Philadelphia’s very effective model. But if that is going to work, they can’t be chasing trends. They need to be finding Alberth Elis when he’s on the come-up in Honduras, not when he’s 27, maximally expensive, and has a dodgy knee. That’s not to say I’m never in favour of spending for an established MLS star. I think the ‘Caps got a pretty good deal for Julian Gressel for example. But for the most part, I think Vancouver should be looking to build MLS stars, not expand all of their resources chasing players that used to be cheap and are now expensive.

One counter-example to my preferred way of doing things might be Montreal. But I think if you review things closely you will see that very few of the players they acquired through trades had everything going right for them. They did a good job of identifying talent that was under-utilized for one reason or another. They weren’t spending all of their GAM on players everyone knew were great already.

Thinking all of this made me curious. Who might be the next Alberth Elis? By this I mean, a player who is currently playing in a relatively small Latin American league that might come into MLS and be a genuine star. So I did some searching on Wyscout and came up with a small list of guys who looked interesting. I looked at all of the Central American leagues, as well as leagues in CONMEBOL with comparable Transfermarkt values to the Honduran League. These were the leagues of Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Uruguayan second tier (which Wyscout carries for some reason). My list includes three players who might be able to step in right now and three who are worth keeping an eye on. I don’t think the Whitecaps really have the space to add any of these players this season, nor is this an in-depth scouting report by any means. But it might be fun to keep an eye on these guys and see if they pop up in MLS.

Right now:

Fernando Lesme-20-Grecia

Fernando Lesme is a 6’4 Paraguayan striker who has played his whole professional career in Costa Rica and Panama. That is a weird career path. But, hot damn, he is putting up some numbers of a very middling Grecia team. 13 goals and 1 assist in less than 1500 minutes in all competitions. 0.69 xG+xA/90 in league play. Nice.

Brayan Alcocer-19-Mineros

A Venezuelan winger/striker, Alcocer has put up decent numbers in back-to-back seasons in Venezuela. 0.51 xG+xA/90 in his age 19 season is nothing to sneeze at. He also accomplished that for Mineros, who is not one of the powerhouses in Venezuela.

Nelson Andrade-22-Malateco

One of the weirder ones on my list. Andrade plays in Guatemala and seems to have only just broken through as a regular in the first division. At 22 you would think there would be no way for him to be ready for MLS. But, man, his numbers are pretty amazing (albeit in a small-ish sample size). Another winger/striker, Andrade is putting up 0.6 xG+xA/90. There have not been many Guatemalans to make the jump to MLS but their clubs have had some success in CONCACAF competitions so it’s worth taking him seriously.

To keep an eye on:

Angel Villatoro-17-Olancho

A Honduran striker/winger with 3 goals in less than 500 professional minutes so far. Too soon to declare him the next Elis but one to watch.

Odin Peña-18-Marathon

Peña has played as a winger, left-back, and as a #10. His goal and assist return are outstanding in his young career. But he is yet to play more than 400 minutes in a single season.

Randy Vega-21-Puntarenas

Vega is one for the xG sickos. 0.56 xG+xA/90 in the Costa Rican league and one actual goal. He also has less than 700 minutes in the Costa Rican top flight. But he’s worth keeping an eye on to see if he can sustain his numbers (and score some actual goals) over a longer period of time.