Last year we ran our annual Keep, Trade, or Release player analysis feature, looking at all of Vancouver Whitecaps’ MLS squad and who we felt had futures at the club in 2017. We did that a little bit differently from previous seasons – from an editorial point of view as opposed to a consensus of our writers. That allowed a couple of the AFTN team to pen pieces with their own takes, under a new “In, Out, On The Bubble” banner. That proved popular, so we’re bringing it back this season to kick off our Vancouver Whitecaps end of season analysis.
It was another premature end to a Whitecaps season, which is any one where the Cup isn’t won, and it’s that time of the year where decisions need to be made on who stays and who goes.
Of course there are no guarantees going into the offseason and the transactions will depend on who the club will look to bring in and if they are able to fit those players into the squad considering the salary cap and the many MLS roster rules.
The first priority is to solidify the striker position by extending Fredy Montero’s loan or completing a full buyout because when you have a striker who scores, 15 in all competitions (14 in MLS and one in Champions League), then you need secure that player.
There is no doubt that the central midfield is the one spot on the pitch that will need the biggest upheaval, as it clearly wasn’t good enough in either maintaining possession or creating chances through the middle.
We have broken down the players into three categories – In, Out, and On The Bubble. While player in the In and Out categories are self explanatory, players on the bubble have multiple question marks that could see them leave or return depending on circumstances.
We will discuss this more in-depth live on Sunday night (11pm-1am) on the AFTN Soccer Show on CiTR radio (101.9 FM in the lower mainland and citr.ca online), where Michael and Zach will weigh in with their opinions. For now, here’s my thoughts.
IN: Stefan Marinovic, Spencer Richey
OUT: David Ousted
Arriving in Vancouver in July, it looked like Stefan Marinovic was an early signing for next season’s starting spot. However the New Zealand international number one slowly began getting more starts and eventually took over the top spot down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Despite spending most of the season with WFC2 in the USL, Richey was the first choice over Paolo Tornaghi with the MLS side when the suspended David Ousted was unavailable earlier in the season. His only start in MLS was against TFC, where he held them scoreless until they went down to ten men, proving that he should be in line for a full time back up role next year.
A long time Whitecap, having arrived in June of 2013, Ousted was the clear number one choice for the majority of the season. Through no fault of his own he would eventually lose that spot. Entering an option year, he is unlikely to return considering his current high salary in the MLS cap world and the increase that would be expected to bring if he re-signed.
IN: Jake Nerwinski, Marcel de Jong, Brett Levis
OUT: Jordan Harvey, Sheanon Williams, Sam Adekugbe
There are very few who could have predicted the breakout rookie season 2017 draftee Jake Nerwinski would have. While he received a few spot starts at the beginning of the season, Nerwinski was given the number one role due to an off field incident involving Williams, and aside from a few rotational rests, he never gave it up again.
Another player who started the season as a backup only to become a starter by year’s end, De Jong provided the attacking ability needed by the ‘Caps down the left side. The Canadian is at a bargain rate for a starter, which is the spot he should be in when preseason training begins next year.
After suffering a knee injury at the end of the 2016 season, Levis spent most of this year rehabbing and getting into playing shape. He got some minutes at the USL level and should be ready to go when the 2018 season begins.
The longest serving current Whitecap outside of Russell Teibert, it looks like Jordan Harvey’s time in Vancouver could be coming to an end. He became second choice at the left back position by the season’s end. Now a free agent, he could be looking to make a move back to his native California, with new expansion team LAFC a possible landing spot for the veteran.
It looked like Vancouver had finally found their starting right back in the experienced Sheanon Williams in the first part of the season, with his ability to go up and down the right side just what Carl Robinson was looking for. However, an off field incident and suspension saw Williams lose his spot to Nerwinski and he struggled when he did receive an odd start down the stretch.
While he didn’t play with the ‘Caps this season Adekugbe did return from his loan spell with Brighton and Hove Albion prematurely due to an injury and once he was healthy the left back was loaned out to IFK Goteborg of the Allsvenskan with an option to buy. He will most likely remain in Europe, whether he is bought or until his contract ends with Vancouver.
IN: Kendall Waston, Tim Parker
BUBBLE: David Edgar, Aaron Maund
OUT: Cole Seiler
Being named the captain saw Waston have a bounce back year and become arguably the ‘Caps most valuable player. While there is some question that there might be interest in Waston from Europe, depending on his World Cup play, he will be 30 at the beginning of the 2018 season and could be looking to become a Whitecap for the remainder of his career.
The other half of the Whitecaps greatest strength, Tim Parker is continuing to progress and held his own as the leader of the backline when Waston was called away to international duty. This is another no brainer when it comes to players returning as Parker could be a future captain of the squad.
Considered to be an important part of the 2017 Whitecaps roster, it was an early blow when David Edgar was lost for season last December due to a hit and run incident. It looks as though the Whitecaps would love for him to return but the Canadian is out of contract and will look elsewhere if he believes there will be little playing time available next year.
Acquired through a trade in the summer from RSL, Maund was brought in to provide depth at the center back position. While he had mixed results in his limited starts, there is a chance he could be brought back if the coaching staff feel there is more in his game.
After being picked in the 2016 draft, Vancouver has had a couple of seasons to see if Cole Seiler has the ability to start in MLS. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to even get a sniff at the higher level this season, after a couple of starts at right back last year. Spent all of this season with WFC2 and his showing there makes it seem unlikely that the likeable defender will be back for year three.
IN: Yordy Reyna, Aly Ghazal
BUBBLE: Nosa Igiebor, Tony Tchani, Andrew Jacobson, Nicolas Mezquida, Russell Teibert, Marco Bustos
OUT: Matias Laba, Ben McKendry, Deybi Flores
While he was brought in to begin the season, Reyna was almost like a summer acquisition after suffering an injury in preseason that kept him out until July. He is a definite lock to return, unless of course the ‘Caps are given an offer that they can’t refuse. There have been murmurs in the Peruvian press that some clubs from his homeland have interest in him, but expect him to lead the attack from the midfield next season.
An actual midseason acquisition, Ghazal was thrust into the starting line-up due to Laba’s injury and didn’t look out of place. He is a steady shield in front of the backline and looks to be the starter in that spot from day one next season.
A very late signee who only played three games, two in the playoffs, Igiebor has been touted as a box to box midfielder that could connect the midfield. While the sample size is too small right now there is a decent chance for the Nigerian to return depending on other offseason signings.
As for Laba, a serious injury prematurely ended the designated player’s year but luckily for the ‘Caps it didn’t have a negative effect down the stretch. However it looks as though Laba’s time with Vancouver could be near the end with the arrival of Ghazal, on a much lower ticket, and need to use his designated player slot on a more dynamic attacking player. There was interest from Racing in Argentina before his injury, which muddies the waters now.
After being acquired for Kekuta Manneh, Tchani would soon become a regular starter in the centre of the pitch. While he has had a decent season, the Whitecaps are looking to upgrade the midfield and Tchani might be on too high a price tag to be squad player.
Being the most versatile player, the only positions that Jacobson didn’t play in the spine of the eleven were striker and keeper. The coaching staff should definitely be interested in bringing him back, but pending expansion draft and free agency have placed questions on his return.
Another squad player who has shown his worth, Mezquida is a definite fan/coach favourite and would normally be a lock to return. However, due to the need to overhaul the central midfield, if there is a better international option, Mezquida could be sacrificed.
It was another disappointing season for Russell Teibert, as he was unable to see the pitch enough to make an impact. If he is willing to continue to see duty as a rotational player than there is a good chance to see the Canadian return. If not the ‘Caps longest serving signing needs to move to pastures new.
It seems like it might be time for another former Residency player, Marco Bustos, to move on for his own good, as he is unable to crack the MLS squad despite his ability to score with WFC2 Whether it’s a loan or a permanent move Bustos needs to play at a higher level instead of another season at USL. The same is true for Ben McKendry who has gone out on loan to FC Edmonton and put in some strong showings. Hard to see him wanting to head back to ‘Caps or head down to Fresno for USL play.
Finally, the Deybi Flores experiment is over. That’s all that needs said about that one.
IN: Cristian Techera, Alphonso Davies
BUBBLE: Bernie Ibini, Christian Bolanos
OUT: Brek Shea, Mauro Rosales
After a 2016 season that was such a disappointment, Techera is a candidate for the Whitecaps comeback player of the year. The diminutive winger attacked the box, provided service, was deadly from set pieces, and much improved defensively.
The teenage sensation, Alphonso Davies, started out strong but sputtered by the season’s end which is to be expected from a young player. He will return to the team next season but expect the Whitecaps to attempt to transfer him in order to get something for him because he will eventually leave for Europe. May as well get as much as you can while his stock is still high.
A mid-season arrival, Bernie Ibini showed moments of brilliance but for the most part was a disappearing act on the pitch. I believe that the ‘Caps are leaning to keeping for next season but that could change on the availability of other players and the international ratio. But you also have to wonder how happy he is to come over here and predominantly sit on the bench and play limited minutes.
The veteran Costa Rican started the season strong but injuries at the international stage seemed to slow him down. Bolanos is well respected by the coaching staff but his ability to remain healthy and his almost certain call up to the World Cup will leave him limbo. Can the ‘Caps afford to have such a high profile, and high salaried, player away for up to two months in the summer?
There is no doubt that the Giles Barnes for Brek Shea trade benefited Vancouver far more than it benefitted Orlando, but there is also no doubt that for a designated player (although he was basically a TAM player in all but name), Shea was not worth the slot in the salary cap. He should be offered up if the Whitecaps are able to bring in a starting winger that will bring more consistency to the starting eleven and at a much lower ticket.
After a year away from the club Mauro Rosales was brought in to be a locker room presence, a sometime coach, and a depth player. If the club feels like that is not required anymore from the veteran then it’s more likely that his spot on the roster could go to a developmental player.
IN: Fredy Montero, Erik Hurtado
OUT: Kyle Greig
While there are no guarantees that their top goalscorer will be back next season, due to loan status, the Whitecaps need to do everything in their power to retain Montero. Of course there is a possibility that the club has someone else in the works to be brought in, but better the striker you know and has proven themselves in the MLS.
Hurtado has also proven himself to be a useful striker who puts in a good shift and at the salary he earns in a cap world, he is a useful squad player. The only reason he could go is if he values himself more than the Whitecaps do or can afford.
There was no fire for Kyle Greig this season, mostly due to the lack of opportunities, and he was loaned midseason to FC Cincinnati of the USL, where there was no fire lit either. Other younger strikers will be brought in (see Myer Bevan) and there is a very slim chance he will return.
So there we go. The Whitecaps roster all nicely worked out for Robbo. You can thank us later! Do you agree or do you feel we’ve missed the mark on a player or two? Let us know below.