It’s that time of year again, as we reflect on Vancouver Whitecaps’ season past and ponder the performances of the players, asking should we KEEP, TRADE, OR RELEASE them.
In some ways it’s a little tough to be too harsh on the Whitecaps midfield. They have created chances, but when the strikers aren’t putting those away then it’s never going to end well. Some of the midfield have created well and contributed with the goals and assists, some have had mixed years with lots of peaks and troughs, and some have just downright disappointed with their efforts and contributions.
One thing is clear, there needs to be changes, there needs to be new players added, and there needs to be some real difference makers brought in.
So what do you do? Do you dismantle the midfield en masse and start anew? Who do you bring back and who do you cut free? We take a look, and don’t forget to leave your own thoughts in the comments below.
Christian Bolaños (KEEP) – Bolaños was my ‘Player of the Year’, but I also see the frustration that some have with him. It took a few weeks for the veteran to find his feet but once he did he hit his stride and has added five goals and seven assists from his 26 appearances to date. That sees him leading the team in the latter and sit second on the team in the race for the Golden Boot. Yet some would be happy to see the Costa Rican move on because of his defensive work and sometimes apparent disinterest in matches. I get that, but he’s added a creative spark that no-one else on the team has done on a consistent basis this season and there were times that he looked like the only player capable of getting something, anything going for the ‘Caps. He is also ‘only’ on a guaranteed deal of $253,500. There’s seven players on this team that earn more and have contributed far less. He needs to come back and be a key component of the ‘Caps midfield next season. If he can add some better defensive play then all the better, but if he doesn’t and adds goals and assists and doesn’t cause us to lose goals, then I can easily live with that.
Marco Bustos (KEEP) – It’s not been the sophomore season Bustos will have hoped for. He’s made just three appearances for the MLS team, with one start, and he’s struggled a little. It didn’t help that he was played out of position (he is not a winger, jeez). His form in the USL games fluctuated. He started the season in great form, linking up well with Erik Hurtado in those first WFC2 matches, and he finished it very strongly banging in a few goals and putting in some key performances for the young ‘Caps on their way to the USL Western Conference final. The games in-between were mixed. Bustos looked frustrated, more so at his own performances than anything else. He’s a player that always puts a lot of pressure and high expectation on himself and when he was flying in the Residency days there were far more ups than downs. It’s been a different story in the pro ranks, as is only to be expected. You get the feeling that Bustos feels he should be further along than he is right now. But it will come, of that we have no doubt. His talent is there for all to see and Robbo clearly has the faith in him, as demonstrated in bringing him to San Jose the day after playing in the USL West final and giving him minutes. Expect more on Sunday against Portland and a lot more opportunities for Bustos next season if he puts the hard work in during the offseason and preseason, both on and off the pitch. It may have needed a season like this to bring the best out of him.
Marcel de Jong (Want to RELEASE, but circumstances mean KEEP) – I’m not a fan of de Jong. Never have been. He doesn’t scream MLS quality to me and it’s hard to see where he really fits in here as anything else than an occasional squad player when injuries hit. If he’s happy with that, then that’s good I guess. He doesn’t seem to have the legs to be a left back in the league, and we have far better left wing options. He should be well down the pecking order in both positions, but he won’t be going anywhere (unless someone picks him up in the expansion draft). At $62,500 (bar four cents!), he’s cheap as chips and a serviceable. He also still has a year to go on his deal with the ‘Caps, after joining in the summer. Once Robbo is comfortable with Brett Levis at the MLS level, de Jong will be cut free.
Deybi Flores (TRADE/SELL) – Remember him? Remember when he came on to make his debut last season at home to Portland and looked scintillating and a real find? Those were the days. This year he made just one MLS appearance, starting in the second game of the season in KC before being yanked off at half time. His reckless tackling style seems a disaster waiting to happen in MLS, and he struggled to produce when he dropped down to USL level, which is a worrying sign. The ‘Caps moved to sign him on a permanent deal in January from CD Motagua. Seven months later he’d gone back there on loan till the end of the year. All seems rather bizarre. The ‘Caps should just cut him free, but they won’t, especially after paying a transfer fee for him. Another loan could be forthcoming next season. It’s hard to see him having any future here. If they can sell him back to the Hondurans and get some or all of their money back, then that’s for the best all round.
Kianz Froese (RELEASE) – Froese is a frustrating player. He’s also a frustrated one. He has the ability to do well, but not only has he not shown it this year, some attitude issues limited his opportunities and then saw him head off to Germany to try and get a deal, which subsequently went nowhere. That resulted in him coming back and not even training with the first team, relegated to being with the WFC2 guys as a message was clearly being sent. But credit to him, he took the message on board and put in some excellent playoff performances for the USL side in their postseason run, adding two goals. Enough to get him some redemption? Unlikely, and we’re not sure that he even wants to be at the Whitecaps any more. He only made five appearances in MLS this year and got himself suspended after one of them. That was the start of the slippery slide for the Residency alumni and with too many bridges burned, it’s hard to see a way back for him here now.
Andrew Jacobson (KEEP) – You know what you’re getting with Jacobson and that’s a hard-working pro, who may not be the most exciting guy around, but still him in your team (as DM or CB) and he’ll do a job for you. That’s just what the ‘Caps need. His experience and calmness is vital to the locker room and he’s been a great pick up by Robinson. At his current $87,500 salary, he is an absolute steal and must to keep around for next season.
Matias Laba (KEEP – but very open to TRADE) – Laba is just another player to disappoint in a season of disappointments. He’s improved as the season has gone on, but missing preseason for the birth of his first child seemed to really set him back fitnesswise and he took a while to recover. He is no longer looking like the crucial thou-shall-not-pass defensive lynchpin in the midfield that he has in the past. He’s been very average and certainly not worth a DP salary of $720,500. My biggest complaint of Laba these past couple of seasons has been his lack or urgency when tracking back. He saunters back to his position and it’s cost us this season when he hasn’t properly tracked his man, who then scores or assists on a goal. This is not a part of his game that seems to be showing any signs of improvement. Can he bounce back next year? Does he just need the right man playing alongside of him? A Scott Arfield kind of player perhaps. Robbo is looking for that right man, but a lot will also depend on just what formation the ‘Caps want to go with next season. Laba would have excellent trade value within MLS. We could easily get that experienced right back or proven goalscorer by moving him on. I’m very open to that, but by the sounds of it, he’s not going anywhere.
Ben McKendry (KEEP) – The first team breakthrough we’d hoped for with McKendry this season just didn’t materialise. Two seasons in and he’s yet to play a MLS minute. His pathway is definitely being blocked, as we’ll come to later on when we talk about Russell Teibert. There’s a good chance he’d have seen some time these last two games, but another knee injury (thankfully the other one and not too serious) has ended his season early again, which all must just add to the frustration for the Residency alumni. He’s done well in the USL games and looked to have done enough to earn his chance of some time this summer, but he (and most of the team) didn’t have the best outing in the Canadian Championship in Ottawa and that may have clouded Robinson’s thoughts on him. Robbo is still high on him though, but you feel that next season is make or break for him if he’s going to make that first team gameday breakthrough.
Pedro Morales (RELEASE) – Remember the 2014 MLS Newcomer of the Year Morales? We miss him. Where did he go? No-one seems to know. Injuries certainly haven’t helped. Morales is banged up. His back, his hamstrings, his knees, and heavens knows what else. He looks a shell of the talismanic players the Whitecaps had just two short years ago. MLS man. All that said, he leads the team on goals (8) and is second with assists (6) from his 26 appearances. Is that really all that bad? Well when you’re a DP and other teams DPs are real double digit producing difference makers, then yes. We need a LOT more from all our attacking DPs than Morales has given us these past two seasons. Morales has cut a frustrated figure in games and at training, ultimately boiling over in this week’s spat with David Ousted, to go with a couple of stupid red cards he’s brought upon himself. He’s frankly not worth the near $1.5 million salary he commands right now. He likes it here. His family are settled. If he wants to come back on a non-DP contract around the $200-300k mark, I’ll take that. But he really needs to move on for his health and the good of the team.
Russell Teibert (RELEASE) – We’re starting to feel like we should just copy and paste Teibert’s yearly analysis. Once again he’s shown nothing to justify him still being on the team if he wasn’t there as a Canadian homegrown. At what point do you just cut your losses and let him fly the coop? That was last season for us, not sure when it will be for Robbo. With only 11 MLS appearances this season, eight of them as a starter, Teibert is a bench player at best and there are better options out there (and at the club) for his guaranteed $182,500 salary. That might not count towards the cap but it counts towards something as far as I’m concerned. His last assist came on April 18th last year. His last goal (and only two goals in MLS) came in May 2013! What does he actually add to the Whitecaps squad apart from a little bit of versatility? He has no offensive capability, and if you want a homegrown able to come in and do the business once in a while. McKendry is that guy. Keeping Teibert around blocks that pathway for McKendry and others, and that’s something Robinson has always said he won’t do. Let the T-bird fly.
Cristian Techera (TRADE/SELL – BORDERLINE) I’m not sure if any player has disappointed me as much as the diminutive Uruguayan this season. We expected so much more from him after his seven goals and five assists in only 22 appearances last year. That earned the Bug a permanent move to Vancouver and a new guaranteed contract of $345,000. We were delighted. Then the season started. Techera arrived for preseason looking like he was in less than top shape in terms of his fitness. Getting married in the offseason can do that to a man, or the opposite. He was put through extra fitness training down in Arizona. Disappointing, even more so when his play on the pitch saw Techera look like a shadow of the man we’d seen a year before. He grabbed two assists in April, his only two in MLS all year, but his first (and only) goals in the league didn’t come until July, when he scored in back to back games. On his MLS play alone, the ‘Caps need to get shot of Techera and fast, but it’s his Champions League play that has been the winger’s saving grace. He has five goals in that competition and is joint leader after the group stages. Those performances could help the ‘Caps get a decent transfer fee for him back to a South American side or maybe even a Mexican or Central American one. Was this season just a blip in MLS? If we keep him, will he put in the hard work needed and we get the 2015 Techera next season? That’s a big gamble on his current salary. Get that down considerably and I keep him. If they can’t then he has to move on.
Nicolas Mezquida (KEEP) – Techera’s fellow Uruguayan has had a mixed season. He’s had 27 appearances, but only 16 starts. At times he’s looked like a difference maker when he came off the bench, but struggled as a starter on most occasions. Some of his link up play, especially with his Uruguayan cohorts, was tremendous, but he turns the ball over far, far too often and seems too lightweight at times for the league. But he’s passionate about the club, as his tears of disappointment have shown this season. So just what do you do with Mezquida? Three goals and one assist is a poor return, especially as he was (supposedly) playing as part of a two-man striking partnership at times. He has a big support amongst the fanbase, many of whom feel he is played out of position and should be the number 10. For me, he’s over-rated. Another decent enough bench player, but nothing more. At $88,000 I keep him around, but he’s out of contract and will be wanting more. He’s not worth that. No issues with letting him leave, or dangling him out as trade bait for some experience in return.
Mezquida is a popular figure, as we found out when we ran a Twitter poll around his future, with 85% of those voting wanting him back at the Whitecaps next season, either as a starter or a squad player.
And in our final “Keep, Trade, Release” poll. What would you do with Nicolas Mezquida next season? (He’s currently on $88k as a FYI) #VWFC
— AFTN (@aftncanada) October 21, 2016
And here’s a selection of the comments in response to the poll.
@aftncanada KEEP, FERFUCKSAKES
— Paul S-H (@Subhedgehog) October 21, 2016
@aftncanada LOL at cheap bench player. He should be our starting #10
— Dylan Callow (@vitaminDylan) October 21, 2016
— Ozzie (@ChilenoThoughts) October 21, 2016
— GlassCity(@GlassCityFC) October 21, 2016
— GlassCity(@GlassCityFC) October 21, 2016
— Corey (@Whitecaps4Life) October 21, 2016