The saga is finally over and Vancouver Whitecaps very own ‘Grumpy Cat’, Omar Salgado, is no longer at the club.
There can’t be too many people shedding a tear at the news that the club’s first ever MLS draft pick has departed for pastures new.
Salgado was traded to New York City on Monday afternoon ahead of a transfer to an unnamed international club. The transfer fee will be split between the two sides, but more on that later.
What it means is that one of the biggest off the pitch disruptions that I have ever experienced first hand in all of my years of watching football is now someone else’s problem.
Some people found fault with Salgado’s attitude but I always found him a very balanced young player – he seemed to have a chip on each shoulder.
The debates still rage on today as to whether selecting Salgado in the 2011 SuperDraft in the first place was the right decision by then boss Teitur Thordarson. The story, as we’ve been told it over the years, is that Salgado was Thordarson’s choice. Tommy Soehn would have preferred to go with Darlington Nagbe but word had been put out, rightly or wrongly, that Nagbe didn’t want to come to Vancouver.
The Whitecaps clearly wouldn’t want another Vancouver Grizzlies/ Steve Francis farce on their hands it was cited. For those that don’t know, and I was one, Francis was selected by the Grizzlies in the 1999 NBA draft but refused to come and play for Vancouver in a PR nightmare.
Whether Nagbe would have come to Vancouver and whether he would have developed at the levels that he has in Portland are all speculation and assumption now.
The Whitecaps got Salgado and his four years in Vancouver were anything but stellar, but to be fair to the 21-year-old striker for a minute, injuries played a major and frustrating part to his fledgling pro career.
Drafted as a 17 year old, Salgado was used somewhat sparingly in his rookie season by both Thordarson and Soehn. He made 14 appearances, five of them starts, in the Whitecaps disastrous inaugural season in Major League Soccer, grabbing his one and only MLS goal in the 2-1 loss at Columbus Crew on 30th April 2011.
He often cut a moping figure on the training pitch and was involved that season in the first of his many training ground spats, that time with Residency player Derrick Bassi.
Under new manager Martin Rennie, it looked like Salgado was going to have a new lease of life. Many people, myself included, had a change of opinion about him as he reinvented himself as a left winger and had some impact for the ‘Caps.
There were to be six appearances for Salgado in April and May, five of them starts, before two years of setbacks after suffering a foot injury while with the US U-20 team in June 2012. Those injuries restricted Salgado to just 21 appearances and 902 MLS minutes prior to this season.
But then a fully fit Salgado turned up for preseason looking lean, mean and hungry to get back into the mix in the starting eleven. I liked what I saw. He looked the real deal but yet his attitude issues still plagued him. He threw preseason strops when substituted, disrespected coaching staff, was given a very clear warning in front of the rest of the squad (and me) down in Portland at the Rose City invitational and then got into an on-pitch tussle with Kekuta Manneh in an intra-squad game. Manneh was on his own team.
The writing looked on the wall and Carl Robinson’s patience was being tested to the max. Salgado was sent down to Charleston Battery but was then brought back when Kenny Miller headed home to Scotland and the Whitecaps found themselves with a strikers shortage.
This could have been his chance but this time a combination of both attitude and performance hampered him. Robinson gave him chances. He made appearances, two of them starts, this season in MLS but looked average at best in his 198 minutes.
There had been some issues off the pitch again but then came the final straw in September when he lunged dangerously from behind at Residency player Mitch Piraux in training after seeing the red mist following a non-call (as he saw it) on a Piraux tackle on him.
It was a horror tackle. The kind that would have been condemned if it had been on an opposing player never mind his own teammate. Piraux was left with stud marks up his calf. Kendall Waston had to be restrained from going after Salgado and he was banished to the side for the rest of the session and shunned by his teammates.
Robinson’s patience had run out and Salgado was sent packing, this time to Mexico for a training stint with Tigres. His days as a Whitecaps were clearly over. Tigres made an offer to sign him but the ‘Caps didn’t accept right away as they weighed up their options. Salgado flew back to sort things out and find out why, and also to have his end of season exit interview with Robinson. Oh to be a fly on the wall of that one!
We can only add two and two right now and hope not to make five by saying that Tigres are surely the unnamed international club that he is set to depart to. There has been interest from others in Mexico though, so who knows. Whoever it is, he’s gone now and Robinson explained a little bit today about his departure.
“Omar’s situation is a fantastic, unique situation I’ll say,” Robinson told reporters at the Whitecaps front office on Monday afternoon. “The footballing side is that Omar wants to go and play somewhere. He was a little bit frustrated here and I understand it in a way but I’ve 26 players here that want to play every minute of every game and unfortunately that doesn’t happen.
“It’s the best solution for all of us. For the club, for Omar, for me and I hope he goes now and plays where wants to play, which is the important thing.”
There is no doubt that Salgado has the ability and if he can sort out his attitude and borderline anger issues, then he could have a promising career ahead of him. If he doesn’t, he’ll just be another young player washed up in his mid 20’s. It’s all up to him now, and maybe a fresh start is all that he’s needed. Well, that and actually consistent playing time.
“I think all players, not just young players [do],” Robinson said. “If you move a player it doesn’t mean that you think they’re a bad player or a bad character. Sometimes situations dictate what happens with players. Omar’s still the same player that he was when he drafted him. He’s a fantastic young talent. I’m sure now he’s still a fantastic young talent. He’s got great potential but he needs to play.
“Probably his chances here to play would have been limited so I wanted to give him the opportunity to go and play somewhere else. I wish him all the best, I really do.”
So injuries and attitude aside, if Salgado was such a talent, why did it not work out for him in Vancouver?
“Omar showed glimpses last year when he come on and when he started one or tow games but he was frustrated at not starting every game and I understand that,” Robinson continued. “I don’t want players that are unhappy that when they don’t start games or don’t get the game time that they, you know…
“I understand that in a certain way but what I need to have as well is players that respect certain situations and scenarios. There were ups and downs with Omar, like there is with all my players, so I understand it in a way but we’re moving on now. Both parties are moving on.”
The deal with New York City is a strange one. The Caps trade him to New York but they will flip him right away to this unnamed international club once there is an agreement of personal terms, medical exam, and receipt of Salgado’s International Transfer Certificate.
So why did the move have to come about as it did? And why did the Whitecaps not just sell Salgado themselves to the mysterious club? Robinson couldn’t go into full details but basically said that MLS rules prevented them selling the player before the Expansion Draft and if they didn’t move him on then they would have needed to protect Salgado at the expense of another player that he wants to keep around.
“Obviously with the expansion draft we can only protect 11 players,” Robinson explained. “If we try and sell a player prior to the expansion draft then it’s probably gaining an advantage, so there was deal set up with New York and we’re happy with that, NYCFC are happy with that and we wish the player all the best”
So does the deal with one of MLS’ two newest clubs have an agreement built in that New York won’t pick any Vancouver players in Wednesday’s Expansion Draft?
“Maybe a friendly agreement, yeah,” Robinson joked when we asked him. “No, there’s not an official agreement, no. I’m hoping they don’t and they pass on that.”
We’ll find out on Wednesday.