Vancouver Whitecaps confirmed the initial make-up of their roster today for the start of the new MLS campaign.
It’s led to some surprises, some disappointment, some over-reaction online, and most of all, it’s left some tantalizing questions about what may be to come.
Under the new MLS roster rules, the ‘Caps can carry a squad of 31 players if they have at least two qualifying young homegrowns and loan one player to their USL team or affiliate for the season.
Right now, the ‘Caps roster page lists 31 players. Of those, Sam Adekugbe is on loan to English Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion till the summer, Spencer Richey is official loaned to WFC2 for the season, and David Edgar is on the season-ending injury list.
Richey earned his MLS contract this offseason and although he will be with WFC2 for the year, he can be recalled to play or be included for the first team in extreme hardship rules. Namely if David Ousted or Paolo Tornaghi go down with an injury. He can also play in the Canadian Championship games against Montreal (and hopefully two more after that!)
Deybi Flores is also currently training and playing with WFC2 and is classed as being loaned out. Don’t be surprised though if he ends up back in Honduras sometime soon, either by loan or transfer.
All that leaves the Whitecaps with three open roster spots, and you can expect at least one of those to be filled before the MLS transfer window closes on May 8th.
The Whitecaps clearly still need to add a couple of pieces to make them contenders this season, especially with some current injuries to key personnel like Yordy Reyna.
While a number 10 was clearly lacking on Sunday, as was any decent balls from the midfield as a result, Reyna will be back in July, Bolanos back in a week or so, and Mezquida ready to go now. Adding a real difference maker there now is a luxury the ‘Caps probably can’t afford, in every way you want to define that.
The biggest need right now is a box to box midfielder. Someone that can allow Matias Laba to concentrate on his defending, and hopefully also on not picking up so many bookings. Laba has looked more like his old self so far this season.
Some great tackles and hustle have helped with the two clean sheets in two matches. But he’s still reckless and is a sending off waiting to happen. A lot of his cards in his time here have come from rash tackles, and many of them when he’s tracking back after going forward. Getting an attack minded defensive midfielder or straight out central midfielder in there beside him should help a little bit with that.
Andrew Jacobson, for all his excellent play otherwise, and Russell Teibert simply do not offer enough of that attacking threat in their game. It has to be the ‘Caps number one priority in the next couple of week to remedy that.
The name that’s been linked with coming to Vancouver since the start of the year is veteran Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson. When Don Garber announced on his visit here a month ago that MLS wants to help and subsidise clubs to bring Canadian internationalists to the league, Hutchinson’s name was the one that sprang instantly to most people’s minds.
As chatter mounted that Vancouver could be in the mix to make speculation into a reality, it looks unlikely that anything might happen there until at least the summer as he seems to be a key part of Besiktas’ plans in Turkey this season.
If Hutchinson was to come, it would surely be as a Designated Player, although as LA Galaxy have shown over the years, anything can be made possible under MLS roster rules!
But for that to happen, the ‘Caps need to make space, as one of the other big pieces of news to come out of the Whitecaps initial roster make-up is that new addition Brek Shea is now a DP here, taking Vancouver to the maximum of three.
That seemed to spark outrage in some quarters. We’ll put that down, hopefully, to the over-complicated MLS rules, the various (frankly ridiculous) loopholes that clubs can adopt to circumnavigate them, and the confusion that very understandably causes people.
If Shea is still a DP in Vancouver come the end of July, we’ll be shocked and amazed. If Robbo makes the moves he’s wanting to make, and needs to make, that simply won’t be happening.
Shea as a DP is a short term fix to make the Whitecaps salary cap compliant. If Giles Barnes was still here, it would have been exactly the same situation. He would have been a DP, and on a far higher salary to boot.
Shea’s salary can be bought down using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) at any point during the season if/when the Whitecaps add their proper third Designated Player. The maximum budget charge for a non-DP is $480,625. Shea was on a base salary of $550,000 in Orlando last season, and a guaranteed one of $595,000. Way easier to buy down to below that maximum budget charge than Barnes’ $700,000 base ($756,250 guaranteed).
Of course being a ‘DP’ immediately puts added pressure on Shea to perform by some. The DP tag is a millstone around player’s necks in MLS. There are a lot of players earning higher salaries but bought down to be non-DP level that perform worse than some DPs but get an easier ride of it because they don’t have the official tag.
Right now, why waste TAM when you don’t need to? Thus, the easiest decision to make around Shea was to have him as a DP, for now. It also gives the Whitecaps the option to move Shea on in the summer if he and his family couldn’t settle for example or if interest from elsewhere. Carl Robinson has made it clear he seems him as part of his season-long plans, but personal situations can change, as we saw with Octavio Rivero wanting to go back to South America with his family.
Robinson wants to add at least one more piece this window. Is Hutchinson going to be that man, or will the wait and speculation carry on for a few more months? Either way, expect someone coming in, and soon.
But turning from one Canadian international to another, David Edgar is now officially out for the season.
Edgar suffered a right knee injury in a hit and run accident while on a golf trip in Scottsdale, Arizona in December. He successfully underwent surgery on January 3rd to repair the posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments (PCL and MCL), as well as the meniscus in his right knee.
It was initially announced that he would return to training in the fall. That raised hopes that we could see him before the season end, but there’s a big difference between returning to training and getting match fit, so the decision was made to call it a season for the centre back.
The ‘Caps confirmed to AFTN that Edgar will be unable to play any MLS minutes this season, but he could play in USL if ready in time and needing some match action as part of his recovery.
As hard-hitting as that is for the Whitecaps defence, it gives the likes of Christian Dean, who started and excelled in Sunday’s draw with Philadelphia in his first MLS minutes since October 2015 and first start since August that year, a real shot to show his worth and stake his claim to a starting spot.
It also frees up a roster spot. Right now the Whitecaps won’t be in a hurry to fill it, but if the right player comes along they might. Robinson has stated several times over the past couple of seasons that he likes to carry five centre backs. The ‘Caps are down to four, but four very serviceable ones.
There could be a further addition to that number depending on performances and injuries, which will give an added incentive to WFC2’s Player of the Year Sem de Wit and this year’s MLS SuperDraft second round pick Francis de Vries in USL this season.
So a lot of interesting questions around the ‘Caps squad moving forward. Injuries and trades can derail some of the current plans, but I think we’ll be seeing a few different names both on and leaving Vancouver’s roster come the end of the summer transfer window.