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.
We kicked things off yesterday with a look at the Whitecaps goalkeepers. Today it’s the turn of the shambles that has been the ‘Caps defenders.
To say it’s not been a good year for the Whitecaps defence is something of an understatement. They’ve gone from having the joint best defensive record in all of MLS to the worst in the West and seventh worst overall. When you look at where it all went wrong this year, the inability to stop leaking goals and the inability to score them at the other end has been the ‘Caps downfall.
It’s hard to fathom why it’s all gone so wrong for the Whitecaps at the back this year. The core defensive spine were all back, and you can’t pin all the problems on one player, Steven Beitashour, moving on. Individual errors were commonplace, and they seemed to be making them on a rotational basis.
So what do you do? Do you blow it up and start anew? Who do you bring back and who do you cut free? We take a look.
Sam Adekugbe (KEEP – LOAN) – It’s not been the season Adekugbe would have hoped for, although he did end up with a move to England, so it’s not all bad! In all seriousness though, it has felt that Adekugbe actually regressed a little this year and never looked for a minute like he’d challenge Jordan Harvey for the starting left back role. For me, right now, he’s fallen behind Brett Levis in the pecking order. His loan deal to Brighton will keep him away from Vancouver till at least May next year. It’s an ideal chance for Sam to show the skills we know he has, maybe making a name for himself with the Seagulls. He’s had a mixed start just now, picking up a couple of injuries. Will he end up back at the Whitecaps? You have to think so, but then he’s back involved in a battle for minutes and that might prove tough for him. At some stage, as with all the ‘Caps young talent, if they’re not getting regular starter minutes here, they need to look to move on to pastures new for the sake of their own career.
Christian Dean (KEEP) – If we’re talking about tough years, Christian tops the list, after a challenging few months both on and off the pitch. Two serious injuries have meant he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger so far. He’s back in full training and made the bench last weekend in San Jose. Robinson admitted he wasn’t ready to play in that match but he wanted him to be involved. It also seems highly unlikely that he’ll see minutes in Sunday’s season finale against Portland. There is no point in risking him after all this time if there’s any doubts that he’s fully match ready. For me, Christian had earned a starting centre back spot alongside Kendall Waston with his preseason play. He’d worked hard, come in the fittest he’d been, and put himself above Tim Parker. Then injury struck. Yes, he’s on a big Generation Adidas ticket, but he hasn’t counted towards the cap. Next season will be a make or break year for him. He’s going to be coming off the GA deal and will need to take a pay cut to stay. He’s prepared to do that and battle, and he has the desire to prove the doubters wrong and show the ‘Caps what he can mean to them. He deserves that chance and I think he’ll take it, but at the same time, there’s no point in him coming back to be the number four centre back.
David Edgar (KEEP) – If they don’t want to give it to David Ousted due to his position, then David Edgar will likely be the Whitecaps new club captain next season. The jury certainly seems to be out in some quarters as to just what Edgar offers the club and his play. It was a shaky start for sure, but he came to a fully up and running team in preseason shape and form. That is only to be expected. His experience is crucial to a Whitecaps side that seriously lacks it in some areas. He’s vocal and a clear leader both on the pitch and in the dressing room. That’s what the ‘Caps need badly, and more of. He’ll miss games through international duty with Canada, which will give the others a chance to play, but he’ll also need to come out of the blocks in top form from the very start of next season if he is to solidify his place as the number choice centre back.
Jordan Harvey (KEEP) – There’s no doubting that Whitecaps official ‘Player of the Year’ will be back for his 12th season in MLS and his seventh in Vancouver. When your left back gets that accolade in a poor season on a bad defence, that says a lot about the state of the club. But he earned it and it was a toss up between himself and Cristian Bolaños for who would get the nod. He’s had a good season. Yes, there’s been a few mistakes here and there, but way less than the other defenders around him. He’s been the most consistently solid player all year round and his veteran leadership will be even more crucial than ever. He’s seen off the challenge of three Canadians for his starting spot with ease (Adekugbe, Levis and de Jong). Can he continue to keep doing that? Well his desire is there, but you have to feel the ‘Caps are grooming Levis to take his crown, and talking of the Saskatchewan talent…
Brett Levis (KEEP) – What a year it’s been for Brett. From being involved in the first team’s preseason camp, to switching positions from left wing to left back, to playing a crucial role in the success of the USL team, to making his first team debut in the Champions League matches, to earning a MLS contract. It may not even be over yet. Don’t be surprised if Levis makes his MLS debut (and maybe even his first start) in Sunday’s season finale against Portland. He’s a clear talent that’s taken to his new position like a duck to water. Maybe it helps that it rains so much in Vancouver. He still has a lot to learn in the left back role, but his versatility (he can also play all the attacking midfield positions) should see him continue to develop, thrive, and get regular first team minutes next season. Once Robinson feels he’s fully ready, he’ll get rid of Marcel de Jong (who we’re classing as a midfielder for the sake of these pieces). Then it’ll be a battle between Levis and Adekugbe to make the starting left back spot their own and take over from Harvey for the foreseeable future.
Tim Parker (KEEP – TRADE BAIT) – Everyone always waits for that sophomore slump. We even talked to Parker about it in the offseason. It’s not quite been that for the big centre back this season but it’s not been the best of years either. Expectations were always going to be high after his excellent first year, and although we say it’s not felt like the greatest of seasons for Parker, he is second on the team in both blocked shots and clearances (behind Kendall Waston), and 10th in all of MLS in both of those areas. He’s still raw and error prone, but which player doesn’t make mistakes? He benefits greatest when having a solid experienced pro in beside him and with Waston struggling in the first half of the year, it kind of left Parker hung out to dry. Edgar then came in, Waston recovered his form, and Parker has been reduced mostly to the bench. That’s not going to be a situation he’s going to be happy with, but it’s now up to him to show in the preseason that he deserves to start. You want to keep him around, as he can definitely be the future of the club at the back, but at the same time his value is high at the moment and being involved with the US national team will help that stock rise. He’s definitely good trade bait and a lot of clubs would be interested in him. We’d like to keep him around, but with the other CBs at the club right now, if Robbo can trade him for an experienced starting right back or a striker than can score, then we’d bite your hands off at such a deal.
Cole Seiler (KEEP) – Another centre back, and another we want to keep. Robbo likes to have five, and we have him down as keeping all five. Seiler is an interesting one though. He’s shown potential, and done fairly well this year in the USL team (although we had Sem de Wit ahead of him on displays during the first half of the season). He’s had MLS minutes, albeit at right back, and again, did well. But he’s another raw player, who perhaps hasn’t been as commanding as we’d have liked. His footwork can often let him down, but these are all little things he can certainly improve on with more first team experience. Has he done enough to be protected in the expansion draft? We suggested yes, but there is a good chance he won’t be and may get picked up by one of the Uniteds depending on their needs and what they think of the experience he’s had and his potential.
Jordan Smith (RELEASE – END LOAN) – Smith has never reached the heights we expected from him. It’s hard to see that he’s actually seen time with the Costa Rican national team as his play can be all over the place. He’s been a cheap acquisition for the Whitecaps at a guaranteed $122,743 but his loan is coming to an end and he will almost certainly not be coming back. The strange thing is, his game has finally started to come on and he’s looked better these past few weeks than in his whole time here. He’s been one of the few players who has actually been playing like he wants to earn a contract. Sadly for him, he’s not getting on. He doesn’t seem to be the quality we need for MLS.
Kendall Waston (KEEP, but happy to see move on too) – Waston and MLS don’t seem to mix. The big Costa Rican has been a card magnet again this year, with seven yellows, three reds, and a couple of suspensions. Like Parker, it’s felt like a poor year for Waston but defensively he is fifth in MLS when it comes to blocked shots and sixth when it comes to clearances. His input to the club, when he’s playing, is massive, but he’s also cost the ‘Caps a few goals with mistakes. The difference in the first half of the season and the second, where he was playing alongside the experienced Edgar, was huge. He’s a towering presence, dominant in the air, but is his card marked with PRO refs? If you take all the aggression out of his play, he’s not the same player, and we love that side of him. It must also be wearing on him and is bound to lead to some second guessing on challenges. In many ways, it would be better for Waston to move on and find a league where his style of play is better appreciated and will thrive. MLS is not that kind of league and you feel it’s only going to get worse. The Whitecaps will already be missing him for a number of international matches, so they can’t afford a number of suspensions and to have $318,125 worth of talent not playing. The ‘Caps should keep him, but at the same time, we would shed too many tears if they cash in on his international worth.
Fraser Aird (RELEASE – END LOAN) – Another player that hasn’t had the season he’d have hoped for. Aird came to Vancouver with some clear goals in mind – get regular playing time, show Rangers what kind of player they have, and increase his chances of playing for the Canadian national team. Although he’s just been away with Canada for a couple of friendlies, none of those things have gone to plan. Fraser’s first game as right back was a bit of a nightmare, which he readily admits, but one which he put his hand up and fully accepted. He worked hard and looked to have made the right back role his own before having to miss some matches for both personal and footballing reasons. Now he can barely get into the gameday 18. It’s hard to see where he goes from here. Robbo would love to keep him around, but he’d clearly be a backup. I personally don’t think he’s best suited to right back. Aird is Rangers through and through and would love to go back to Scotland for another chance to impress there. In all honesty, if he does, he’ll more likely end up playing for someone like Partick or Hamilton than the Gers, and likely on a much lower ticket than he could get here. Some big decisions for Aird this offseason.
We threw the subject of Aird out to Twitter, and were quite surprised that of the 325 people that voted in our poll, 77% want him back in Vancouver, either as a starter or a squad player.
Our annual “Keep, Trade, Release” feature runs over the next few days. We want to elicit your thoughts on some players. First up FRASER AIRD
— AFTN (@aftncanada) October 19, 2016
Here’s a few comments from people replying to the poll with regards to Aird.
@aftncanada His loan seems to be good value. I can tolerate his heart being with Rangers as he doesn’t hold back effort for the Caps. Keep.
— Paul S-H (@Subhedgehog) October 19, 2016
@aftncanada Good potential, but as a Starter? Kid got beat a lot 1 v 1 & his only response was the old hands on his head reaction.
— Mun Bagri (@MunBagri) October 20, 2016
@aftncanada I think he’s an interesting how case. I’d keep as a backup at RB, but would love to see him get a chance to start on the wing
— Dallas Jarvis (@caesar_dallas) October 19, 2016
@aftncanada as a starter? lol.
— kristina (@mudkri) October 19, 2016
@aftncanada Aird learns quick. Every game he’s improved. He’s made a few mistakes but so has Harvey. Should be 1st name on team sheet at RB.
— Angus Walker (@anguswalker) October 19, 2016
— Nelson Santos (@Grandstander1) October 20, 2016
— Chris (@salishsea86) October 20, 2016
Aird has clearly made an impression, shown potential, and the fans that responded want to see more from him. We spoke with him midweek and he hasn’t decided yet where he sees his future lying. Will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.
If you want to catch up on our previous “Keep, Trade or Release” picks, here are the links –