Wayback Wednesday: Gershon Koffie to New England

Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, where we take a look at past transactions made by the Whitecaps during their MLS era and look at how they have turned out today. We will be hoping to do this on a regular basis, so feel free to comment some suggestions for trades/transfers or tell us how you think some of those transactions went down in your opinion. We continue things this week with a look at the Gershon Koffie trade. Thanks for some other suggestions so far, such as Alain Rochat, Tim Parker, Eric Hassli and Nigel Reo-Coker, we hope to do those in future weeks.

After 5 productive seasons with the club, it was a big surprise to see Gershon Koffie shuttled off to an MLS team accross the country, with the New England Revolution picking up the box-to-box midfielder for an undisclosed amount of TAM and GAM, estimated to be approximately 200$k total. A fixture in the team since arriving in 2010, back when the team was still in USL, Koffie was the all-time fixture leader in the MLS era at the time of his departure, with 136 appearances (119 starts) over 5 MLS seasons. He came to Vancouver at 19, developing into a solid player with decent potential for the future. It was expected that he would eventually make a move to Europe, so to see him shuttled off within the league at only 24 came at a shock among fans. While he had started to stagnate a bit in the eyes of some around the team, he still had value and put in good shifts alongside Matias Laba, giving the Caps a feared midfield duo that allowed the Carl Robinson counter-attacking system to work. He ended up making a move to Europe after 1 season, transferring to Swedish side Hammerby, but only played four games over two seasons there, and is now plying his trade in Kuwait, playing for Al Fahaheel FC in the Kuwait first division. Only now 27, one could wonder what would have been if he stayed in Vancouver, as the team struggled at stabilizing their midfield all of that 2016 season, missing the playoffs. They only recovered the year after when they brought in Tony Tchani, a similarly styled box-to-box midfielder, only lacking Koffie’s explosiveness and dynamic ability that made him so revered among fans.

New England Revolution Received: Gershon Koffie

Vancouver Whitecaps Received: TAM and GAM (Approximately 200$k)

It was a tough trade to stomach at the time, as many fans were expecting for him to eventually make his move over to Europe, instead of staying within the league. After a solid 2015 campaign, where the Caps finished 2nd in the West and 3rd in the League, it was expected that things were on the upswing for them, as they had found a good midfield partnership between Laba and Koffie, a new defensive pairing with Kendall Waston and Tim Parker, a good keeper in David Ousted and decent attacking options with Pedro Morales pulling the strings and Octavio Rivero providing adequate finishing. Along with Christian Techera, Kekuta Manneh and Jordan Harvey, they had a solid starting outfit, one that was also complimented by good bench guys like Russell Teibert, Deybi Flores, Nico Mezquida and Darren Mattocks, amongst others. They were really close to being contenders in MLS, as their only downfall was a lack of offence in the playoffs, as they fell 2-0 on aggregate to eventual champions Portland. It was not for a lack of trying, as Kekuta Manneh had probably the game of his life in the second leg at home, toasting defenders and getting two great scoring chances. He likely would have scored a goal had he remained in the match, but picked up a knee injury about 25 minutes in, killing all offensive power Vancouver had for the day, as Portland picked up 2 away goals and cruised to the next round.

Going into 2016, things were looking up for the club. They had brought in some depth attacking options, acquiring Masato Kudo, Blas Perez and Christian Bolanos, giving them some good options to supplement their starters. They were solid at the back, had good options in the middle, and had pace to burn up front. Where they made two of their biggest mistakes was defensively, as they got rid of solid right back Steven Beitashour, and shipping off Gershon Koffie. It left some holes at the back, as replacement right backs Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith were disastrous at the position, leaving massive holes that caused Waston and Parker to have to do way too much work, as they would be overloaded in the box when that right side would constantly get overrun. Laba struggled in the middle of the park, as Robinson attempted many solutions to fill Koffie’s spot. It was hoped that when Koffie was moved, that his salary (241 000$) would be replaced by cheaper options such as Teibert, Flores or Kianz Froese. Teibert and Flores had looked good the year before and were thought to be ready to fill in Koffie’s spot, which had made Koffie expendable in the eyes of Robinson. He believed that moving Koffie also allowed him to make moves in other places, particularly up front if Octavio Rivero was to continue the poor form that plagued him the second half of 2015.

2015 Western Conference Standings (mlssoccer.com)

Flores and Teibert were unable to fill the hole left by Koffie, and Robinson brought in MLS veteran Andrew Jacobsen to help shore things up. Robinson ended up playing Laba a team-high 32 matches, with Jacobsen and Morales taking up the majority of minutes beside him. Jacbosen was solid but lacked the dynamic ability that Koffie had. Morales gave the team more going forward, but he was a lazy defender and forced Laba to work way harder defensively than he would have liked, leaving even more holes at the back. While the Whitecaps were a decent offensive side in 2016, falling in the middle of the pack in MLS, their defensive record was porous, as they sunk from a league-best 36 conceded goals in 2015 to second-worst in the Western Conference with 52. It was a disappointing campaign for a team that had looked ready to become part of the Western Conference elite, giving them a lot of questions heading into the 2017 campaign.

2017 obviously went a lot better, as they had a good run in the Concacaf Champions League to start things off, falling to Tigres in the semi-finals, before going on a good run in MLS, thanks to some good acquisitions such as Fredy Montero, Yordy Reyna and Tony Tchani, good growth from 2017 Draft Pick Jake Nerwinski and homegrown Alphonso Davies, and strong seasons from Parker, Waston and Laba. We looked more at the 2017 and 2018 seasons in depth in last weeks Wayback Wednesday, so check that out (here).

For Koffie, his move to New England was a mixed one for both him and the team. They missed out on the playoffs on a tiebreaker in 2016, as they tied with the Philadelphia Union on points. He did not score all season, but picked up 3 assists and helped shore up their midfield. He missed a few games with a knee injury, but for the most part, he did decently. Not surprisingly, he moved on to Europe after the season, signing in Sweden, which should have been a good move for Vancouver since they had the sell-on fee attached. But unluckily for them, it was a free-transfer, giving them no part of the fee they had hoped to have received.

Koffie was loaned back to New England 2 months into the MLS season, after picking up 2 matches with Hammerby over the winter. He was unable once again to push them to the playoffs, as they finished just outside in 7th, with Koffie picking up 1 assist in 23 MLS appearances, and not helping New England’s defensive woes as they allowed a pretty porous 61 goals . For 2018 it appeared that he would once again attempt to hack it out in Hammerby, but his stint there was super unsuccessful, once again, picking up 2 more appearances along with the other 2 he picked up the year prior. He ended up terminating his contract with the team in the summer, making himself a free-agent. From there he signed in Kuwait, where his team is 9th out of 10 teams in that flight, and there is no information provided on lineup or statistics. It has been a pretty heavy fall for the midfielder because as mentionned earlier he is still only 27. Like Tony Tchani, one would have thought that an MLS team could have used their services, as they were good in the league, and could provide good midfield depth.

The Caps ended up striking out with the sell-on fee, the TAM and the GAM. The sell-on fee ended up being useless, they spent some TAM on Andrew Jacobsen, who was solid for two years, and they spent the GAM on Fabian Espindola, a major strikeout for them as he lasted all of 6 days before moving again to Mexico since he did not report to Vancouver.

Today:

One can only wonder what would have happened if Koffie had stayed in Vancouver. While his contract was a bit much compared to his alternatives, it was still a pretty good price and he had a good partnership going with Matias Laba. Especially considering that not long after the trade MLS gave each team a lot of TAM as the league continued to grow economically, allowing for teams to chase after more players like Koffie and players in that 300 000$- 1 500 000$ range, as they could fill out their rosters with better depth. If Deybi Flores had not fallen off so hard, and Rusell Teibert not struggled with form and injuries that season, the move would have looked better for them. Koffie liked it in Vancouver and was close to getting Canadian Citizenship and joining the Canadian National Team fold, which would have been a great move at the time as Canada lacked depth in the position. He had grown a lot technically in Vancouver and could have provided them with one last good season before heading into Europe. While Vancouver got some money back for him, as opposed to nothing like New England did, but considering the impact they received from the TAM and GAM they spent, a season of Koffie looks like a better option looking back.

But that is the beauty of hindsight looking back, as it is easy to dissect moves considering everything that happened. While fans wished Koffie has stayed, Robinson wasn’t completely out in the woods believing that Flores and Teibert were ready to play regularly in MLS, as they did well in 2015 in their limited minutes. It was a calculated risk, but it ended up backfiring on him, and ended up playing a part in their 2016 downfall. While Koffie was solid in New England, he was not able to help them get to the playoffs as their team had a lot bigger flaws and worries that ended up tanking them over those seasons, especially defensively and in net. Those issues remain today and will continue to plague them until they patch it up. Hopefully, Koffie can bounce-back, but things don’t look good for him at the moment. It will be interesting to see what happens with him in the future as his experience in Kuwait continues.  

Verdict: 2.5/10 (Lose-Lose??)

Editors Note: We have somehow tracked down footage on Youtube of Koffie in Kuwait, check it out below

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