Wayback Wednesday: The Alain Rochat Trade

Alain Rochat was a fan favourite in Vancouver, so it was a shock to see the Swiss centre back/left back shuttled over to DC United in 2013 for only a second rounder in the MLS SuperDraft. It was the end of a tenure filled with lots of exciting moments from Rochat, as he had a knack for good defending and scoring clutch goals, including a swerving effort from 30 yards that won them a match against Philadelphia.

This move frustrated a lot of fans, as it was tough to see the popular Swiss move on, especially to another MLS team, for such a low price. While it was not that much of a stretch personnel-wise, as the Caps had Jordan Harvey as a backup plan, and their centre back rotation looked relatively settled,  it was still tough to see the Caps move on from him. They could have used his quality had they chased a playoff berth that season, as they finished only 3 points behind the playoff spots that season. Here is the official breakdown of the trade:

Vancouver Whitecaps received: 2nd round MLS draft pick (2015), conditional MLS draft pick (2016)

D.C. United received: Alain Rochat

When the trade went down, the Caps were in a tough position in the standings, having only won 4 of their first 13 matches of the season. They were struggling defensively, having only kept a clean sheet once from those 13 matches. While Rochat was part of that whole equation, many were left wondering if they could have made a different move to remedy that problem. He was probably the easiest option to stomach for management, as he made a higher salary than Jordan Harvey and took up an international spot, which would free up the Caps to chase an upgrade with the space and international spot freed up. They acquired David Ousted not long after, which was questionable at the time due to the Caps having Joe Cannon, Brad Knighton and Simon Thomas all on the books, giving them 4 solid keepers.

In the long run, this was a great move as Ousted flourished into one of the top keepers in MLS, constantly leading the league in clean sheets and providing the backbone for Carl Robinson when he took over the season after, as he turned the Whitecaps into one of the premier defensive teams in the league. Ousted was a shrewd pick up by the Caps, and was probably the best keeper they had in the MLS era, as he made the all-star team in 2015 and gave Vancouver a star that MLS would actually talk about, a rare sight the first few seasons in the league. While many others would come in under Robinson that would fit that bill, including Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston, Ousted was the first piece to the squads that would compete consistently between 2014 and 2017.

The move also appeared to pay off in the short-term performance wise, as the Caps went on a run right after the trade, winning 5 of 7 games, with the 1 being a tie. They got their season back on track, but ran out of steam as they chased that elusive playoff berth, falling just short as mentioned.

For DC United, they ended up only using Rochat in 5 games, as they were in the midst of a historically bad season. They ended 2013 with 3 victories (16 points), from 34 games, one of the worst seasons in MLS history. Rochat played in one of those 3 victories, helping DC pick up a rare clean sheet that season with his veteran presence. He was only with DC for a month, as they looked to get some good experience for a squad that clearly needed some influence in that regard.

It was a month after acquiring Rochat that DC made their big coup, when the MLS Summer Transfer Window opened in July. They were able to pick up a cool 500 000$ from Swiss team Young Boys, a huge chunk of change from a European team for a MLS defender. While Rochat had experience in the Swiss League and Ligue 1 prior to coming to MLS, it was still a big surprise to see a 30-year-old moved on for a big price.

This move was a punch in the gut for Caps fans, as it was not hard to imagine them with that cash in their pocket had they waited a month like DC had. They could have used the money to chase some key acquisitions, and they would have cleared the space for Ousted to come in anyway. Ousted came around the same time Rochat was sold, so waiting would have likely had no influence on the move. The Rochat transfer also nullified the conditional pick that DC sent to Vancouver, as Rochat moving on did not allow him to reach the conditions required to send the pick over. DC definitely did not care about that, as the MLS SuperDraft has traditionally been a real crapshoot that more often than not ends up just filling up MLS team benches and USL affiliates.

To make matters worse for Vancouver, the one draft pick they did end up getting for Rochat ended up being a bust as well, as they drafted young 21-year-old American Forward Kay Banjo with the 2015 second round pick, but they did not end up signing him to an MLS contract. The Caps did draft Tim Parker in the first round that draft, as well as Spencer Richey in the third, but it would have been nice to add to those two with a good pick in the second. It’s surprising they were not able to at least get a first round pick in the original trade, since Rochat clearly had some value, which would have given them a better chance to acquire some MLS level talent.

Rochat still showed he had decent ability at the top level, helping the Young Boys as he filled in mostly at centre back, with some cameos in at left back when necessary. While Young Boys did not win any trophies in the 4 seasons we was there (2013-2017), they became relevant in Europe again, becoming perennial Europa League participants. Rochat managed to pick up 4 goals over those 4 seasons, decent for a 5 foot 11 centre back who was in his 30s, which also shows how good he was at scoring goals for a defender. He provided veteran experience for a squad that needed some, which makes you wonder what could have been had the Caps kept him.

Rochat moved on to a second division Swiss side after his tenure with Young Boys, featuring for FC Lausanne-Sport. He only stayed a year, before announcing his retirement last July, at the age of 35. It was the end of a solid career, as he played with some good clubs, and had two Swiss Championships from earlier in his career.

Today:

The trade ended up ending poorly for Vancouver, as the draft picks being busts and DC ended up making a lot of money off of Rochat. The only positive Vancouver can take is that they freed up space to bring in David Ousted, but they could have done that had they kept Rochat and sold him like DC eventually did. Ousted is no longer with Vancouver, as they moved on from him early 2018, which pretty much ended their link to this trade.

On DC’s end, Rochat did not end up providing much on the field, due to only playing 5 games, but the money they made off him was rather impressive. They went on to somehow win the US Open Cup that season, as they swept their way through that Cup Competition, but it was an otherwise terrible season for them. The cash allowed them to be aggressive in the offseason, as they brought in Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola and Kofi Opare to shore up some holes as they attempted to rebuild. They did pretty well considering they only ended up giving a pretty useless 2nd round pick for what essentially was 500 00$. This move was also likely the reason the Caps made sure they added sell-on clauses and got more in return the next few times they traded players within the league, avoiding a repeat of what had happened with this one.

Verdict: 1/10 (Caps got fleeced, Ousted saves this a bit)

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