After a short break, we are back with another installment of Wayback Wednesday! In this series, we take a look at transactions done by the Vancouver Whitecaps, be it trades, signings or transfers, and what has changed since. In this piece, we take a look at when the ‘Caps traded Steven Beitashour to Toronto.
Back in 2015, Steven Beitashour was a big part of the vaunted Caps defence, the one that conceded the fewest goals in that MLS season, making their back line one to fear across MLS. Thanks to the solidity provided by the Iranian international down the right flank, along with Kendall Waston and Tim Parker/Pa-Madou Kah in the middle, Jordan Harvey at left back and David Ousted in goal, they seemed primed to continue their defensive success going forward. Despite an earlier than expected exit in the 2015 playoffs, they seemed just a few moves away from being a championship team in MLS, as their main issue was on the offensive end of things, as they struggled to score in the big moments. Heading into the 2015-2016 offseason, many expected that if the Caps added some offence to that vaunted defence, that they could be prime contenders for the MLS Cup.
Instead, they shocked a lot of people, as late in 2015 they announced that they had traded Beitashour to cross-continental rivals Toronto FC, as they had declined to pick up his option not long before the move. While it was true that Beitashour was set to be one of the best paid full backs in MLS had they picked up his option (around 220 000$), the Caps could have likely stomached it for a season in order to continue their defensive solidity. Not only that, the return they got was less than stellar, doing little to budge the idea of the Whitecaps being a cheap organization, seemingly giving away a good player for nothing due to salary demands.
Here is the official breakdown of the trade:
Toronto FC receives: Steven Beitashour
Vancouver Whitecaps FC receives: 2nd round MLS SuperDraft Pick (2016)
What made the move so frustrating for many is the low value received in return for a good MLS full back, as the MLS SuperDraft has never been ever to live up to its North American (NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL) counterparts, primarily due to the transfer system established in global soccer. While trading a player of Beitashour’s ilk is never easy, had Vancouver received a higher pick in the draft, or a decent chunk of GAM or TAM, the move may have been better received among Vancouver faithful. Instead, to rub salt into the wound, the player selected with the Draft pick (Christopher Hellman) was not signed by Vancouver, nearly immediately leaving them with nothing to show from the trade. Instead, the Caps were left heading into 2016 with just one full back in their system, the underwhelming Jordan Smith, leaving them in an unnecessarily precarious situation after being in such good hands a few months prior.
They did end up filling that right back position, bringing in Fraser Aird from Rangers FC in Scotland shortly before the season. While acquiring Aird was a good idea to shore up depth at both the full back and winger positions, he was not a natural defender, leaving the Caps to rotate him and the very raw Smith, turning the position from one of strength to one of constant strife. Despite having Waston, Parker, Harvey and Ousted remaining from the season prior, the unnecessary flux at full back came to cost them, as they went from a top defensive team (36 goals conceded) to below average (52 goals conceded), tanking their playoff hopes. While part of it had to do with the issues in the midfield (mentioned in a precedent Wayback Wednesdayhttps://btsvancity.com/2019/04/03/wayback-wednesday-gershon-koffie-to-new-england/) the gaping hole at the right was hard to ignore.
As the Caps toiled through what became a wasted season, Beitashour enjoyed success at Toronto, as they coincidentally went from a poor defensive team (58 goals conceded) without him to a top 3 one with his presence (39 goals conceded), becoming a team to watch in MLS as the electric Sebastian Giovinco, the physical Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and other MLS veterans performed strongly, making the MLS final in 2016, falling to the Seattle Sounders. After a long period of futility in MLS for Toronto, it was a stunning turnaround for the squad, as they had become the talk of the league.
For Vancouver, it was a punch in the gut, as their Toronto rivals had usually been pretty terrible in MLS up to that point, making Vancouver (and to a certain extent, Montreal) the more talked about teams in the league as they achieved success a lot quicker after expansion than Toronto was able to. Due to the size of the Toronto market, and the level of success achieved in 2016, all that changed, relegating Vancouver and Montreal down to second peg once again.
Vancouver was able to finally patch things up defensively in 2017, picking up rookie Jake Nerwinski and MLS veteran Sheanon Williams at right back, shuttling off Aird and Smith after disappointing campaigns. With Parker, Waston, Harvey and Ousted still in tow, they became a lot more efficient team, still holding an average defensive record (49 goals conceded), but becoming a lot more ruthless in matches, picking up results and getting a vaunted home playoff appearance. Unfortunately for them, that would end up being the shining moment of their season, losing early in the playoffs once again, leaving more questions than answers once again for a squad that always seemed to tease being on the cusp of something special.
On the other side of the equation, Beitashour flourished once again, as Toronto became the second-best defensive team in the league (37 goals), winning the Supporters Shield for best regular season team. They then went and took care of business in the playoffs, becoming the first Canadian team to triumph in MLS, with Beitashour playing a big role once more for the team in red. It left the Caps to watch as their rivals one-upped them once again, leaving them to lament what could have been.
After that, Beitashour ended up being a victim of Toronto’s success, as he was poached to join LAFC in the expansion draft, as they elected to construct a solid backline right off the hop in MLS, making them dangerous both ways as Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela did a lot of damage up front. Alongside former Whitecap Harvey, Beitashour once again played a big role in a strong season, with LAFC putting together one of the best expansion debut seasons in MLS history, finishing 3rd in the West and getting upset in the first round, a pretty remarkable run considering the usual futility of MLS debutants. It established themselves as a top MLS team and left Beitashour once again as a key player on a new MLS juggernaut as Toronto floundered in his absence.
Today, LAFC has become the talk of the league, off to a remarkable start in their second season as they look to prove last year was no fluke. While MLS has proven to be unpredictable time and time again, they look to be a heavy favourite to lift the MLS Cup above their head come playoff time. Meanwhile, Vancouver and Toronto are left in mediocrity, as they both face their various issues rebuilding. While they are both on the upswing, they are a far cry from their 2015 (Vancouver) and 2016/2017 (Toronto) glory days.
While Vancouver has changed a lot since then, with Marc Dos Santos giving fans a lot to be excited about with his style of play and charisma, the Beitashour trade was a key point for the franchise. After seemingly reached the cusp of being a top MLS contender, they got rid of one of their key catalysts, leaving their backline in disarray for the seasons after as Carl Robinson was unable to adjust to losing him. It shows the importance of being strong at all positions, as despite having top defenders and a top goalie, the loss of their right back proved to be fatal, as they were unable to properly replace him.
While Beitashour’s success since leaving Vancouver can be partly attributed to having good teams around him in both Toronto and LAFC, he has also proven the importance of making sure your backline is stocked with good players at all positions, as weak links can sink a squad. Vancouver has finally rectified this, with their back 4 of Doneil Henry, Erik Godoy, Ali Adnan and Jake Nerwinski/Scott Sutter being their best iteration since the 2015 days, making it no coincidence to see the Caps defence much improved this season
It also shows why keeping Ali Adnan is so important for the club, as losing him would make them take a big step backwards, leaving them to plug an important position after having had a world-class player fill in for a few months, likely affecting chemistry and future results.
Verdict: 0/10 (Caps once again getting fleeced)