While it is more Throwback Thursday than Wayback Wednesday this week, here is another edition of our column where we take a look back at transactions made by the Vancouver Whitecaps, and thanks to the beauty of hindsight, we get to analyze them. Prior editions can be found here, with a special Canadian edition we did here.
In this edition, in honour of the MLS Transfer Window kicking off two days ago on July 9th, with the Whitecaps desperately needing another midfielder or two, we take a look at one of the flashiest to ever play for the club, Chilean Pedro Morales. While he could be best described as “moody” at times, when he was in the mood it certainly helped the Whitecaps succeed, as he helped them to some of their finest moments in history. Here is a look back at the man they signed from Malaga back in 2014.
Signing Breakdown: February 28th, 2014, the Vancouver Whitecaps sign Pedro Morales on a DP contract, bringing in the Chilean from Spanish La Liga side Malaga.
When Pedro Morales was brought in on a free contract to become the Vancouver Whitecaps third DP for the 2014 season, the transfer brought on a lot of praise from many parties, as the Caps had appeared to have found a diamond in the rough number 10, taking advantage of an impending relegation from Malaga, who may have been desperate to sell Morales due to his low playtime and higher salary that season. After losing Camilo Sanvezzo that 2013-2014 offseason, it gave hope to Vancouver fans that some of the 22 goals lost from the Brazilian’s hasty exit to Queretaro could indeed be replaced. With Carl Robinson entering his first season in charge, it appeared that he had a decent assembly of players that could make a run at the playoffs, as he did well to find value in some of his off-season acquisitions, doing well with the reported 2.5 million dollar windfall the Camilo saga granted him.
By acquiring Steven Beitashour, Matias Laba, Nico Mezquida and Morales, the Caps appeared to make a huge step forward, as they looked to make the playoffs for the second time in their history. Having just missed out by 3 points the year prior, they looked capable to make the step forward in 2014, becoming a contender in MLS. With Morales, a true number 10, leading the way offensively, the Caps appeared to be in decent hands.
They started the season very bright, with Morales coming off the bench to provide a goal and a assist in his debut, helping fire the home crowd up as the Caps kicked things off with an emphatic 4-1 win over MLS stalwarts, the New York Red Bulls. It was an emphatic start to the season, quickly making fans forget the ghosts of Camilo, as the new team they had assembled appeared to have a dynamic edge to it offensively, as shipping 4 past New York is never an easy task.
They stumbled a bit after the opener, however, and after the first 8 games, they had 2W-4L-2D (8 points), which was a decent haul, but quite disappointing considering their first match. They were clearly a decent team, they just needed to make that next step.
There were a few things that happened in that eighth game of the season, which was an exciting 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake. Firstly, it was the last start of Kenny Miller’s Vancouver Whitecaps career, as he would soon leave the club by “mutual termination”, putting an end to the DP striker’s rather underwhelming term with the Caps. Secondly, after he came off the pitch, the Caps found a new life, as they were down 2-0 in the 67th minute, and they found 2 goals in the 86th and 94th minute to tie up the game, courtesy of substitute Nico Mezquida and the mercurial Sebastian Fernandez.
Those two things would be huge for the Caps, as the departure of Kenny Miller would get rid of a huge lineup question for Robinson, as he had experimented with 4-3-1-2 that would get Morales and Miller on the pitch together while including Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh as well. Instead, he shifted to a 4-2-3-1, which would soon become the staple of his 4-year reign, as it was suited well to his more defensive style while allowing freedom for Morales, as well as giving space for speedsters Manneh, Mattocks and Erik Hurtado to run.
The first game in that formation came May 3rd, as the Caps took on San Jose at BC Place. With Morales in the 10 spot, Mattocks ahead of him, Sebastian Fernandez and Manneh on either side of him and Gershon Koffie and Matias Laba below him, the Caps had appeared to finally find their lineup. And it showed. They dominated the first half, scoring 3 goals in 20 minutes and cruising to the finish line, winning 3-2 after San Jose picked up a penalty and a late goal, as they tried their best to break Vancouver’s resounding lead. Morales had two goals, including a stunning strike from 25 yards out, as he appeared to have his breakout game that most fans were waiting for since the first match. In those 6 since the New York game, he hadn’t scored or picked up any assists, so these goals did a lot to quell a few anxious fans. With Kenny Miller officially announcing his departure the next day, Morales was going to be relied on heavily for the rest of the season.
And he lived up to expectations, as the San Jose game kicked off a stunning next 26 games for the Chilean, as including said San Jose game, he scored 9 goals and 9 assists, helping lead the Caps to a 12W-8L-14D record (50 pts), finishing 5th in the West. While the number of draws they had can certainly be chalked up as concerning, the fact that they only lost 8 times out of 34 is pretty impressive. While their Canadian Championship campaign was certainly a disappointment, as they lost on penalties to Toronto in the semis, they had high hopes heading into the postseason.
With a couple of new mid-season signings, including Kendall Waston and Mauro Rosales, Vancouver appeared in good hands heading into the playoffs, where a date with Dallas loomed in the conference quarter-finals.
And what a match it was. While the result eventually went Dallas’s way, via a controversial penalty decision from referee Mark Geiger, Vancouver put up a great fight, coming back from down 1-0 to tie things up in the 65th minute, before the penalty happened in the 85th. They had a lot of great chances and did better than most would have expected from them down in one of the toughest stadiums in MLS, giving fans hope for 2015.
When Morales would end up winning MLS newcomer of the year that Winter, as his 10 goal+10 assist was judged to be the best debut season in MLS that 2014 year, Vancouver appeared to be in great hands for next year. With Kendall Waston announcing himself to Vancouver faithful (despite the handball in Dallas), with moments like his goal against Colorado, as well as the growth and continuation of many prospects, it was expected that Vancouver take a huge step forward in 2015.
And what a jump forward they had. Thanks to many key additions, including Octavio Rivero, Pa Modou Kah, Christian Techera and Robert Earnshaw, the Caps had the best season in their history, finishing 2nd in the West and 3rd overall, clinching a bye to the Conference semis, which meant their first-ever home playoff game, as well as qualifying to the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time thanks to their historic first-ever Canadian Championship win that August. While the Group Stage portion of their inaugural Champions League run that fall was underwhelming, with Vancouver finishing at the bottom of their 3 team group, they were heading into the playoffs on a high.
With Rivero scoring 10G+3A, Morales picking up 6G and 4A, Manneh with 7G+6A and Techera with 7G+5A, Vancouver had a balanced attack, backed up by the league-leading defence, as Jordan Harvey, Pa Modou Kah, Kendall Waston, Steven Beitashour, David Ousted, Gershon Koffie and Matias Laba proved to be an intimidating back 4 plus midfield shield, as well as Ousted being among the best at his position in Between The Sticks (™). It was an impressive season for the Caps, and they had plenty of hope heading into their semi-final clash against Portland.
But, despite all the positives in their favour, the one thing that people had questioned Vancouver of all season, which was their lack of a game-breaking goal scorer, came back to haunt them, as they failed to score in either leg, as Portland advanced to the final 4 with a 2-0 aggregate victory. It was heartbreaking for Vancouver, as their incredible season came to an underwhelming end. With Portland going on to win the 2015 MLS Cup, it was easy to imagine the Caps, maybe led by Morales, Koffie or someone in the Captain’s armband, lifting that Cup instead, making it tough to stomach, on top of the fact that Portland is also a strong rival as well.
It would be the beginning of the end for Morales as well, as he had just started to get hit with the injury bug that 2015 season. In 2016, he had an injury-plagued campaign, as he struggled with fitness, despite scoring a team-leading 9 goals. He only added 4 assists and struggled to find a consistent spot in the lineup. After starting so bright for the Caps, it was tough to watch as he seemed to lack that same spark he had the past two seasons.
It all came to a head at the end of the 2016 campaign, when two of the biggest leaders on the Caps, Morales and Ousted, got into a training fight, as they exchanged plenty of words as well as engaged into a bit of a physical confrontation, with Ousted calling out Morales for his lack of effort that second half of the season.
With Morales having seemingly checked out mentally before that incident, his reaction after suggested that his time at the club was slowly coming to the end. Instead of owning up to the conflict, as Ousted did, he hid away, surprising considering his presence as the Caps Captain.
So when his contract option was not picked up at the end of the season, it was not a surprise for many. While it was sad to see the man who had captured hearts in 2014 and 2015 leave the club, it appeared that his time had come to do so, so it was best to move on, as Vancouver had a lot of restructuring to do after a poor season both offensively and defensively for the club.
From there on, it’s been a rough fall from grace for the Chilean, who moved to Colo-Colo in the Chilean first division for 2017, where he played a forgettable half-dozen or so games before moving on to Universidad de la Concepcion in the same division for the 2018 season. He only scored 1 goal total across both seasons, a forgettable tally for a man who debuted in MLS with a 10G+10A tally, a true mark only reached by top players.
Looking back, it was a tough breakup between the two sides, as Morales fell off hard the last few seasons, and didn’t even get any games at his last club, UdeConce, before becoming a free agent the past winter, while Vancouver has struggled to find a number 10 in the 3 seasons since, with their attack lacking the kind of midfielder that Morales was, someone who liked to pull the strings, while banging in a few himself.
It was still a great two seasons and a half with the Chilean, all on a free transfer, so it gives hope for fans hoping that Marc Dos Santos is able to bring in a ball-carrying midfielder to this edition of the Caps, who desperately need one. While it would be nice to clone that 2014 edition of Morales, there are surely a few diamonds in the rough around the world, who carry value but are underappreciated, much like Morales was at his old situation in Malaga, who the Caps could pick up. It was too bad how he seemed to lose the fire that guided him in both 2014 and 2015 at that tail-end of 2016, but looking back it was a good couple of years for Vancouver, as they look to return to those heights under Dos Santos, albeit playing nicer fundamental football.
Verdict: 8/10 (Sour ending, but those first two seasons were great)