After a slow start to the MLS transfer window, Marc Dos Santos and the Vancouver Whitecaps got some work done this past week, as they work to turn around a struggling outfit.
Things got started early in the week, with the news that goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau had signed a contract extension on Monday, keeping Vancouver’s star goalie this season in the fold until at least 2022.
The ball kept rolling, with the Caps announcing on Thursday that winger Lucas Venuto’s contract had been terminated, freeing up the Brazilian to return home to play (reportedly) with famed club Santos. They also made another move that morning as well, with 16-year-old academy goalkeeper Chitiru Odunze making a move to Premier League side Leicester City FC.
Things continued into Friday, with reports coming out in the morning that the Caps had already found their Venuto replacement, bringing in Honduran winger Michaell Chirinos into the fold. The move appeared to be confirmed as of late Friday, with Honduran media outlets reporting the winger had departed his club, CD Olimpia, to fly to Vancouver and make the move official by Monday.
Lastly, they did some much-needed reshuffling on the footballing side of operations, with TSN Radio’s Peter Schaad reporting that the Caps had brought in 3 scouts, with a head of recruitment to be added in the near-future, as well as possibly some more scouts.
While this move was certainly expected to come at some point, it was still a shock to wake up Monday to the news of Crepeau’s new contract, with the timing coming as a bit of a surprise. It was a welcome shock, however, with MDS and the Caps keeping the Canadian International in the fold for the considerable future.
“Well, I don’t think it’s a surprise for the people that follow the club,”. Dos Santos said Tuesday. “Since day 1, he arrived at the club with a mission. He arrived very ready for preseason, he arrived with the mentality of this is my big chance, I have to take it, and even in a difficult season, he’s shown a lot. Usually, goalkeepers don’t show a lot when it’s difficult, it goes (down) in a negative spiral, but he’s stayed on course”
It was one of Dos Santos’s most shrewd moves over the winter transfer window, as he spotted a goalkeeper that had done well in the USL with Ottawa, but was not getting MLS playing opportunities with parent club Montreal Impact. Dos Santos knew Crepeau from his time back in Montreal, from 2009-2011, so when he saw that he was available, he pounced on the move, bringing him in on the cheap.
It has paid massive dividends for them, with Crepeau performing at a top 10 rate in MLS, being without a doubt the Caps MVP for the season. Only 24, he is still growing, so the sky’s the limit for the man expected to shoulder the load for the Caps the next couple of years, as well as possibly do the same for Canada’s National team going forward.
“It’s something special that I feel inside,” Crepeau said of his new deal. “They brought me here, they trusted me, I trusted them as well, we’re on the same page, when the organization had new staff, they brought new faces including me.”
“I think its building on a new era, finding a new identity of this club, it’s gonna take time, we’ve seen were not at a spot where we’d want to be, we dropped points when we shouldn’t, but this is the first process to build something, and to be here, for the next 4 years, it’s the fact that I want to be part of something better here, and to make the Whitecaps a playoff club every year, go to conference final, go to MLS Cup, live Champions League, lift those cups, that’s my state of mind here”
It’s a move that locks down the Caps goalkeeping situation for the next while, but it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the dominoes shuffle around him, with Sean Melvin yet to get a shot at 25 years of age, and 19-year-old Thomas Hasal looking to be a promising prospect, not to mention veteran Zac MacMath, who has only played a handful of games this season despite 130+ games of MLS experience. While you can never have too many goalkeepers, you’d wonder if one of them would consider moving on to find minutes.
With Chitiru Odunze making a predictable yet disappointing move to Leicester, Vancouver can also feel confident in their ability to grow some more keepers, with their director of their academy goalkeeping, Raegyn Hall, being renown for developing plenty of young Canadiang goalie talents, so there may be something brewing yet to come. Odunze was a shrewd acquisition two years ago by the academy, and it will pay dividends with the Caps retaining a sell-on fee with his move, so it’s definitely a position to feel comfortable with for the future.
In a move that came as a pretty big surprise to some, Lucas Venuto’s contract was terminated on Wednesday, freeing up the Brazilian winger to make a move home to Santos. While he was often a favoured whipping boy on Twitter, due to his inability to convert the many chances he would create, the rate with which he created them always suggested that there was potential for something greater, but if it ever comes it will not be with the Caps.
“We are thankful to Lucas for his commitment to the club while he was with us,” said Dos Santos in a press release. “The timing of this move provides Lucas the best opportunity to continue his career closer to home, while it gives us additional roster flexibility for the remainder of this season and future years.”
The move also came as a surprise mostly not because of the departure itself, but because he was one of the only players the Caps paid a fee to bring in last offseason, meaning most people thought he would stick around until at least next year. It was a curious decision by the Caps to even pay a fee at the time, with most of their players being risk-free loans with options to buy, avoiding too much permanent investment into a group of relatively unknown quantities. But with reports out of Brazil suggesting that Venuto had a built-in clause in his contract specifically for Brazilian teams, it makes sense that they were willing to invest money into him, knowing they had a possible out.
It would have been nice to see what the 24-year-old could have done next season, with all the flashes he showed, but it’ll be a great opportunity for him to move back home, with his wife and newborn son in tow. While the Caps look foolish for having invested nearly half a million on acquiring his rights and signing him, they in the end made a good human decision, so maybe they’ll get some good karma off the move in the future.
Chirinos comes to town:
Another added intricacy to the Venuto move was that it would leave Vancouver ridiculously short on winger depth, with PC and Lass Bangoura being the only two natural wingers in a squad that has favoured the 4-3-3 for most of the season. Because of that, it was expected a new winger would come into the fold, and that happened less than 2 days later, with Honduran international Michaell Chirinos all but becoming a Whitecap on Friday, as he left his club Olimpia to fly to Vancouver and finalize the move.
Chirinos is an intriguing pickup for the Caps, who have struggled to put the ball in the net all season. While he is not expected to come in and light the world on fire in that regard, he is a good creator, loving to get to the middle of the field and run at guys, opening up space for his teammates.
While it’s hard to project how stats from the Honduran league can translate over to MLS, he comes from the same club as Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, a pair of wingers that have done very well in MLS. While Elis made the move over a lot younger than Chiniros will, Quito came over at 24, the same age as Chiniros. Quito has averaged 5-6 goals a season in MLS, as well as around 5 assists, which would be good production from Chiniros considering he likely projects to be a cheap TAM winger.
He had a good loan stint with Lobos in Liga MX last year, scoring 6 times over 33 games on a relegation-starved outfit, which at the very least should prepare him for the current Vancouver side. While he won’t be leading the team to future glories on his own, he appears to be a good support piece going forward.
While it is unclear who the new scouts are, and the head of recruitment has yet to be announced, the progress Vancouver has made in that area can certainly be seen as positive. While the fruit of their labour will unlikely to be seen until the offseason, when they’ll have 4-5 months of experience and data to start pursuing their guys, the fact that they finally got that house in order can at least give slight optimism to fans.
But until then, Vancouver will continue to work, with a week left in this window. They have a vision in mind, and are building a nucleus of guys in and around their early-to-mid 20s, with Chrinos adding to that mix. While the Chirinos move was yet to happen at that point, Dos Santos touched on it earlier on in the week, as he knows that guys in that age group can give results now while growing for the future.
“You look at the ages of guys like Max, like Doneil (Henry) or Erik (Godoy), In Beom (Hwang),” Dos Santos said Tuesday. “It’s all guys that aren’t even 26, so it’s a young core of players that can give you stability in the future”
And they’re not done yet. While it would be a big surprise if a huge impact player is added this window, they are still looking at a couple of guys to supplement their squad. Dos Santos is being prudent in who he acquires, but with things starting to fall in place on the football operations side of things, things are surely looking up for him heading into a crucial end of summer and winter window, as he has this last week and the next window to bring in guys before he faces heavy judgement next season.
“There are 2-3 guys that were actively pursuing, and we’re not sure that it could happen in this window,” Dos Santos finished that day. “I hope with all my heart that it could happen this window, because it would help a group of guys and players that I love and I believe in, but also a group of players that needs help and some bodies.
“That helps a team moving forward and you’ve seen it in many cases of teams in MLS, now if its just gonna be a move to do a move, a move to create an impact it won’t, because that move lasts one day because it’s a new face, then I’m not going to do that. You can’t say Marc’s not doing it, it’s a club decision moving forward that we have to be good with”
Chirinos is just the start, now it’s time to see what the rest of the falling dominoes will be for these Caps.