David Norman Jr trade a curious case of asset management for Whitecaps

The longtime Whitecaps academy product was moved on earlier this week, opening up several questions of asset management and youth development. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps made a surprising move earlier this week, moving on from longtime academy product David Norman Jr, cutting ties with the 21-year-old midfielder. What seemed like a good move at first, with Canadian Premier League side Pacific FC originally announcing that Norman Jr had joined their ranks on loan for the rest of 2019, quickly evaporated when the Whitecaps announced later in the day that Norman was also moved to 2020 expansion side Inter Miami CF as part of this string of moves, meaning that Norman Jr will head to South Beach when his loan expires. 

It’s a move that seems strange on many levels, as the Whitecaps got very little in return for Norman Jr, only fetching themselves a conditional 2022 MLS SuperDraft pick, as they gift Miami with a homegrown midfielder at a good price. It also brings up some interesting discussion points heading into the end of the season, with the Caps already playing out the string due to an early elimination from the playoff race, putting them in a “prepare for 2020” mode for the rest of what has been an up and down campaign. 

Asset Management:

The main, and also most perplexing, discussion point arising from the move remains how the Caps have handled their asset management. If they really wanted to move on from Norman Jr for whatever reason, the tail-end of a season where he struggled with injury and inconsistent playing time was not the greatest time for them to do so. Adding salt to the wound is the woeful return, as a future draft pick is probably as close to nothing as you could get in this league. 

A glance at any of the recent drafts suggests that drafting game-breakers is unlikely, as it is mostly used to supplement teams rosters with 19 to 23-year-olds that are usually already pretty developed, basically meaning that at worst, they are always useful depth. Norman Jr is a 21-year-old midfielder that has shown to be a solid defensive stopper in his position, and while he has yet to feature in MLS play, he certainly fits the description of useful depth, with potential for more still very possible at his young age. So what does this move suggest? That the Caps traded Norman Jr for someone that will likely be around the same age as Norman Jr, and given the trend of the Super Draft these past few years, they will be hoping that the player they draft is someone like……David Norman Jr. 

Adding to the intricacies of the move is the emotional connection that exists, as  Norman Jr is as close to born-and-bred Whitecaps as you can get. With his father, David Norman Sr, a fan favourite in the club for his play back in the old NASL days roaming the Caps midfield, Norman Jr grew up loving his local team. He loves the team, has supported the team for a long time, and he wanted so badly to succeed in Vancouver. Last year, even though he was playing regularly at Scottish second division side Queen of the South, starting to find some good progress in his game during his loan stint there, he cut things short to return and fight for his spot with the Caps, a mark of his dedication to the blue and white. 

So given the connection, the return and the injuries, it seems curious that the Caps went for this move. If the Caps really wanted to move on from him, either playing him a bunch in these last few games or loaning him out and then selling him would have been better than selling low as they did. But even then, given his struggles with injuries this year, it would have maybe been good to get an evaluation of what they had in him because even if he doesn’t end up fitting into the way Marc Dos Santos plays, he could certainly be a valuable squad player for Vancouver. Given that he is on a homegrown contract, which is basically as good of a deal for squad players as you can find in MLS, he could have at least been a good option to be a back up for whoever Dos Santos’s preferred first choice ends up being, while still limiting the strain on the Caps Salary Cap situation. 

Youth Development:

David Norman Jr in action at training (Keveren Guillou)

The move also represents another blow for the “Play Your Kids” movement in Vancouver, as Norman Jr represents yet another name to slip through the cracks for the Whitecaps, as the lack of second-team continues to loom large. We’ve been pushing the idea for a while now, but it also continues to show the gap created by them having a lack of a second team playing in an established league, with Norman just being the latest casualty of that. 

Had the Caps had a second-team in a more developed league, Norman Jr would have certainly benefited from it, as he could have continued to season himself ahead of receiving regular MLS minutes. Given that he won the 2017 Whitecaps II player of the year back in the last season that they last had a second team, it gives a good example of the kind of value those teams could provide, as it gave him a springboard to earning his first MLS deal. Had the team continued to have existed, allowing him playing time when the minutes didn’t come at the MLS level, maybe he would have been starting in the heart of Vancouver’s midfield today, and even if he wasn’t, surely some other youngster would have benefitted from the set-up. 

And, despite all that, the Caps had a good opportunity to evaluate Norman in these next few games. With 4 matches remaining, despite their playoff elimination, those games essentially represent a free chance to evaluate players at what should still be a good level of play, as they take on teams in the thick of the playoff race. Hopefully they can still take advantage of it, with other prospects such as Michael Baldisimo, Georges Mukumbilwa and Simon Colyn all still with the team, but we’ll find out if they do so soon. The success of Theo Bair has shown that the Caps do have a plan for their kids, and if any of the others come close to that level everyone be happy, but given this junction that they find themselves at, it may be time to loosen up the reigns for the rest of 2019. 

The future:

Norman Jr will finish off the campaign on the island, before making his move south over the winter. It’ll be interesting to see if the Caps can find space for any of the other youngsters in these last 4 games, as the calls for youth continue to grow and grow. Ahead of an offseason where they figure to be active on the transfer market, it may be best to get an early evaluation of the youngsters that they currently have in their squad, as competition for places next year is expected to be intense. The Norman Jr move will loom large over the Caps for the rest of the year and beyond, as if he moves on and proves to have a successful stint elsewhere, it will be another example of youth finding the grass greener on the other side, which won’t sit well with some folk. Given that the Caps can field a pretty impressive squad of young players playing in leagues such as the CPL, they may just have a strong leg to stand on in that regard. 

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