The Vancouver Whitecaps kicked off their offseason with their first slate of roster moves, with some key names sticking around for next year, while others will now have to seek new employment with other clubs.
While the Vancouver Whitecaps are just beginning their long winter offseason period, they wasted no time in starting things off in a hurry, announcing that they had picked up contract options on Yordy Reyna, Jake Nerwinski and Tosaint Ricketts, while also announcing that some other players had left the club.
With the Caps declining options on Sean Melvin, Brendan McDonaugh and Scott Sutter, while opting not to renew the contract of Brett Levis, and not electing to purchase loanees Lass Bangoura and Joaquin Ardaiz, it currently leaves them with 18 players under contract for the 2020 season.
This depth chart is not completely accurate, however, with the Whitecaps also confirming that they are still in negotiations with Doneil Henry, PC, Michaell Chirinos and Erik Godoy, which you’d figure all return next year. That would push the Caps up to 22 players on their roster, which probably leaves room for 6-8 signings, with 30 being the maximum amount of players permitted on the MLS roster.
With the announced moves in mind, let’s look at the options both picked up and declined, as well as look forward a bit to what can be expected in the transfer window.
Jake Nerwinski staying is a no brainer, especially with the departure of Scott Sutter, as Nerwinski will for now fight with Georges Mukumbilwa for a starting spot. Unless the Caps pursue a massive upgrade at right back, or Nerwinski ends up traded for some offensive help, expect him on the roster in 2020.
A bit surprising at first glance, this move ultimately makes sense when considering the big picture, especially with Ricketts having a strong audition to end the campaign. He’s cheap, only costing 70k this year (probably won’t be more than 150k), and brings veteran experience, having won the MLS Cup with Toronto in 2017. His teammates seem to like him, MDS is a fan of his work rate, and he has shown to be good as both a starter and a substitute. With the Caps constantly being linked with some big-money names up front, he would be a good depth piece and will continue to provide good mentorship for Theo Bair, making it a win-win for the Caps.
Given that he is a valuable player that doesn’t breach the DP threshold, and that he had a team-option that likely kept him under that number, it makes sense to bring back Reyna. He seems to love the city, and he has put in some solid performances for the Caps, becoming a fan favourite in YVR. The only question, however, is where he will lineup next season. More comfortable through the middle, it looks like his only chance to play there would come in a formation change, with Marc Dos Santos’s current 4-3-3 favouring him out wide. Considering that he is a bit of a square peg in a round hole out on the wing, many wonder if the Caps will sell high on him, either moving him on for cash or within MLS.
As seen with this chart, in his most recent season, below, he had his lowest Expected Goals (XG) and Expected Assists (XA) per 96 minutes in his time in Vancouver, scoring at nearly double he was expected to. If a move back to the middle was in the cards, it would be less of a concern, but if he stays out wide a regression towards the mean isn’t that inconceivable. It’ll now be interesting to see if MDS and the Caps do sell high on Reyna, or if they stick it out and continue what appears to be a strong relationship between both sides.
-Sean Melvin leaving is no surprise, as the 25-year-old was 4th in the goalkeeper depth chart, and considering he is the same age as starter Max Crepeau, it’ll be a good chance for him to get minutes. Look for him to sign with a side like the Canadian Premier League’s Pacific FC, with the Victoria-born Melvin being a bit too obvious of a link to the Vancouver Island team.
-Brendan McDonaugh is a bit more of a surprise, as he departs the Caps after only a year with the team, half of it spent on loan. He looked good in preseason and in his loan MLS appearance, as his play on the ball was a noticeable asset, but Vancouver doesn’t quite see him in their plans. Look for him to join either a USL or a CPL side, as he looks to keep an upward trajectory heading into his second pro season.
-Brett Levis departs the Caps with only 24 appearances over 4 years, as he was a solid left back, but injuries often tanked his runs of minutes with the team. Only 25, he looks like another likely candidate to head to the CPL, especially with a Saskatchewan team on the way. A proud Saskatonian himself, he would be an easy first signing for them, with the only problem being that they won’t likely kick off until 2021 or 2022. Until then, it seems like he is destined for another CPL side, possibly Pacific or one in the prairies, as he would be a great Canadian star for the league to have.
-Scott Sutter was a noticeable surprise, as he looked good in his appearances out at right-back, and brought a good veteran head to a younger side. He was well-respected among fans and teammates, rooming with In Beom Hwang for this season, while earning praise for his charitable efforts with his “Scott’s Seats” program. It’s unsure where he heads next, with CPL, MLS and USL options surely all available, while retirement could also be a possibility for the 33-year-old.
-Lass Bangoura returns to Rayo Vallecano in Spain after his loan, a move that doesn’t surprise many, with the Guinean unable to find minutes down the stretch. A speedy winger, he had flashes for the Caps, but he couldn’t find consistency, with injuries and form plaguing his season. At 27, it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up next, as he finds himself at a crossroads in his career.
-Joaquin Ardaiz is the last of the 6, and he also finds himself in a unique situation, as he returns to FC Chiasso after his loan. Last in the Swiss 2nd division, they own his rights as they are part of a financial institute investing in players abroad, loaning many of the top young talents they have out. It’s unlikely that Ardaiz, who was playing in the Serie A in Italy only last year, plays a minute for Chiasso, but it’s unsure if he’ll find a move within Europe or move back to North or South America. A talented player, his attitude was a big theme when Dos Santos spoke of him, so that may play a role in the level he ends up at for next season.
With those moves in mind, the Caps will now have to find those last 6-8 players to fill out the roster. With the roster constraints in mind, it appears that 1 will be a DP, 2-4 will TAM players from abroad, and the rest will come from the various MLS mechanisms available. With a high Super Draft pick, a solid depth player should be recouped from that, while Free Agents and Re-Entry Draft selections also provide minimum potential.
The most interesting avenue to monitor, however, will be through trade. With the Caps targeting 1-3 players for each line of the field (forwards, midfielders, defenders), they may need to move out some players within MLS, freeing up space and money for more moves. The likeliest of candidates for a trade looks to be Fredy Montero, Jon Erice, Jake Nerwinski, Zac MacMath and maybe Reyna, who all could fetch some value within MLS. With Vancouver aiming to bring in a bigger-name striker, a couple of wingers, a couple of midfielders and maybe another defender or two as well, those names would definitely help in the pursuit of those targets.
As those dominoes start to fall, it will be interesting to see where MDS places faith in for his 3rd DP spot. With rumours of Lucas Cavallini and Olivier Giroud to come in at striker, it appears that striker is where he wants it, but an attacking midfielder would also be a wise choice. With MDS saying on SN650’s ‘Fine Lines’ over a week ago that the level of DP he’s looking to target is a ‘World Cup Champion’, a type of player like Mario Gotze would be the exact kind of difference-maker the Caps could use, with salary being the only limiting factor at the moment.
With the MLS Cup Playoffs getting underway tomorrow, action will probably quiet down for now, with the much-awaited hiring of a Sporting Director expected to now come in less than a few weeks, as teased by ProSoccerUSA’s Manuel Veth in his soon to be released interview with MDS.
Once that is out of the way, it will give the Caps a couple of weeks to prepare ahead of all the MLS roster movement periods, as well as the opening of the international transfer window, where the moves will start to come hot and heavy. It’s going to be a busy couple of months for the Whitecaps, and now that it’s underway, it’ll be exciting to follow along as they rebuild this side for 2020. After a season with loads of turnover, this new campaign does already look to have some semblance of continuity, so now it’s to see how they combine that continuity with much-needed improvements, as they try to avoid a hat-trick of MLS playoff misses.