Tools of the Trade: Some ways the Vancouver Whitecaps may try to improve from within MLS

As the Whitecaps look to build for 2020, we look at some of the ways they may try to improve their team from within MLS, as they get creative on the route to making this side a playoff team next season. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps have just begun what is expected to be a relatively busy offseason, with many holes still left yet to be filled as they look to rebuild their squad ahead of 2020. While it won’t be as busy as last year’s offseason, where they had to make a roster pretty much from scratch with only 7 players staying on after 2018, they still have an arduous task ahead of them.

A look at their team shows where the most pressing needs are. As we saw last week, Marc Dos Santos is looking to bring in at least 1 player per line of the field, adding up to a total of around 6 to 8 players. While it’s expected more is going to be added to those forward and midfield lines than to the backline, it’s now going to be interesting to see where those players come from, with Dos Santos having plenty of different avenues of player acquisition ahead of him.

While the biggest Whitecap needs, a DP or TAM level striker, winger and/or midfielders, will likely come from abroad, the Caps still have a lot to play around from within MLS. With a High MLS Super Draft pick (4th), a good amount of tradeable assets and some space, Vancouver should be fairly busy on that front. Given that their MVP from last season, Max Crepeau, was acquired via a December trade, they know the value that moves within MLS can bring to fill in the cracks around the big-name stars. An Olivier Giroud or a Lucas Cavallini may bring goals and pedigrees to the Whitecaps if they came, but acquiring a good MLS level player through a trade or a draft pick will make life a lot easier for Dos Santos and his team.

With that in mind, here are some of the MLS-related avenues the Caps will look to take advantage of this winter, as they look to restock their cupboard ahead of 2020. While they won’t rely on these routes to lockdown any top-level MLS talent, if they can replicate something like what happened in Minnesota this past year, as the Loons got great value this year from acquired pieces Ike Opara, Chase Gaspar and Ozzie Alonso, the Caps will be on a good path towards success.

MLS Super Draft:

Jake Nerwinski was drafted by the Caps in 2017 (Keveren Guillou)

As we saw when we looked at Dos Santos’s comments from the last training session before the end of the season,  the Caps are looking at possibly unearthing some value from this pick, as they have a top 4 selection in hand. While it doesn’t seem like they can do much from first glance, with the draft slowly losing the shine it once had, there can still be some gems available. Players drafted in the last 5 years like Julian Gressel, Mason Toye, Cyle Larin and Lalas Abubakar suggest that top-end MLS talent can be available early on in the draft, but even picking up a player like the Caps very own Jake Nerwinski, who’s been a solid MLS starter for 3 years now, will help Vancouver improve their roster for next season.

While each draft class is different, as it’s unsure how strong this 2020 crop of rookies will be, there still seems to be the potential for decent talent to be unearthed season after season. As seen by our friends over at 86forever , each year has seemed to produce a handful of studs and capable depth, which the Caps would be currently ecstatic to add, given their roster needs.

86Forever also did some research on possible draft picks, and since we’re not as versed in the college game, it’s something worth checking out, as they outline some possible names that Vancouver may have their eye on in January. 

As also seen by the list below, there is definitely good players to be had at and after that 4th spot, so it’s now just up to Vancouver to unearth some of those players that can make a difference for this team. Dos Santos and his scouting staff have surely been looking at a few names to select around that spot, so now it’s to wait and see how good the pick exactly ends up being. 

Notable Names Drafted 4th-10th, 2015-2019:

Andre Shinyashiki, 5th spot, Colorado, 2019

Chris Mueller, 6th Spot, Orlando, 2018

Mason Toye, 7th spot, Minnesota, 2018

Brandon Bye, 8th spot, New England, 2018

Jeremy Ebobisse, 4th spot, Portland, 2017

Lalas Abubakar, 5th spot, Colombus, 2017

Jackson Yueill, 6th spot, San Jose, 2017

Jake Nerwinski, 7th spot, Vancouver, 2017

Julian Gressel, 8th spot, Atlanta, 2017

Brandon Vincent, 4th spot, Chicago, 2016

Fabian Herbers, 6th spot, Philadephia, 2016

Richie Laryea, 7th spot, Orlando, 2016

Tsubasa Endoh, 9th spot, Toronto, 2016

Fatai Alashe, 4th spot, San Jose, 2015

Nick Besler, 5th spot, Portland, 2015

Moves within MLS:

PC in action against Kansas City in July (Bryan Woodward)

This avenue offers up a lot of potential for the Caps, especially around that December window, where teams are allowed to trade for a short period ahead of the opening of the January transfer market. When the window opened last year, the Caps were able to bring in PC, Zac MacMath, Max Crepeau and Andy Rose, supplementing their roster with a good assembly of depth. While Rose and PC won’t exactly inspire a positive reaction from Vancouver fans, they were solid roster players for this squad, and are far from the reason the Caps finished 2nd-last in MLS. 

With plenty of tradeable assets heading into this offseason, and some space to get things done, the Caps will surely bring in a couple of names in via this route, complementing their current squad. Given the list of players that could be moved on if Dos Santos sees an upgrade, the Caps will surely make some noise in December, as they could probably add a good midfielder or forward via this route.

Tradeable assets:

Fredy Montero, 32 years old, Striker, 32 apps (2019)

Yordy Reyna, 26 years old, Forward, 25 apps

Russell Teibert, 26 years old, Midfielder, 27 apps

Jake Nerwinski, 25 years old, Right Back, 26 apps

Doneil Henry, 26 years old, Centre Back, 25 apps

Zac MacMath, 28 years old, Goalkeeper, 8 apps

GAM/TAM

*note, this is not saying they will or should be traded, but these would be the likeliest to move if one arose

Allocation Process:

Speaking of trades, one underrated aspect to watch out for in terms of Vancouver acquiring talent will be through the Allocation order, with the Whitecaps currently sitting 6th. With the assets they do have, they could easily move up to 1st with a trade, especially if a couple of teams already use their slots up before the Caps even want to. 

For those unsure of what the Allocation process is, it’s a list of all the MLS teams ranked in special priority order, with the highest-ranked team able to have the first selection on a special group of players. That group is former MLS players that were transferred outwards for a fee, or all US Men’s national team players, making up a group of around 20 players that requires the use of this special process to bring them back into the league.

While a lot of the names are unrealistic, such as Christian Pulisic and Alphonso Davies, there are some quality players for the Caps to realistically unearth, such as Yashmir Yotun or Fabian Castillo. Including those 2, here are 5 names that the Whitecaps could possibly pursue:

The list: https://www.mlssoccer.com/allocation

Fabian Castillo

The Colombian was electric during his time in MLS, putting up 34 goals and 28 assists, as he offered an exciting wing presence for FC Dallas. It was no surprise when he transferred to Turkey to join Trabzonspor early in 2017, as he finally made his big move abroad, but he recently returned stateside to play in Liga MX. He joined Tijuana for over 2 million dollars in 2018, before getting loaned out to Queretaro in 2019, where he currently is slated to stay until July of next year. 

With an estimated market value of around $2 million, and at 27 years old, he might be the kind of piece the Caps could spend a little extra on, provided they carefully navigate to make sure he doesn’t trend into DP territory. It’s very unlikely he moves from Mexico, but he and Michaell Chirinos would be a far cry from the early days of 2019, with PC and Lucas Venuto starting on the wing for Vancouver. 

Yoshimar Yotun

This move would be very unlikely, with the Peruvian expected to cost more than $5 million considering he moved for $4 million to Cruz Azul in January, and has only played well since. A deeper-lying midfielder, the Peruvian international would add strong defensive ability to the Whitecaps midfield, along with good passing. This one would probably tread into DP territory, however, so this move would only likely being remotely possible for Vancouver if some of the MLS spending rules change in the new CBA. 

Mauro Diaz

As all the others would be, Diaz would be a complicated move, but as an attacking midfielder, he fits exactly what the Whitecaps need. With 23 goals and 31 assists in his time in MLS, as well an average of 2.2 key passes and 1.6 successful dribbles over 6 seasons in North America, he was electric for Dallas. He left on bad terms, making a hasty exit to Dubai, but at 28, he should still have a good amount in the tank. With a market value of around 1 million dollars, his fee wouldn’t break the bank, so he could very well be a viable option to fill the Whitecaps hole at the #10. 

Erick Torres:

Still only 26, Torres announced himself to MLS at a young age, banging in goals for Chivas USA, before doing the same with Houston. A streaky striker, he never seemed to live up to the hype he had, but he was still a solid goalscorer in MLS. He’s currently at Tijuana, in Liga MX, where he hasn’t made much of a difference, so maybe an MLS return is in the cards. 

But with his low value, and his slowly declining performances, he might not be worth targeting for the Caps, as they could likely just acquire a similar player from within MLS. With some of the other names in the Allocation list bringing a little more thunder, he just doesn’t seem like one they would target through this process. 

Andy Najar

The Honduran left MLS a long time ago, transferring to Anderlecht in 2013, but he remains on the allocation list. At 26, he is still young enough, and as a right back/right midfielder, he could fill some positions of need for the Whitecaps. With a value of around 3 million, he wouldn’t be cheap, but he could add to the Caps Honduran connection, provided they do keep Chirinos. 

The only concern, however, is injury-wise, as Najar currently recovers from a knee injury. As seen with Venuto last year for the Caps, those can affect players, so there could certainly be some buyer beware factor there. 

Looking Forward:

It’s unlikely the Caps make much of a splash through the allocation order, as there needs to be an interest from the players to return, while also finding a fee that works for both sides, but there could be some interesting names to look at there. With the Caps sitting in good position in the order, and with several assets to move up quite easily if they see someone worth pursuing, they are in good position to pounce if the opportunity presents itself.

And that goes with several of the other avenues available to them. The Whitecaps have enough assets to make some noise through a trade, a high enough draft pick to try and pick up some quality level talent and space to at least make a move or two. While their biggest needs will need to be filled from abroad, most particularly a big-name talent and a few higher-end (but cheap) talent from less regarded leagues, finding some good MLS players from inside the league will expedite their rebuild. 

As seen over in Minnesota, complementing those big-name signings with some MLS Draft Picks, Free Agents and trades will do that for you, so now up to see how Vancouver fares in that regard. With hopes of 2020 playoffs in their mind, it will be crucial for them to do so, as they look to return to the dance for the first time since 2017.