With the transfer of Doneil Henry to the Suwon Samsung Bluewings in Korea now official, we look at how that move impacts the Whitecaps, who continue building their roster for 2020.
It was only 2 years, but boy were they ever memorable.
After rumours had circulated a week prior surrounding the possible transfer of Whitecaps centre back Doneil Henry to an unnamed team in Asia, they made it official on Wednesday, announcing that the Canadian International had transferred to the Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the K-League.
It marks the end of a memorable 2 years back in MLS for Henry, who had what was best described as a whirlwind tenure in the white and blue. From breaking his hand by punching a wall after his ill-fated own goal in the Voyageurs Cup final last year, to scoring a career-high 4 goals this year, Henry has had his fair share of moments worth remembering in Vancouver.
While the incoming transfer fee has yet to have been confirmed, one would figure it has to be a decent lump of cash, after Henry enjoyed a resurgent 2019 campaign. After a rough first year on the West Coast, he stepped things up in a big way this season, becoming a rock on a solid Vancouver backline.
He now makes his way to a Korean giant, as Suwon are only a year removed from a run to the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League, and are considered among one of the better sides in the Korean 1st division. That’s good news for Canadian Men’s National Team fans, as Henry will be playing at a good level, which will aid him as he looks to continue and build off his growth from this season.
For the Whitecaps, the move has helped clear up what was a murky defensive situation, as they look to free up some flexibility to add to other areas of the pitch. With all that in mind, here are how things stand after the move for Vancouver.
What are the ‘Caps losing from Henry?
When watching Henry, a few of his attributes spring to attention nearly right away. He’s an intimidating physical presence, which along with his decent height, makes for a scary sight on aerial balls. In terms of technical ability, he’s capable of playing the ball well with both feet, with the lone complaint being his penchant to sometimes go for the Hollywood long ball pass when it isn’t on.
Along with decent straightaway speed, he definitely had all the tools of a quality centre back. While the toolbox would sometimes get called into question, as he had a penchant for untimely mistakes, he found a way to make them a lot fewer and far between in 2019.
Statistically, he had a solid campaign, putting up a tackle and 1.9 interceptions per game, with the latter statistic ranking him 9th among all MLS centre backs. He also added 5.2 blocks a game (10th in MLS), 1.1 blocks (8th) and only committed 0.4 fouls(3rd) to complete a strong statistical profile.
While it certainly boosted his stats that the Whitecaps often found themselves under siege in games, Henry found a way to look his best in those moments. It’s no coincidence that the Caps fell off defensively in the summer, when he was absent, first with an injury, and then later with National Team duty, as Vancouver just seemed to miss his presence on the pitch.
Why is he leaving?
One might see that statistical profile and wonder: Why are the Caps moving on from him? But, despite the breakout year, there are a multitude of reasons why this move may make sense for Vancouver, as they keep an eye on the longer-term.
Here are some of those reasons why a departure from Henry made sense, even despite the statistical and leadership void he leaves behind.
Centre back depth sorted
With younger centre backs Jhesser Khemiri and Derek Cornelius already inked up for next season, as well as what will look to soon be Erik Godoy joining them, the Caps still have 3 MLS calibre centre backs in the fold. Cornelius stepped up massively in the back half of 2019, establishing himself as a regular for both the Whitecaps and Canada, while Godoy was steady all year long for Vancouver.
Add in the wild card Khemiri, who looks to be fully recovered from a knee injury, and things are looking good for Vancouver at the back. Khemiri’s lone game in 2019, a clash against the high-flying LA Galaxy, showed what he can do on the pitch, even despite looking rusty at times within that 90 minutes of play. With a long offseason of hard work, it’s not hard to imagine that he steps in and forms a quality trio of centre backs with Godoy and Cornelius, giving the Caps flexibility in that area of the pitch.
If they add in a 4th centre back, maybe via the MLS Super Draft or Free Agency, and Vancouver should be confident in their defensive situation for 2020. After a disastrous 2018 season for the backline, it’s good to see that Dos Santos has built back up this part of the pitch back to the level of the 2015-2017 days, which should allow them to compete in the near future.
On the field fit a question mark
Another big point of intrigue surrounding Henry was his fit on the field with the Caps going forward, as while Dos Santos was a fan of his leadership and other attributes, they never seemed to be a stylistic match. With the Caps often playing a low block last year, Henry shone, as he often defends best with the play in front of him.
As the Caps look to continue the shift towards a higher-pressing team, one that looks to be on the front foot at all time, they’ll want defenders that can shift between playing low and high up the pitch. Godoy certainly looked the part, Khemiri can as well (recovery depending), and Cornelius would probably be able to as well. While Cornelius excels in a lower block, he has shown to be very adaptable, so it’s hard to doubt that a Cornelius-Godoy pair that wouldn’t be able to play high up the pitch.
On top of the injury concerns with Henry, who has suffered some bad injuries the past couple of years, moving on now makes sense. He kept a relatively clean bill of health this season, bar a few hamstring issues, but it’s unsure how long that health will keep up, especially with his robust style of play.
Flexibility to pursue other options:
By selling high on Henry, the Whitecaps surely will have received a decent chunk of change, which in turn will give them the option to reinvest in the squad. While Henry didn’t free up an international spot or a DP spot with his departure, he gives the Caps some flexibility by leaving, as he opens up nearly $200 000 in salary. With a raise in line this offseason as both teams still found themselves negotiating numbers, Vancouver saved by moving him out before a potential new contract kicked in, which will allow them to divert those funds in a different direction.
“We worked closely with Doneil and his agent, we explored a number of options, and at this time all parties agreed that this was the best path,” Dos Santos said in a Whitecaps press release. “The General Allocation Money we received from this transfer will provide some additional roster flexibility as we continue to build our roster.”
As they look to upgrade further up the pitch, that flexibility may prove to be key. Godoy figures to command a decent penny, but having Khemiri and Cornelius on a combined $270 k is good business, as that total combined would have likely been less than Henry’s new deal. With a 4th centre back unlikely to cost more than $100 k, they have left a lot of room for money to be pushed into other areas of the squad. Considering that the backline was an area of strength last year, that’s something that Dos Santos and company will be happy to be able to now do.
So what’s next?
Pressing Needs: Box-to-box midfielder, defensive midfielder, striker.
Less pressing needs: Midfield depth, right wing, right back.
Important but should be fine: Backup left back, backup centre back.
Trade Bait: Zac MacMath, Fredy Montero, Jon Erice, Jake Nerwinski, Yordy Reyna
Things remain unclear as for what’s next in Vancouver, as they have yet to bring in any new names, despite the opening of the MLS Trade Window. As indicated by the depth chart above, things remain sorted at the back, with the lone issues presenting themselves further up the pitch.
The big question up front will be the future of Michaell Chirinos, who remains in negotiations with the Caps, as they to find a solution as his loan comes to an end. If they can keep him on another loan, or at a non-DP salary, he should stick around, as he was good for Vancouver last season. At anything else, it might be a bit of a harder sell to bring him back, so you’d likely see Chirinos move on in that case.
Elsewhere, Vancouver will look to fill gaps in their midfield and at the other forward positions, as their midfield especially is an area of need. With only 1 DP spot open as of now, that will be best served to be filled a player in that position, preferably one who can transition play forward. Despite calls all season for that kind of player, they were unable to bring one in, so that’ll be surely top of the list to help rectify their scoring woes.
Depending on if other DP spots free up, based on how the MLS Salary Cap rises, the Caps could also be served to add either another DP midfielder or a striker. The latter seems likeliest at this juncture, as they have been linked to Olivier Giroud and Lucas Cavallini so far in 2019, both of which definitely falling under the big-money DP qualification. If not, Fredy Montero did finish the season strong, while Yordy Reyna excelled in stints up top, so it’s not hard to imagine the Caps improving if the service to those two is better than it was last season.
In the immediate future, roster movement will likely have to come from within MLS, with the trade window now open, while Free Agency, Waivers and the Re-Entry draft all loom. With some solid trade chips, as well as a decent position in both the Waiver and Re-Entry draft, Vancouver will be well-served to pick up some ‘MLS Experience’ that Dos Santos has said to covet to land this offseason.
After that, it’ll be onto the bigger fish, when the international transfer window opens in January. They could get business done before then, as some teams have already done, but January remains when those players officially will be able to come in. With Axel Schuster now officially in the fold, he and Dos Santos will be working hard to make things happen, with the Caps looking to fulfill some long-promised spending targets.
After a slow 2 months after the end of the MLS regular season, things are ramping up into top gear for the ‘Caps. With Vancouver looking to bounce back from a rough 2019 campaign, they will want to avoid doing the same in 2020, and that will start with the moves they make now. With Schuster and Dos Santos now calling the shots, they get a chance to form their identity, as they look to avoid many of the last-minute trials and tribulations that Dos Santos had to face on the job last year.
So for now, keep an eye out for those moves, as the Caps look to soon get off and running on this 2020 offseason.