Poached: He’s no ‘postman’, but Lucas Cavallini is aiming to deliver goals for the Vancouver Whitecaps

With the introduction of the Vancouver Whitecaps newest Designated Player signing, Lucas Cavallini, on Monday, we bring you the latest from the press conference announcing the man they call ‘El Tanque’.  

It’s not every day that you get introduced to a new team with the aid of a personal armoured vehicle. 

That was the case with the latest Vancouver Whitecaps signing, Lucas Cavallini, who was officially introduced to fans and media on Monday morning. While it had long been reported that the 5’11” Canadian National Team player would be headed to Vancouver, news broke on Sunday night that a Tank emblazoned with a Whitecaps logo and a #9 sticker on it was situated outside BC Place, supposedly announcing the arrival of the man nicknamed ‘El Tanque’.

When asked about what he thought of the vehicle, and the whole promotion surrounded by his nickname, Cavallini was quite enamoured with the whole idea, as he explained the origins of the name. 

“It’s just a nickname they use for players that when they have a brick wall in front of them, they just run through them. So that’s where I got my nickname.” Cavallini told reporters on Monday.

“I’ll probably get to drive it too.” he then said with a laugh, when asked if he was able to keep the tank commissioned for the signing. 

This signing has been a long time coming for the Whitecaps, on a multitude of levels. By bringing back a quality Canadian forward, one whose pedigree suggested that a move to Europe could have also been in the cards, the Whitecaps sent a message to the rest of MLS, showing that they can spend big bucks too.

By reportedly doubling their all-time Transfer Record with the $6 million dollars spent on Cavallini, they also sent a message to fans who’ve been waiting for a big-money player for years, with the front office putting their faith in Cavallini to lead the latest step of their project. 

And make no mistake, it’s also a signing filled with risk, at least from a perception standpoint. While most people familiar with Cavallini know what he can bring to the table, he’s not the big European name most would hope for, so he’ll need to produce to win over some skeptical factions of the fanbase.

To do that, it won’t be easy, as the Whitecaps continue to try and fix the holes in their roster that can help Cavallini reach some of the heights that people know that he can reach. But for now, with their man locked down, they can’t help but sit back and reflect on the hard work that it took to bring ‘El Tanque’ north of the 49th parallel. 

“It has been tough work,” Whitecaps sporting director, Axel Schuster said Monday. “There has been a lot of weeks of negotiations going forward, and sometimes even backwards. But finally, we found a good solution, and it is really important for me to point out the discussions with Lucas and his agent have not been the problem, that was done very fast and good in recent times.

“It was about finding a solution with his club, and for that I have to say thank you to our owners, because in the end, the package is a package of more than eight digits.”

For a team that struggled with chance creation last year, spending a big chunk of money on a striker seems curious, at least on the surface. The Whitecaps already have a decent array of striking options, with Fredy Montero, Yordy Reyna, Tosaint Ricketts and Theo Bair all more than capable of scoring goals.

But when you scratch below the surface, you can start to unearth some of Cavallini’s other qualities that make him attractive for Vancouver, other than just his ability to finish. As we saw when the rumours first broke out, Cavallini is very good at build-up play, and has a style of game that allows him to fit into many different profiles of attacking teams, making him a versatile striking options. 

By being able to play with both feet, as well as interact with his midfielders and wingers, on top of his penchant for dropping back when his team needs help in possession, he carries many of the characteristics of the modern number 9, which is why the Whitecaps fought tooth and nail for his signature. 

With Cavallini also being solid defensively, as his speed allows him to press from the front, it makes sense to have him leading the line next season, especially as the Whitecaps transition into a higher pressing side. There’s a reason that pressing is becoming so important for teams all around the world, because when a team wins the ball high up the pitch, they tend to score a lot more than they would from any other phase of play. 

Schuster demonstrated some of those abilities in the press conference, showing a clip of Cavallini tracking back 30 yards to win a ball, even despite being up 3-0 in the 90th minute of a meaningless game. So the Whitecaps clearly do value that defensive side of his game, and Cavallini can fulfill the intensity required to meet it, which is why this signing is seen as more than just signing a physical #9 to bang bodies and score goals. 

“This clip is maybe not the most attractive clip in Lucas’s career, but it shows why he is the right profile for the Whitecaps,” Schuster said. “And I mentioned that in my (opening) press conference. If you are looking for players, the profile is always first, secondly, the player also has to be convinced that we are the right club, and then third, we are speaking about names. Our profile is about four cornerstones, there’s mentality, work ethic, discipline and team spirit.”

Cavallini outside BC Place beside the tank emblazoned with his number 9 (Keveren Guillou)

Cavallini later added when asked about some of his key attributes other than just scoring: “Yeah, I can bring a lot to the game, more than just being a postman and as I said, making those diagonals, just trying to find a way to be involved in other key parts of the game and being important in set plays and trying to set up goals for my team.”

So while on the field the signing makes perfect sense, Cavallini’s reach off the field also helps a lot, as he is yet another Canadian for the Whitecaps to build around. He isn’t the Olivier Giroud that some may have hoped for, but he does give the Whitecaps a Canadian face in a Canadian market, which should allow them to promote the game to other young Canadian children. 

While Schuster dismissed questions that asked if being Canadian played a role in the signing, it certainly will play a part now, as the Whitecaps continue to be a team that pushes forward Canadian talent, at least relative to their Canadian MLS cousins. There does still remain several flaws in the development system, flaws that they are setting out to rectify, but there’s no doubt that compared to the other Canadian MLS teams, they’re doing a good job of promoting Canadian content to their audience.

“First of all, something that’s really important for me, he’s not here because he’s Canadian,” Schuster said. “That is nice, and of course that is something we really like, to bring back Canadian guys here, but he’s here because he meets the profile.”

With the Canadian aspect being important, it’s also led to interesting discussions on the money side of the transfer, as Don Garber said a couple of years ago that MLS would consider subsidizing part of the transfer fee if Canadian MLS teams were to bring a Canadian DP in. 

While that move was made to inspire Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to chase after Atiba Hutchinson, this Cavallini move is almost a bigger deal in a sense, at least when considering that Cavallini is coming to Vancouver in the prime of his career, hence the heavy questioning on that subject. 

When pressed about if MLS did indeed help his team make the signing, Schuster remained mum, but it would certainly be interesting if the information is later revealed to be true.

“I think also the league is really happy that we bring in the Canadian DP, but we do not speak about details from the contract side of the transfer,” Schuster said when asked. 

So while the numbers talk will continue to swirl, especially given that MLS rarely fully discloses transfer fee numbers, for Cavallini, he’s just excited to now focus on the footballing part of his game. He comes to Vancouver in great form, having scored 5 goals and adding 2 assists on an offensively anemic Puebla CF side in their most recent Apertura, and he’s hoping to translate that to the Whitecaps. 

On top of coming back to Canada, a place he has not lived in for 10 years, it should allow him to blossom on the field. He’s got a young family, so moving to a place where he knows he can call it home for the next few years will bring him stability, allowing him to focus on what he loves doing, which is fill opposing nets.

“Yeah it was an easy decision, I was coming home,” Cavallini said. “I was impressed with what Vancouver had to offer me as a footballer, obviously they brought me here for a reason, what I like to do is score goals and to help this team win as many games as possible.”

On top of the stability that MLS brings, as they remain in a stable period for growth across the league, it should allow him to be prosperous in Vancouver. In Liga MX, Veracruz recently disbanded due to their inability to pay players, and while Cavallini was far from being affected by that, he knows that he won’t have to worry about coming close to that in the near future. 

So look for him to come out with a fire in his belly next season. While the results of his quest may be hampered or aided depending on how the rest of the Whitecaps team shapes up around him, he’s here to win, and that’s his main focus now with the announcement out of the way. 

“It’s very organized off the pitch that I don’t have to worry about, which is good for me because I love the way was playing football and doing what I love to do.” Cavallini finished.

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