With Erik Godoy looking set to return to the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2020, we look at the impact the Argentine had in his debut 2019 MLS season, and what his move can teach them ahead of the opening of the Winter Transfer Window.
He might have already been in their midst, but the Whitecaps locked up their centre back solution this week.
Just over a month after it was confirmed that Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry was going to be moving on from Vancouver, it appears that the Caps have come to terms with fellow centre back, Erik Godoy, solidifying their backline ahead of 2020. With Henry’s departure, it was long-expected that the Whitecaps would come to terms with the Argentine centre back, who enjoyed a successful campaign on loan to the Vancouver-based side from Club Athletico Colon in his home country.
It’s a move that allows the Whitecaps to focus on other and more important areas of the pitch, such as their midfield, with their backline appearing to be all but settled for now. Barring an unforeseen move, such as Ali Adnan or Jake Nerwinski moving on, Vancouver only now needs to find themselves some depth to round out their defensive line, something that was already an area of strength on last year’s team.
By splashing out a reported figure of around $1.5 million dollars for Godoy, it’s another sign of intent from the Whitecaps, who recently splashed in the region of $6 million dollars to bring in striker Lucas Cavallini from Puebla in Mexico. Along with the reported ‘multimillion’ dollar fee for full back Ali Adnan last summer, and the fee of approximately $2 million for midfielder Hwang In Beom early in 2019, that’s now around $12 million dollars spent on 4 players by the Whitecaps, as they attempt to shed the ‘cheap’ label that’s stuck with them in their MLS days.
While some may question the signings of Adnan, and even now Godoy, given the high expenditure of capital to acquire the left back and centre back, it signals a push from the Whitecaps to enter MLS 3.0/4.0, where spending cash is now seen as a direct key to success. $1.5 million for Godoy is a lot of money, but as Atlanta showed when they splashed upwards of $2 million for centre back Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez in 2017, spending on defenders can help drive a team towards success.
With Godoy now locked up, it gives the Whitecaps a new face to build around with at the back, much like they had with their former MLS all-star, Kendall Waston. There’s no denying that Waston, as enigmatic and complicated as a player he was, played a huge part in the success of Carl Robinson, as the towering Tico fit the philosophies of the Robbo era to a tee, and now Godoy will look to be a similar same rock for Dos Santos to rely on.
One look at what the Argentine brought last season and you can see why he was so coveted by Dos Santos, as his calming presence, sound technical ability and versatility played a role in the Whitecaps improvements defensively. That whole package is a big reason why Godoy, not the recently departed Henry, is expected to spearhead the Caps defence this upcoming season, as Henry’s rambunctious nature on the pitch often made watching him defend an adventure.
That’s not to say Henry’s a bad defender, by any stretch of the imagination, but for the Whitecaps, it made sense to move on from the Canadian. As we explored back when Henry was moved on, having a defensive nucleus of Godoy, Derek Cornelius and Jhesser Khemiri will allow the Whitecaps to play the high-tempo, build out from the back style Dos Santos craved so badly last season, which is why it’s no surprise to see that the Whitecaps have decided to trigger Godoy’s purchase option this week.
Defensively, Godoy is a calming presence, as he often found a way to get things done without going to ground, an underrated skill amongst defenders. There’s a reason he led Whitecaps centre backs with tackles (1.5 per game) and why he was 2nd behind Derek Cornelius in blocks (1.1 per game), despite not having many ‘wow’ moments, other than a goalline clearance against the New York Red Bulls back in May.
Some of those stats are influenced by the Whitecaps being under siege for a good chunk of 2019, no doubt, but Godoy quietly played a role in ensuring that they didn’t concede as often as they could have. They did eventually give up 59 goals for the season, tied with 3 teams for 3rd-worst in the West, but that was bound to happen considering they conceded a league-high 20.1 shots per game, a full 3 shots ahead of the next best (worse?) team.
With midfield help expected to come, that number should go down considerably, making things a lot easier for Godoy, Cornelius, Khemiri and goalkeeper Max Crepeau next season. There’s a reason that the Whitecaps were 8th-worst in goals against despite being 4th-worst in expected Goals against, as they actually overperformed defensively, at least compared to how the statistics suggested that they would.
So all of that to say, the Caps defence is far from their worries, because with an improved midfield, things should stand to change massively. Just to get an idea of how much the numbers could shift, consider this. On average, the Whitecaps conceded a goal every 11 shots against in 2019 (on target or not), which is a rate of around 8%. If they kept that same rate, but dropped from 20.1 shots a game to a 2019 league average of around 13.5 shots per game, they would have only allowed 37 goals, which would have tied them with LAFC for the best defensive total in all of the league.
Suffice to say, that would have been massive, so it’s why shoring up the midfield, and in consequence, allowing fewer shots, should be a priority. The Whitecaps got killed in volume, not by quality, last season, and that was in part due to the valiant efforts of Godoy, Cornelius, Henry, Crepeau and company.
It’s hard to quantify defensive stats, as each team’s style of play, along with luck, can throw a lot of variance into numbers, but when laid out like that, you can get an idea of what plagued Vancouver. While they’ll need to open up more offensively, as there is also a reason they had a league-low of 31 XG, if they can find a way to generate more chances in 2020, while also drastically limiting the chances they face, a drastic turnaround isn’t out of the question.
An impact on the style of play?
Godoy’s biggest influence is on the defensive end of proceedings, without a doubt, but he can also play a role in helping the Whitecaps improve offensively. He had a passing percentage of 82%, averaging around 46 passes per game, while also adding 4.2 successful long balls a game.
With the Whitecaps looking to play out of the back more often, having Godoy start with the ball at his feet will be important, as he often found a way to get the ball up the pitch efficiently. He’s a technically solid player, seemingly comfortable with both feet and confident when in possession, allowing him to find the open man when playing short.
There’s a reason why his passing percentage jumps into the 90s when excluding long balls, as he found a way to link up with teammates, often starting the Whitecaps attacks. With the Whitecaps offensive issues stemming from not spending enough time in the final third, on top of a lack of transition play in the middle, it’s why midfield help, once again, is imperative for them to find.
It’s not going to be easy, with all of the Whitecaps 3 DP spots tied up, at least until news on In Beom’s 2020 contract status comes out, but if they do make those upgrades, it’ll make the investment in Godoy look smart.
With two new midfielders, one of which who is a mobile defensive #6 with passing range (basically a young Jon Erice with some Matias Laba feist), along with a #8/#10 who can move forward and break down defensive lines, the Whitecaps can increase their goals for and plunge their goals against, accelerating their rebuild significantly.
Tapping into new markets
Finding those names won’t be easy, but they’ll now be at the top of their shopping list, at least with Godoy officially secured. The Whitecaps have their starting #9, they have their starting goalkeeper, they have their starting defensive 4, they just now need those 2 midfielders, along with a winger or 2, and they’ll be in business for 2020.
Given the importance a revamped midfield could have, that may mean opening up space by sacrificing the likes of Ali Adnan, who himself has suggested European teams continue to circle him, but no matter how they do it, just doing it can make or break their 2020 season.
And as seen by LAFC, who crammed together their elite 2019 midfield thanks to some USL thrift shopping, an expansion draft pick and a South American splash, it can be cheap, but it also has to be done smartly. There needs to be a clear plan, there needs to be a profile of player desired, and then the business needs to be done swiftly and smoothly when said profile is found.
It’s partly why Axel Schuster’s comments about chasing the right profile last week are important. If he and Dos Santos can find a way to get that profile of #6 and #8 that they need, and then tap into Schuster’s European connections, as well as Dos Santos’s recent exploration of South America and Africa, there’s no doubt that they can find some players to get the job done.
This Godoy transfer is a big example of why, as well, as he came from what isn’t a huge club in Argentina, yet was impressive in Vancouver, as he is yet another successful story of why the South American wave has been such a big part of kickstarting MLS 3.0. With reports also coming out that the Whitecaps are looking to bring over academy kids from Argentina as part of the Godoy transfer, there shows that a lot of good business is yet to be done in the continent for Vancouver, with this latest move just being the start of something.
A lot of pressure is on Dos Santos and Schuster to find those talented gems, but at least they’ve started looking, with the Godoy signing hopefully being a start of a trend. Considering that signings like In Beom, Godoy, Crepeau, Michaell Chirinos (on his loan) and Khemiri all looked good, while Dos Santos’s European signings, Lucas Venuto, Lass Bangoura and Jon Erice, all found themselves in the coach’s doghouse, maybe these non-European signings will be the norm.
But then again, with Schuster’s familiarity with his contacts in Europe, more specifically Germany, where there are bargains to be had in places such as the 2nd and 3rd divisions, maybe last year’s duds can be the exception, not the norm, for the Whitecaps.
Either way, the Godoy transfer is a tidy piece of business, and it’d be good if they use it to inspire future moves. While they should have probably pounced on prices while they remained cheap, as the cautious loan-to-buy option led to this multi-million dollar deal for Godoy, it’s shown that there is talent out there to be had, with the key part being in how you locate and invest in it.
In this case, it looks to be worth it. With Godoy’s fee looking to have him in and around the TAM range, as it’ll likely be amalgamated over 2 or 3 years, which under his current salary of around $500 000, shouldn’t push him to DP status, even with a salary raise.
Along with Cavallini, Crepeau, Hwang, Adnan, Cornelius/Khemiri, Bair, Nerwinski and more, it’s given another piece for Vancouver to build around. They’ve now got the defensive chops to get work done in MLS, now the big key will be adding support to that foundation, finding a way to control the game more offensively, as well as limit the shots against.
Depending on how successful they are on their quest to repair their deficiencies in that department, it will make this transfer look good or bad, much like the Cavallini signing. With Cavallini the finisher up front, as well as Godoy, Cornelius, Khemiri and Crepeau at the back, the Caps got some big pieces in the fold, now it’s time to get the support to help make the respective roles of those key players easier.
And how they do that will make or break this winter transfer period, which promises to be a crucial one, heading into the end of the first decade of MLS play for Vancouver.