Given the obvious links between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Jonathan Osorio, along with the recent Nicolas Benezet situation, we look to see if there could be a fit for either player in Vancouver, as the Whitecaps could look to take them off of their rivals.
Sometimes to get better, you must poach from the competition.
This MLS offseason, the Vancouver Whitecaps have the option to do just that, with their Canadian rivals, Toronto FC, looking rather vulnerable after falling just short of a 2nd MLS Cup triumph. That’s not to say they’re done spending, quite the opposite, with a very high-priced 3rd DP looking to be on its way, but it looks like there are some apples riped to be picked off of the metaphorical apple tree out east.
The longtime foes are no stranger to exchanging talent, with many players getting the chance to don the uniforms of both the Whitecaps and Toronto FC. With a list of players that includes Terry Dunfield, Robert Earnshaw, Steven Beitashour, Eric Hassli, Doneil Henry and Tosaint Ricketts, along with the unique case of Carl Robinson, who played in Toronto before coaching the Whitecaps for nearly 5 seasons, there’s been a lot of good people to have played on both sides of this Canadian rivalry.
This offseason, the Whitecaps could look to replicate the magic they found in the transfer of Matias Laba, when they took advantage of a DP-capped TFC side to poach the Argentian workhorse, who quickly became one of the Caps best-ever players. With Toronto looking to fill their 3rd DP spot this offseason, a move only possible due to the fact that longtime captain, and former DP, Michael Bradley accepted a TAM deal, it means that a roster squeeze could be in effect due to Bradley’s contract reshuffling.
For a Toronto team already amongst the highest spending in MLS, it means little room to upgrade the squad beyond some non-TAM players, meaning that little other change could really be in order, at least beyond some MLS moves and the addition of that 3rd DP.
To be fair to TFC, there’s not much to change, especially given their recent MLS success, but you’d have to think they’d crave the flexibility to make some more moves. Considering that they’ve already had to sacrifice TAM-level loanee Nicolas Benezet, a move that ruffled the Frenchman, leading to him voicing his displeasure through French outlet L’equipe, Toronto might find themselves willing to dance when it comes to chance to open up some space to further supplement their roster ahead of a 2020 MLS charge.
This is where Vancouver steps in. The Whitecaps have a need for midfield players, while Toronto has a surplus of them, which could make a potential trade attractive for both sides. With Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado, Nick DeLeon, Jonathan Osorio and Alejandro Pozuelo all starting-calibre midfielders for TFC, along with youngsters Liam Fraser, Noble Okello and Jacob Shaffelburg waiting in the wings, you’d have to imagine that Toronto would be open for a move, especially if the right price is met.
There is one name that stands out among that list, and that is Jonathan Osorio. While Liam Fraser would also be an ideal target, with his obvious links to Vancouver helping a potential move, he didn’t exactly sing the praises of his former club in an interview back in October, so it looks safe to cross off a potential move for him.
But with Osorio, a lot more dots seem to connect, especially in light of some recent Whitecaps moves. An attacking midfielder, he would fill a big area of need for Vancouver, which is why some have started to link things together in terms of a potential trade.
So while the move seems obvious at surface-level, could it really work out? Let’s scratch below and see.
When looking at Osorio, you see a unique brand of #10, as he’s almost more of a second striker, due to his strong shooting and pressing ability. He’s also a good passer, finding a way to put up decent assist numbers, but he’s not your typical suck players in and break lines with incisive through passes kind of #10.
That’s why his fit with Vancouver would be an interesting one. Considering the offensive ineptitude shown by the Whitecaps last season, the 8.5 goals and 5 assists he’s averaged over the past 2 seasons would be a welcome addition to Vancouver, especially when you realize that both totals would have tied him for first in both categories on last year’s team.
On the other hand, when you dive deeper into his advanced stats, how he generates that offence is where things start to get interesting. He is pretty good at generating XG, but for a #10, he doesn’t necessarily produce much in terms of XA, nor get many key passes. That can be affected by teammates, but with Toronto being among the better XG teams in MLS, that seems unlikely.
When compared to some other #10s, such as known difference-makers Nicolas Lodeiro, Diego Valeri and Carles Gil, you can see how far he lags behind in creation stats. His XG stats fare nicely, along with his dribbles, tackles and interceptions, making him a good ‘press and score’ #10, but he’s not bringing the kind of chance creation you’d expect from a #10 to the table.
But then again, comparing Osorio to those top-end players is a flawed exercise, considering that they are among the cream of the crop in MLS, and earn salaries that reflect that. Osorio makes low-end TAM money, so to even be in the same realm of those players would make him a bargain, so why not try and find some players closer to his salary echelon at the same position?
When comparing him to Magnus Eriksson, Kaku and Latif Blessing, you start to see why he’d be a good deal at his current salary ($750 000), as all of the players above make around the same amount, bar Blessing and his ridiculous $100 000 salary number.
In this case, Osorio’s XG numbers once again look strong, even stacking up with Blessing’s, who had the advantage of playing as the #10 for the lethal LAFC attack. He also had a similar XA to Blessing, but fell just short of Eriksson and Kaku, who also blow the Canadian away when it comes to key pass generation, with Blessing sitting somewhere in between.
Elsewhere, everyone is pretty close, with Osorio performing well in tackles and interceptions of game, while finding himself behind (not by much) in terms of shots and dribbles per game.
For the Whitecaps, even despite the lower XA and Key Pass stats, there is lots to like there, because as mentioned before, they need all the offence they can get right now. They actually outperformed their XG last season, suggesting that finishing was not the problem, with creation looking to be the biggest issue.
But despite that, they also need to generate more XG, hence the addition of Cavallini, and it’s why adding Osorio and his XG creation could be a good idea. Along with his defensive stats, which does fit into the comments by Marc Dos Santos and Axel Schuster suggesting that Vancouver is looking to become a higher pressing team next season, there definitely can be a fit for the Canadian in the white and blue.
On the other hand, you do have to wonder about the creation stats, especially given Vancouver’s struggles in that area last season. If they were to bring in a #10, you’d expect him to create a high volume of chances, and while Osorio certainly isn’t doing bad at generating him, it isn’t exactly what the Whitecaps would need.
Caleb Wilkins over at 86Forever penned a nice piece yesterday on how the Whitecaps could solve their creation woes, as he looked at how improving key pass stats could help the Caps, and when you add Osorio’s numbers to that equation, it doesn’t really upgrade much.
His 0.9 key passes per game are a marginal upgrade on fellow midfielder Russell Teibert, and it doesn’t really push Vancouver towards the 10 per game they need to be average, and it certainly doesn’t push them towards the 13 or more you’d hope that they’d strive to reach.
But hope isn’t all dead, however, as there is a big reason why acquiring the Canadian international makes sense. With Alejandro Pozuelo playing the #10 for Toronto last season, it meant that Osorio’s time at his natural position was limited, as his minutes mostly seemed to come deeper in the midfield, or on the wing, which didn’t necessarily get the best out of him.
On top of his recovery from a tough injury at the end of 2018, which made for a rough first half of the season, things weren’t exactly set up for him to succeed as he did the year prior, where he broke out with a 10 goal and 6 assist season, along with a Golden Boot win in the CONCACAF Champions League.
When looking at his stats during that season, where he had a lot more minutes and was deployed in his natural position a lot more often, you can see a big improvement. His XG goes up a bit, his XA improves as well, and his Key Passes more than double (0.9 to 1.88), making up for a dip in shots. His defensive stats also improve, becoming even more impressive, as his defensive prowess was already certainly quite good for a player at that position.
Here is how those 2018 stats fared up when updated in the previous charts.
When compared to Lodeiro, Valeri and Gil, Osorio stacks up a lot better, with his XG looking impressive once again, while his XA and Key Pass number look a whole lot more respectable on the whole. Along with his proficient dribbling, and tenacious tackling and intercepting, it makes him a complete package, and it shows why he was seen as the best Canadian in MLS that 2018 season.
And then when you put him up against Eriksson, Kaku and Blessing, Osorio once again looks strong. His XG leads the way, while his XA comes close to both Kaku and Eriksson ahead of him. His Key Pass stats also vault ahead of Blessing, sitting just behind Kaku, while his dribbles, tackles and interceptions per game sit just behind Blessing, which is impressive considering Blessing was a key part of LAFC’s ability to press and transition the ball forward, something they did better than any other MLS team last season.
So when looking at that, it’s clear that he can be a pretty creative #10, and when you consider that in that 2018 season they also had someone playing his best position (Sebastian Giovinco played as a #10/second striker, but Osorio still played as a #10/#8 with Greg Vanney playing a 3-5-2), there does seem to be more to unlock here.
While it’s still unsure yet how much that hernia injury will affect him long-term, it would be interesting to see how he fares as a #10/second striker underneath Lucas Cavallini, in a role that would allow him to be the straw that stirs the drink offensively. With Vancouver looking to use a 4-3-3, or even a 3-5-2, there could be plenty of room for him to shine on the pitch, allowing him to return to his 2018 numbers, where he was lights out for Toronto.
Beyond his fit into Vancouver’s system on the pitch, there are some other reasons why this move could work. The obvious link is his nationality, as it would only boost the strong Canadian identity on this Vancouver side, but he is also longtime childhood friends with newest Whitecap star, Lucas Cavallini, who once said that he’d only come to MLS to play for Toronto.
While things obviously changed for Cavallini, could it make sense for Vancouver to get his longtime partner-in-crime, as their chemistry on the pitch could certainly help get more out of either player. As seen when Canada beat the US in their massive victory back in October, there is some magic between these two, and linking them together could help make up for the lack of DP #10.
The Canadian part also has its negative effects, as the Whitecaps stand to be ravaged by International breaks, but having players playing for their national teams is something Dos Santos did say he supports in the past, so it certainly wouldn’t scare away Vancouver. Especially considering that trading for Osorio could save the Whitecaps an international spot, which could be used elsewhere, or even traded, having more domestic threats certainly doesn’t hurt.
And by trading within MLS, the Whitecaps could make use of their trove of MLS money, which could be attractive to Toronto, who used a big chunk of theirs on Bradley. With a congested midfield, they could be tempted to accept a trade of anywhere around $750 000 to $1 250 000 of TAM and GAM, which seems to be the going rate of midfielders of this calibre in MLS, freeing up space for other moves, while also opening up space for their many young midfielders.
For a Vancouver team low on top-end flexibility, at least until we see if Hwang In Beom’s status drops from DP to TAM, their upgrades will need to come at the TAM level, making an Osorio move possible. It was hoped that their #10/creative #8 could be a DP, but unless space is created up, or Hwang’s status changes, they’ll have to get creative, which is why making a move within MLS like this could work, on top of making more shrewd South American/African/European signings, which we suggested they do more of when the Erik Godoy re-signing rumours came out last week.
So all in all, going after Osorio appears to be a move that could work out on many fronts, especially if the Caps find themselves unable to chase a new DP. While this move, like many other potential changes, depends on their ability to chase that DP (along with a new CBA), it definitely seems like it could be a good route for them to go down.
Benezet out… is there a fit there?
Speaking of chasing Toronto players, Nicolas Benezet is most definitely available, as the French winger returned to Guingamp this week, with his loan to Toronto officially expired. In his interview with L’Equipe, he did say that he had a strong desire to return to MLS, and considering Guingamp is now toiling away in Ligue 2, it’s a move that could make sense for some sides.
With Vancouver not bringing back winger Michaell Chirinos, something we thought could have been a good move for them, getting a left winger like Benezet could be a good replacement for the Honduran. In both of their short stints in MLS, they stacked up similarily, and considering that these XG stats don’t include Benezet’s strong performances in the playoffs with TFC, there could be something to be had here.
There are some concerns there, especially in terms of dribbling, key passes and assists, but his shots and XG numbers both come out strong. Vancouver does need both creators of chances and generators of XG, but his numbers are quite low in the former, which could offset the impact he makes in the latter.
But when you look at his Guingamp numbers, in their last 2 seasons in Ligue 1, he played around 36 games, averaging around 1.5 dribbles and 1.5 key passes a game, which are quite solid numbers. When you factor in that Guingamp was a tiny team in a pretty good Ligue 1 circuit, those numbers look even better, and it’s not hard to imagine him carrying them over in the right system, especially at only 28 (soon to be 29) years of age.
The biggest question would be how he’d fit in the Whitecaps system, especially defensively, but when you look at the numbers, he once again fares quite well. He averaged around 1.5 tackles and 1 interception at Guingamp, so for a Dos Santos Whitecaps side looking to press, he wouldn’t be too out of place in that regard, as Vancouver looks to up their pressing game for 2020.
So with those queries answered, the next big conundrum would be around his price and attitude, both of which have come into question during his saga with TFC. He’d be a borderline TAM player, something the Whitecaps seemed reluctant to make Chirinos, but it is also important to note Benezet’s built-in transfer fee with TFC was $500 000, while Chirinos was reported to be at least a million, if not more, so there’d at least be a discount there.
Which leads us to the attitude. With the price and fit looking good, there is a concern to be had with the handling of his whole TFC situation, especially with how much he’s been sharing to the big outlets and through his Twitter. That’s not to say he’s right/wrong in his account of the story, as until all sides are heard a judgement is hard to make, but it’s certainly concerning to see him airing out all the dirty laundry so publicly.
But if they were able to assure that this is a one-off scenario, and get him at a price similar to what TFC had the option to pay, it does seem like it could be a move that works out for Vancouver. For a team looking to improve their offensive game, his goalscoring, pressing and creation at Guingamp suggests he can be an upgrade for them, with possible age-related decline concerns being the only question in that regard*.
*It’s also important to note that discovery rights and other MLS re-entry mechanisms could make this even more complicated.
It’s unsure yet if the Whitecaps will actually make a move for Osorio, or try a coup for Benezet, if not try to get both, but there seems to be value there in both cases. They seem to be upgrades on what Vancouver already has, and considering the Whitecaps need to improve offensively, they both can certainly help them do that, at least if they come as the best version of themselves.
But until some other moves shape up, and we gain some more clarity on how the Whitecaps offseason might shape up, it’s hard to see if these moves could work out, but they do make sense for them. For a team looking also to improve MLS experience, bringing in an MLS Cup champion like Osorio, along with a finalist like Benezet, could help massively, even though the latter’s experience in North America isn’t quite what one would consider expansive.
As the offseason enters the winter transfer period, moves should start to fly for all teams, as they start to achieve the goals set out in their A, B and C plans. It’s unsure where Osorio and Benezet could fit in the tier of Whitecaps plans, but if they do acquire them, there appears to be value there, so we’ll be monitoring things closely heading into the start of preseason.
With Vancouver looking to upgrade their squad after a disappointing 2019 season, there are lots of upgrades to be had out there, it’s now just about finding and acquiring them.
Cover Photo by: Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer