The Vancouver Whitecaps had a busy weekend on the transfer rumours front, finding themselves linked with a couple of Brazilian #10s. While those rumours are pretty much done and dusted at this stage, that the ‘Caps were even linked in them is good news – and here’s why.
It feels like something big is on the horizon.
No one’s quite yet sure what it is, but after a busy weekend of transfer rumours, it feels like the Vancouver Whitecaps are close to making some moves to shore up their roster ahead of the closing of MLS’s primary window on June 1st.
They’ve already completed most of their important business, bringing in winger Deiber Caicedo, full back Bruno Gaspar and midfielder Caio Alexandre as their 3 big offseason signings, adding to a roster that brought back over 20 first-team returnees from the 2020 MLS season, but they’re not done yet.
As they’ve promised all offseason, the ‘Caps remain on the hunt for an attacking midfielder, one who would be expected to be the final piece of their roster puzzle, adding something that fans have been clamouring for since Pedro Morales left Vancouver nearly a half-decade ago.
It’s been something they’ve been hard at work in trying to make happen all offseason, seemingly finding themselves linked to every #10 under the sun, including Benfica’s Chiquinho, and Porto’s Otavio, along with a few unnamed South American playmakers.
That continued into this past weekend, as reports came out of Brazil Friday afternoon that the Whitecaps had made an approach to sign 23-year-old Gremio #10 Jean Pyerre, as the media there linked one of the most promising players in the Brazilian league to a move to the West Coast. Along with reports that came out later Friday that the ‘Caps had also been linked to young Santos attacking midfielder Gabriel Pirani, and it shows the teams continued intent to lock down a #10 as soon as possible.
There didn’t prove to be much there in either case, as found by the always reliable Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt, but that the ‘Caps had made strides to try and lock down either deal is positive.
Obviously, it’s one thing to go window shopping, and it’s another to actually make a purchase, but that the team is even trying to enter the store is good, as before they would’ve just watched other shoppers from the park bench across the street.
Now, it’ll be very curious to see where the ‘Caps now go from here, having gone 0/4 on publicly revealed targets, but again, as long as they keep swinging the bat, it feels like they’re not far away from hitting their home run.
What to make of the Pyerre and Pirani links?
Returning to the Pyerre and Pirani links, however, it’s fascinating to breaks down what those links mean in the overall context of the ‘Caps plans to buy a #10.
Starting with Pyerre, he’s one of the best #10s in the Brazilian league at only 24, and has been linked to big clubs such as Atalanta and Torino in the past, giving an idea of how his reputation is perceived globally.
For further reference, Transfermarkt has his value estimated at a cool $9.9 million dollars, which would make him the 11th most valuable player in all of MLS had he come, showing how big of a player that he is.
Plus, considering his age, he would’ve been both a short-term and long-term investment, helping Vancouver both in the now and the future. As MLS’s reputation as a younger league continues to grow, this sort of signing of a star player who isn’t in his 30s would’ve only cemented that even further.
Then, shifting to Pirani, his links are even more interesting, as he is only 19 years of age, and just broke into Santos’ lineup this season, making him even more of a long-term investment.
Playing for a Santos team that has one of the most prodigious academies in Brazil, he’s seen as a very bright prospect, one who has some big things ahead of him as a player.
It’s a bit risky to go after a player with less than 10 professional appearances, no doubt, but by doing so, the ‘Caps were likely looking to position themselves to sell him on a few years down the line, making a profit in the process.
When you remember that the ‘Caps still have a ‘U22 Young Money’ slot open to secure a deal like that, meaning that they could’ve made a multi-million dollar investment in Pirani while still chasing a DP #10 like Pyerre, it overall seems like a smart piece of business, giving them both a #10 of the present and the future at the same time.
Again, considering that both deals didn’t materialize, that’s all just hypothetical talk, but it shows that the ‘Caps are on the hunt to make deals, which at this stage of proceedings, is nice to see.
Ultimately, you’d like to see something concrete materialize sooner than later, heck, it would’ve been nice to have this #10 locked down months ago, but with a new scouting team led by a head of recruitment, Nikos Overheul, it appears that the team is looking to bring in a specific player at the right price.
The sooner, the better, of course, but seeing that the ‘Caps have gotten off to a decent start to the season, picking up 4 points from their first two games, it appears that this team is looking to edge as many points in the standings as they can for now, setting the #10 up to be that final piece when the time comes.
What to expect from the #10?
And while we are yet to see who the ‘Caps #10 will ultimately be, these links have taught us a fair bit about what to expect when that player is actually signed and unveiled further down the road.
Thanks to Peter Galindo of Sportsnet, who creates excellent radars of players, we’re able to find a few common themes with the players that the ‘Caps have targeted.
Just for reference, here are Chiquinho’s, Otavio’s and Pyerre’s radars, to get an idea of what is inferred by that.
There is a slight variance between the types of players that they are, as someone like Pyerre likes to shoot and pass, usually from outside the box, whereas Chiquinho prefers to get into the box, while Otavio just likes to dribble in and out of the box, but doesn’t really shoot much.
Two stats that stand out, however, which are pretty consistent across all 3 players, is their pressure regains and open play Expected Goals (xG) assisted, which are all at very similar numbers.
First, for pressure regains, it’s a stat to indicate how often a player putting pressure on an opponent helps his team win the ball back. It’s essentially a measure to see how effective one is at pressing, and considering that the ‘Caps want to be a team that presses high, it makes a lot of sense that they’re targeting players who are good at that.
As for the open play xG assisted, that’s essentially a measure for how good the chances each player’s key passes generate, so it’s fascinating to note that despite their vast difference in other stats, each player was consistent in their open play xG assist rate per 90 minutes, which varied between 0.15 to 0.18 for each of them.
On a ‘Caps team that struggled to generate xG last year, finishing with the 5th-worst xG per game in MLS, any boost in that category would be a massive help, especially from open play, where they often struggled to generate any sort of offence on a consistent basis.
Obviously, that’s why they’re bringing in a #10, so it makes perfect sense that they’re looking for chance creation, but that they’re looking to bring it via open play gives an idea of how they want to play in possession, when possible.
Each #10 comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s interesting that the ‘Caps have been linked to more of a pure #10 (Chiquinho), an inside winger kind of #10 (Otavio) and more of a second-striker #10 (Pyerre), but it seems like no matter what, Dos Santos will want that player to press high and facilitate finishing actions.
As the ‘Caps continue to try and mould an identity of a team that is hard to play against without the ball, and patient in possession with it, it makes sense that they’d want the centrepiece of those efforts, a #10, to reflect that.
Cap space and money doesn’t appear to be an issue:
But while the ‘Caps will be looking for a player with that sort of statistical profile, do they have the financial muscle to pull it off?
A few years ago, the answer would’ve been a resounding no, as the ‘Caps rarely splashed out the millions on incoming talent, only doing so for a select few players.
In recent years, though, that has changed. Since Dos Santos was hired at the end of 2018, the ‘Caps have made 8 of their 10 most expensive signings in their MLS history, showing an intent that made them CONCACAF’s highest-spending team in 2020.
As seen by these recent links, they don’t seem to be shy in building off of that in 2021, either, especially when they’ve already dropped upwards of $6.5 million on Caicedo and Alexandre, and it looks like they’ll expend similar money for this #10.
Plus, as seen earlier, they’ve actually got the cap space to do so.
With the confirmation that Ali Adnan can be bought down as a TAM player, the ‘Caps have a Senior DP slot to chase this player, allowing them to hunt down a #10 without any restrictions.
Had that not been the case, with the ‘Caps already having 2 Young Money players (teams are only allowed to have 3 Senior DPs and 1 Young Money player, or 2 Senior DPs, 3 Young Money players and 1 U23 Youth DP), they would’ve only been able to get a Young DP or Young Money #10 had Adnan been over the TAM budget, as he and Lucas Cavallini would’ve been their 2 Senior DPs.
Instead, they’re actually able to bring in a Senior DP, a Young DP and a Young Money player if they chose to, showing off their current roster flexibility.
Looking at their roster, they only really need the Senior DP #10 at the moment (although bringing another Young Money winger in the summer could be a shout), but that also explains how they were looking at possibly bringing in both Pyerre and Pirani in one swift swoop.
All of this to say, however, is that they’ve got the space to chase some expensive players, and more importantly, they appear ready to splash the cash necessary to do so, which hasn’t always been the case in the past, showing a positive shift in mentality.
So while the rumours that came out over the weekend didn’t lead to much, it was overall positive to see that calibre of player linked to Vancouver once again, even if nothing came of it.
As Veth said on Twitter Monday, things certainly look promising on the #10 front, as the ‘Caps are certainly working hard to bring in a player they think can be a difference-maker at that position.
They now just need to turn those rumours into a tangible signing, which is much easier said than it is done, but as these Pyerre and Pirani links have shown, the ‘Caps do appear to be cooking up something behind the scenes.
How good will that concoction eventually taste?
No one knows yet, but based on some of the other dishes that have been brought out as appetizers, there is certainly a good possibility that it tastes pretty darn good when it finally arrives.
Hopefully, for the ‘Caps, they’re able to keep a good appetite for when that day comes, which will mean continuing off of what they showed in the first few weeks of MLS action, paving the way for this #10 to be the centrepiece of their whole meal.
At the very least, however, there appears to be a plan here, and although the plan isn’t a guaranteed measure of success, as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so it’s good to see the ‘Caps steer themselves on a good path with these rumours.